Madras vs Vindaloo: What’s the Difference?

Written By Acacia Crossley


When it comes to curries of the world, no one would disagree that Indian cuisine is the most celebrated example. There is far more to curry than a typical chicken korma you would make at home from a packet.

The world of curries is rich and flavourful, with countless dishes offerings a range of experiences. 

Two of the most well-known curries in the West are madras and vindaloo. You will find every Indian takeaway proudly listing madras and vindaloo dishes on their menu, but what are they exactly, and how do they compare? 

Madras is not a traditional Indian curry, unlike vindaloo. As such, there is less structure and continuity with madras, with each person having their own take on the curry, whereas vindaloo has a more coherent and consistent set of ingredients. 

What is Madras?

In the UK, a madras curry sets the standard understanding of a hot curry, acting as the complete opposite of the popular, sweet chicken korma.

However, if you order a madras curry in India, you would likely get vastly different results than the dish ordered in a UK takeaway.

Madras is named after the south Indian city that now goes by Chennai, which British colonisers noted to be dry and hot. Historically, the British collectively called any dish from the region madras. 

Chennai City from the Air

The modern-day Western understanding of madras is a tomato-based curry with a fittingly dark red sauce that matches its spicy flavour. Overall, the heat level of madras is a medium but can vary from chef to chef. 

As far as ingredients go, madras curry embodies the flavours and local go-to spices of the Madras region in India. South India is very fond of chilli peppers, so hot chilli peppers are a must for a madras curry. Madras spice blends will likely include allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and turmeric. 

What is Vindaloo?

While the vindaloo that most people in the UK and US are aware of is fairly close to the vindaloo that originated in Goa (South India), it is not precisely the same. 

Traditional Goa vindaloo (or vindalho) uses pork. In the 16th century, Portugal occupied Goa, so you can see a close comparison of the Portuguese carne de vinha d’halos and the tomato-based vindaloo curry.

Plenty of spice is used when making a vindaloo which is why it has a reputation for being one of the spiciest popular curries in the world.

The key to a good, tasty vindaloo is to slow-cook the meat in the spicy sauce for at least 2 hours until wonderfully tender. 

Similarities Between Madras and Vindaloo

There are more similarities between madras and vindaloo other than the obvious fact that they are both curry dishes: 

Tomato Based

Though there are variations of madras, there is one consistency and that is its acidic tomato base. Vindaloo is also built upon a tomato base and falls into the traditional selection of Indian tomato-based curries. 

Wonderful Orange Sauce

Due to the base of tomatoes in both curries, madras and vindaloo have noticeably orange-coloured sauce, which makes for quite the wow factor once served.

The intensity of the colours vary depending on the ratio of tomatoes used. 

Indian Flavours

No matter where the dishes originated or the influences they may have taken from other cuisines when conceived, there is no denying the Indian taste of a madras and vindaloo.

They use spices and extremely popular seasonings in Indian cooking, such as cumin and coriander, which helps translate that iconic Indian flavour. 

Differences Between Madras and Vindaloo

The differences that madras and vindaloo have are near polar opposites, which makes the dishes as different as can be. For example: 

Traditional Origin

Vindaloo may be inspired by a Portuguese dish, but it originated in Goa and has been an Indian classic portraying standard Goan cuisine qualities since it was invented.

Madras, on the other hand, is arguably anything but Indian. Yes, it was and continues to be inspired by the hot and dry cuisine of what was Madras, but it is often considered a dish of British invention. 

Indian Takeaway

Ingredient Continuity

For a long time, the term madras curry was not used to describe 1 curry dish, instead it was a term used to generalise the cuisine from the Madras region.

Because of this generalisation, there is no continuity in the ingredients used in the curry aside from its tomato base. Vindaloo has more traditional roots in Indian cuisine and a more rigid set of ingredients that define the dish. 

Specific Meat

Religious taboos and laws have influenced the type of meat typically used in vindaloos.

Goan chefs were willing to handle pork, so a vindaloo is one of the only traditional Indian curries to use pork. But with madras, because of the lack of traditional Indian origin, no specific meat is tied to the dish. 

Spice Level

Those who cannot handle spicy food well would say that madras is just as spicy as vindaloo, though that is not true.

At least in the UK, Madras is considered a typically spicy dish. However, vindaloo is a few steps above madras on the heat scale.

Madras vs Vindaloo: Which Wins?

If you had to pick which of these curries to enjoy, which would you vote for when comparing madras vs vindaloo? Of course, there’s also a chance both will be too spicy for you.

Do You Prefer Madras vs Vinadloo?

Madras and Vindaloo FAQs

Do you have more questions about these popular curries? Then check these FAQs out:

What Protein Should Be Used in Madras?

A variety of meat and vegetables can be used in a madras curry. Chicken, pork, and lentils are popular choices but it really depends what you or the chef has to hand.

What Protein Should Be Used in Vindaloo?

Pork is actually often used in vindaloo curries, even though you rarely see pork used across India. This tradition is not as common when vindaloo is seen at Indian takeaways, however.


Where we obtain our information and verify the facts in this article:

Recipe Tin Eats

What is a vindaloo curry and how to make it

Delighted Cooking

What is a madras curry and how to make it

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