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Let's assume that they are both made with chicken, and that the curry is a traditional Indian curry, with tomato and traditional spices, not with "curry powder" tossed in it.

Various articles claim to describe the differences, but they disagree with each other.

Recipes for both use the same seasonings, and appear pretty much interchangeable, except that curry often has coconut-something in it, and tikka masala is heavy on butter and cream.

How are they actually supposed to be different?

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    Hey, I'm afraid that your question is meaningless because "curry" is not a thing. There are many, many combinations of spices and aromatics across at least six different national cuisines that get called "curry" ... one of which is tikka masala.
    – FuzzyChef
    Apr 16, 2022 at 4:54
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    @FuzzyChef would an answer then be that “tikka masala” is a subset of “curry”?
    – Stephie
    Apr 16, 2022 at 5:02
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    The confusion is understandable, but this question is like asking "what is the difference between fettuccine Alfredo and pasta with sauce", or "what is the difference between gazpacho and soup". There simply is no dish called "Indian curry" with a consistent definition.
    – dbmag9
    Apr 16, 2022 at 12:24
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    @VeryAmateur your example here about bread proved the opposite of your point. I’m wondering if there’s a language barrier at ply here. “Bread is loaf shaped” is a false statement because focaccia is bread and also not loaf shaped. You’re picking a weird, illogical hill to die on here and it’s going to be confusing to the vast majority of English speakers.
    – Preston
    Apr 20, 2022 at 1:31
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    I think the frustration stems from everyone reaching for examples to illustrate a very abstract concept. Non-food examples might include "What is the difference between Berlin and cities in Germany?", "What is the difference between rectangles and quadrilaterals?", "What is the difference between cats and mammals?", "What is the difference between shades of blue and colours?" and so on.
    – dbmag9
    Apr 20, 2022 at 14:41

2 Answers 2

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The difference between curry and tikka is more down to the preparation and way the dish is cooked, rather than the core ingredients, although they may share many common factors.

For instance, the meat for a curry might be marinaded in a sauce (masala) beforehand, or it might just be pan fried along with onions and garlic with the cooking sauce built from tomatoes, yoghurt, stock etc. and the meat (Chicken, beef or lamb) finally cooked off in this sauce. So traditionally, a curry is cooked in a pan or casserole pot.

On the other hand, a tikka will almost always be marinaded beforehand, generally in a mixture of oil, yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, ginger and spices for at least an hour, preferably overnight. The meat (Generally chicken, although lamb is also used) is then placed on a skewer and cooked vertically in a traditional tandoori oven, although a Western adaptation would be to grill or oven cook the pieces. Frequently, food colouring is added to the chicken to give a vibrant red, yellow or orange look, something that is not done in a traditional curry.

Once the tikka meat is cooked it may be served with a side salad, or added to a tomato and cream based sauce which then forms a very modern dish, chicken tikka masala.

Effectively, the difference between a curry and a tikka is stewing/braising versus roasting.

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    None of these generalizations about curry are accurate.
    – FuzzyChef
    Apr 18, 2022 at 19:48
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    The OP was enquiring as to the general difference between the two dishes (apart from the ingredients) and cooking technique is clearly the difference here. It goes without saying that there will be many variations in dishes across regional and national lines, but as a straightforward, uncomplicated response, I can't see a problem with a generalised answer here. You cannot cook a sauce based curry in a tandoor, and while it would be theoretically possible to "Pan cook" tikka, it would be more akin to grilling/frying.
    – Greybeard
    Apr 18, 2022 at 22:09
  • Uncomplicated, but wrong. Hence my pro-forma objection for posterity; I just want to be sure that future readers see the problems with this answer.
    – FuzzyChef
    Apr 18, 2022 at 22:14
  • I'm genuinely curious as to why, I am more than happy to stand corrected but I really fail to see what is so inaccurate. To clarify, I am basing my response on BIR takeaway (British Indian Restaurant) cooking methods.
    – Greybeard
    Apr 18, 2022 at 22:23
  • @Greybeard, apologies, certain parties here were determined to pretend that there being varieties, as there are with nearly everything, means that no answer could be given, and your excellent answer spoiled their plans.... that's why you're getting downvotes, etc. In this thread, black is white, gazpacho is hot, and insulting comments rather than cooking info are the goal. Thank you for taking the time to provide a clear and accurate response to my question! Apr 20, 2022 at 5:27
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'Curry' is a very general term, generally applied on cuisines from an outside perspective. In a particular area there may be a 'default' curry but this will differ widely in different places and contexts – "traditional Indian curry" is an understandable misconception, like saying there's a specific dish which is "standard Italian pasta".

Tikka Masala is a more specific dish although there will be variation, a staple of British 'Indian' (which also includes Bangladeshi and Pakistani) cuisine.

So as noted in the comments, tikka masala is a type of curry.

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