Thai Curry – The Taste of Thai

Thai Curry is one of the most popular category of dishes and you’ll find many different styles of curry on the menu in Thai restaurants throughout the world.
Thai Green CurryConsidered native to India, the curry cooking style was introduced throughout Southeast Asia, including Thailand, by people immigrating from India over the last several centuries.

In Thailand, the curry dish has been adapted to the local and regional tastes and preferences. A Thai curry tends to be a bit more soup-like than the thicker Indian varieties.

A basic Thai curry recipe consists of coconut milk or water as the base combined with various styles of curry paste and prepared with different meats including chicken, beef, pork and fish.

Curry is called gaeng phet in Thai. Gaeng means liquid and refers to both soups and curries and phet means “hot” in the spicy sense. So literally, gaeng phet means “hot/spicy liquid”. While Thai curries are not necessarily soups, gaeng is also used to refer to soups (liquid), for example gaeng joot (clear Thai soup).

What’s in a curry paste?

Unlike the Indian curry varieties which are often prepared from a mixture of dry spices and powders, Thai curry pastes are an aromatic mixture of freshly ground herbs and spices which creates a more moist paste consistency.

The key ingredients in most Thai curry pastes are moist and fragrant and include fresh chilies, lemongrass, galangal (or ginger), garlic, shallot, kaffir lime, cilantro, and shrimp paste (kapee). The spices usually include tumeric, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. These herbs and spices not only create the marvelous curry flavors, but are also believed to have certain medicinal qualities.

The freshness, amount and type of chilies used to prepare the curry paste typically governs the level of heat or spiciness from one curry to another. If you prefer your curry less spicy you can always ask the restaurant to go easy on the chilies.

Two Types of Thai Curries

Thai curries fall into two basic categories; water-based curries and coconut-based curries.  An example of a water-based curry is sour curry (gaeng sohm plah) most often prepared with fish. The sourness comes from tamarind or other types of sour fruits.  Jungle curry (gaeng pah) is a water-based vegetable curry and can be prepared with or without meat. Jungle curry is usually more spicy. In general, the spiciest Thai curries are water-base because there is no coconut fat to temper or soften the spicy heat.

The coconut-based Thai curries are the most popular in the west. These are the familiar red (gaeng phet), green (gaeng kiow wahn), yellow (gaeng leuang) , panang (gaeng phanaeng) and masamam (gaeng massaman) curries. Depending on the region of the country, the most popular curry in Thailand is either gaeng phet or gaeng kiow wahn

  • Green Curry (gaeng kiow wahn) – green curry uses green chilies to make the curry paste. The green chilies make this curry one of the spicier, hot curries (green curry is typically prepared to be spicier/hotter than other curries). Made with any kind of meat including beef, pork, chicken and even lamb. The vegetables usually include bamboo shoots and eggplant.
  • Yellow Curry (gaeng leuang) – yellow curry gets most of its influence from Indian curry. The yellow color comes from the Indian style curry powder (and sometimes tumeric). For vegetables, yellow curry is usually made with potatoes and onions.
  • Red Curry (gaeng phet) – red curry gets its red color from dried red chilies used to make the curry paste. The dried red chilies add spice and heat, but not quite as spicy as the fresh green chilies used in green curry. 
  • Panang Curry (gaeng phanaeng) – Panang curry is named after the island off of Malaysia’s west coast. This is one of the most popular of the Thai curries, and is the perfect blend of sweetness and spices. Panang curry is most often made with dried red chilies where it gets its typical red color. Some Thai restaurants will list Panang curry on the menu as Red curry, but the two are somewhat different.
  • Masamam Curry (geang massamam) – Masamam curry comes from a Persian influence and originates in the Southern region of Thailand that borders with Malaysia. The population in this region is largely Muslim, hence this curry is most often prepared with chicken, beef and lamb since the Islamic religion prohibits Muslims from eating pork. Masamam curry is usually made with peanuts and potatoes, and can include spices such as cinnamom, cardamom and nutmeg for a unique sweetness. This style of curry is typically a little thicker, more like a stew, and more mild than other Thai curries.

Serving the curry dish

In keeping with the Thai cooking philosophy of balancing the five basic tastes of bitter, sweet, sour, salty and spicy, Thai curry goes well when paired with soup, green vegetables (slightly bitter), and fried salty fish (salty) over jasmine rice.

So now you have at least 5 more excuses to visit Rachada Thai Cuisine in Moorpark and try all of the varieties of delicious curries we have on our menu.

Creative Commons License photo credit: yoppy

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