Indian cuisine is one of the oldest and more complex culinary traditions around and there are many different regional varieties because India is a huge continent.
Garam masala is a spice mixture that is fundamental in Indian cuisine. Garam means hot in Hindi and masala means mixture so together they represent a hot (as in spicy) mixture of dried spices.
So if you’re cooking a proper curry, you have to use garam masala rather than the generic substance which passes for curry in most US supermarkets.
You can think of garam masala as a more sophisticated curry powder and once you learn to prepare your own garam masala, you will be amazed at the flavor profiles you will be able to produce when you cook Indian food.
A garam masala mixture usually consists of tumeric, black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, cumin seeds and cardamon pods.
You can buy premade garam masala but preparing your own mixture ahead of time takes minimal effort and is so much more adaptable because you can vary the taste depending on your preferences.
There might be an initial investment upfront for the different spices but the cost is minimal especially if you have access to an Indian or Asian grocery store. You can buy the spices in bulk and then mix your own masala.