What we call "curry" is now an international dish recognised on every continent. Dishes develop and change according to a host of new influences.

For instance, the most popular curry in UK restaurants is Chicken Tikka Masala.

Many people would think of it as a typical Indian dish. But it is actually a restaurant invention created in the UK by Bangladeshi restaurateurs. A true hybrid and a recent chapter in the long history of curry.

On the subcontinent, the term curry is actually not used a lot. It is a term coined by the British to describe the various stews and soups of which there are thousands in India all containing some of the same basic ingredients such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, chillies, cumin, oil and onions. Other common ingredients are yogurt, cream and ground nuts.

Curries differ greatly in their taste and content, with vast regional variations and numerous well-defined cuisines which each have their own history.

The cuisine of an area is intimately linked with its whole history. The conquest of new lands, being colonised by foreigners, migrations, patterns of trade and so on all bring new influences to bear on how people cook and the ingredients they use. Some recipes in Asian countries date back several hundred years and many of the meals we take for granted now were once exclusively enjoyed by royalty and the rich.

Take as an example the area of Goa in India. In Goa the various Hindu, Muslim and Portuguese influences have mixed and merged over the centuries resulting in the distinctive Goan cuisine of today.

The famous "vindaloo" was originally a Portuguese dish which has been altered over time to accommodate local tastes and local ingredients. The spread of curry beyond its home in the sub-continent is closely linked to the reign of the British Raj in India.

Army personnel and civil servants acquired a taste for spicy food brought their newly found dishes home or to other parts of the Empire. The British adapted the local dishes to suit their own tastes.

Mulligatawny soup, for example, is an Anglicised version of its more pungent Indian forbearer which was actually a type of sauce.

Similarly, kedgeree, originally a rice and lentil dish, was adapted by the British to be a breakfast dish containing fish. In terms of modern history the popularity of curry in the UK and elsewhere is surely linked to the rise of the "Indian" restaurant.

Yet the majority of UK restaurants are run by people of Bangladeshi, not Indian, origin. Their influences are obviously from Bangladesh but the restaurateurs have in turn been influenced by the likes and dislikes of their customers. They have modified dishes and incorporated new dishes from other areas of the sub-continent.

Essentially a curry is a spicy recipe, commonly used base spices and herbs include coriander, cumin, cardamom and turmeric, especially in India, but the types of spices and herbs and the way they are used differs considerably from state to state.

Add to that the fact that no one chef prepares a curry in the same way and you can understand the bewildering variation of dishes available.

Depending on the recipe involved, other items can include things like chilli, curry leaves, garlic, ginger, garam masala, onions, lemon grass, cinnamon and pepper and mustard seeds.

The most common perception is that curries are hot, however most curry recipes are mild ones, designed to give a balanced blend of the various spices and herbs used with delicate and highly sophisticated tastes. Think of the hot vindaloo and curries and the mild kormas for instance.

In Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian curries a regular flavouring ingredient is shrimp paste and coconut or coconut milk is used consistently.

Curries in these countries can also be hot or mild and due to the coconut content are often sweet tasting. In Thai cooking basil and lime leaves are often used in curries which give them a distinctive taste.

In Sri Lanka (Ceylon) spices are dark roasted to give them a deliciously different flavour compared to Indian curries. Meat items like chicken are skinned before cooking which also changes the flavour of a curry.

In Myanmnar (Burma) curries are based on garlic, ginger, onions and chillies and are generally watery and delicately flavoured.

An important point about curries - and most other Asian meals - is their health giving properties. any of the spice and herb ingredients used provide exciting and satisfying tastes but they also have long established health and medicinal values.

This is additional to the vitamins and protein provided by the meals. Added to this are the health benefits of the fresh vegetables that are usually included in curries.