The special on the menu tonight: A 2,000-year-old curry
The earliest base for a Southeast Asian curry has been identified on a sandstone slab excavated from the Óc Eo site in Vietnam.
In a rare finding, researchers found a range of spices including turmeric, ginger, fingerroot, sand ginger, galangal, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon on grinding tools and the sandstone slab that was originally excavated in 2018.
The spices are said to be around 2,000 years old, and are still among the key ingredients used to form the base of these Asian curries today.
"The spices used today have not deviated significantly from the Óc Eo period," said Khanh Trung Kien Nguyen from the Southern Institute for Social Sciences. ”The key components are all still there, such as turmeric, cloves and cinnamon.”
The discovery is more than just the chance to compare notes across 2,000 years of cooking. It’s also a window into early trade.
"Our study suggests that curries were most likely introduced to Southeast Asia by migrants during the period of early trade contact via the Indian Ocean," said first author Weiwei Wang from the Australian National University (ANU). ”Given these spices originated from various different locations, it's clear people were undertaking long-distance journeys for trade purposes.
The team also found preserved seeds, which have the potential to be new or ancient species of existing plants, and the researchers plan to study them next.
"The preservation of plant remains in Oc Eo is exceptional – the seeds were so fresh it was hard to believe they were 2,000 years old," said Hsiao-chun Hung from ANU. "We believe further analysis could identify more spices and possibly even uncover unique plant species, adding to our understanding of the history of the region."
The research was published in the journal Science Advances.