The curry puff, this small snack can be found freshly baked or fried and readily available all over Southeast Asia. Its origins are known but, as always in such multicultural societies, they are rather hard to pin down. So what is it? The curry puff is a small snack item usually filled with a thick curry sauce and potatoes which is then either baked or deep fried, it is crimped at the edges and has a crescent shape. As always though all is not that simple, before you start ordering whole cratefuls of them for that company event from a Singapore catering service, it helps to know more about their history and varieties.
There are a few theories behind the origins of the curry puff, one is that it may have been brought to the shores of Southeast Asia, maybe Malaysia, by the Portuguese; and this is because it is very similar, in appearance, to the empanada. However there is another theory which fits in more correctly with the annuals of history, and that is that it was brought to the shores of Southeast Asia by the British Colonists. Having already discovered curry, along with the rest of Indian cuisine, in India they combined it with their old favourite, the cornish pasty, to make the curry puff (you can even buy curry pasties in the UK today). There is also the school of thought that it is reminiscent of the Indian samosa; which could possibly have been enough inspiration for the British to make the curry pasty.
Like how mee soto and mee rebus has its variations, curry puff has its own too. The curry puff is not just all about curry. Although the curry version is by far the most popular version of this snack, this does not mean that it is the only one; and each country of the region has its own signature combination of flavours. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular varieties and where they’re from.
In Singapore, the curry puffs are can be found everywhere. However, they are very popular at night markets, or what we called it as ‘pasar malam’. There are a variety of other flavours, sweet and savoury, that have been developed in Singapore, these include: durian, yam, sardine, black-pepper chicken, pork, red bean and sometimes custard fillings are also found. Curry puffs have become so popular they are now even manufactured instead of hand made, and it is in these manufactured versions that you will find more of the sweeter flavours.
Pastel, this is the title given to the curry puff in Indonesia. These are much more similar to the cornish pasty in that their filling consists of chicken (usually anyway) with mixed vegetables, rice vermicelli and, often, an egg. Here they are more popular in street markets than supermarkets but are still a staple snack for the nation.
In Malaysia curry puffs are offered in two sizes the regular snack size, and what could be called a “bite-sized” version called an epok-epok. It is often these smaller versions are stuffed with half a boiled egg instead of chicken. Other variations include sardines or shredded vegetables for vegetarians. They are mainly served out of Indian and Malay food stalls however frozen versions have been developed for the wider market and for export; but people say that they prefer the hand made versions from street vendors.
The curry puff is a staple part of the diet here in Southeast Asia and an event held here featuring a Southeast Asia inspired menu wouldn’t be complete without it. So whether it be as a canapé part of the main meal ensure that you talk to your caterer in Singapore about what styles of curry puff they can offer, and what they think will contemplate the rest of your menu.