Thailand is the home of so much great food. Noodle dishes, grilled dishes, amazing seafood but what really brings the big flavours of Thailand is the curry.
Unlike Indian Curry, Thai Curry is less of a heavy warming comfort food and more a thin consistency curry which adds fresh spicy kick to a Thai meal. Based on a totally unscientific survey of my friends Thai food seems to be much more popular than Indian cuisine, mostly because Indian food is too heavy and it’s aromatics are unpleasant. While Thai cuisine is light and much more approachable. This I agree with in some ways but not in others.
Thai Cuisine has two divisive aspects that could turn off someone who is new, cilantro and spice. Cilantro also known as green coriander or mexican basil* actually tastes and smells bad to a significant section of the population because of genetic factors. The leafy herb gives of large amounts of a chemical group called aldehydes. Very similar compounds are released in soaps and in bedbugs. Most people’s brains don’t make the connection but there is a small amount of the population, who’s brains do make their connection and thus Cilantro and many times Arugula taste unpleasant. Spice is the other one, many people prefer not to eat spicy food** but there is also many people who have legitimate health concerns when it comes to spicy food*** and that is understandable.
Some of the main ingredients in a Thai Curry are, coconut milk, lime, ginger, garlic, galangal****, onions, shallots, shrimp paste and lemongrass.
Here are a few common curries you will find in a Thai restaurant to make ordering a breeze. With this caveat, you need to communicate as much as you can with your server on how hot you can expect things. Heat is subjective, but sometimes just letting a server know you are sensitive to heat will allow them to communicate to the chef to tone down the heat. Or they may be sadist Buddhists who want to see you sweat (those are my favourite).
Kaeng Kari:(Yellow Curry) This curry is less yellow and more brown when it comes to you at the table. Normally this actually eats more like an indian curry as it includes coriander, mace, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, bay leaf, and cinnamon. But there is also a Thai twist with the addition of lemongrass, galangal, palm syrup and coconut milk. Normally this is a medium heat curry but some places will ramp it up by adding ungodly amounts of chili.
Kaeng Khaio Wan:(Sweet Green Curry) This is where Thai cuisine really gets going with the interplay between sweet and heat. Green curries are super approachable because of their mellow flavour but many are made very hot as well. Normally served with chicken or shrimp this curry is a blend of kaffir lime, green chilies, galangal, white pepper, garlic, cumin seed, shrimp paste and fish sauce. The paste is then added to split coconut milk heated and served.
Kaeng Phet:(Red Curry) If green means go, red mean stop. Red Curry is very similar to green curry but without that buffer of sweetness. The paste is essentially the same as a green curry but with the use of the hotter red thai chili. Much less coconut milk is used and much more fish sauce. This curry was designed for beef, duck, pork, or frog, and it will make the undersides of your eye lids sweat.
Massaman Curry:(Muslim Curry) Massaman Curry is a brown curry that plays with the sweet and spicy relationship. Easily my favourite curry because of it’s complexity and it’s hypocrisy. Nothing beats eating a “muslim” curry that is filled with crispy, tasty, BBQed pork and pork skin. The massaman curry paste consists of coconut milk, tamarind syrup, roasted peanuts, potato, bay leaf, cardemom pods, star anise, cinnamon, chilies and fish sauce. It is also usually garnished with Thai Chilies which have been macerated in vinegar and palm sugar.
Phanaeng:(Penang Curry) Penang is a small island off the coast of Malaysia which is known as one of the great melting pots of Asian cuisine. This is a thai take on the much milder curry found on the island. It’s a great beginner curry, because of it’s mildness and it’s ability to balance tropical flavours against usually beef cheek or flank steak.
Phat phrik khing:(Stir Fried chili ginger curry) This is a dry curry that doesn’t include coconut milk. It’s very interesting in that it contains no ginger though it’s name would lead you to believe that it did. This is an oil based curry and if you are not a fan of coconut milk this may be the curry for you. Medium heat to high in spice, this curry is the flavours of thailand unadulterated. It’s spicy, it’s fresh, it’s acidic but it’s comforting.
So now that you have two types of curry under your belt(indian, thai) go out and explore what you like.
*The mexicans are even taking basil’s job.
***Ulcers, heart conditions, gastro-oesophageal reflux, Crohn’s & Colitis to name a few.
****An Indonesian root much like ginger but more pungent.