The Ultimate Guide to Thai Curries
If you are a fan of Thai food, you've probably already tried the delicious variations of curry that are available in this cuisine. Thailand's curries have Indian and Chinese influences, which create a mix of amazing flavors. With spices, curry pastes, vegetables, meats, and in some Thai curries, coconut milk, you've got a delicious mix that makes up the Thai curry. Here is a rundown on some of the different types:
Green Curry (Gaeng Kiew Wan)
Possibly the most famous of Thailand's curries. Coming from Central Thailand, this sweet and spicy green curry is well-known by many throughout the world. This curry will use fresh thai chilies rather than dried chilies. This distinct curry uses coconut milk and the curry paste is made up of green chilies, shallots, lemongrass, white pepper, coriander root, garlic, kaffir lime, shrimp paste, and sea salt. Green curry will usually be made with green vegetables such as green beans, sweet basil leaves, onions, green eggplant, and other vegetables. For protein, green curry can be filled with almost any kind of meat but often in Thailand will be served with chicken or fish balls.
Sour Orange Curry (Gaeng Som)
This curry is more of a soup that is more popular in Central Thailand. It's paste consists of only five ingredients and is the spiciest of all the curries since it is water-based, meaning that there is no coconut fat to lower the heat. The curry paste consists of dried red chilies, shallots, sea salt, finger root ginger, and shrimp paste. In order to get the sour element of the dish, some will add tamarind or other tropical fruits like pineapple. Thai people will typically pair this curry with fish or shrimp and any local vegetables available. For vegetarian cooking, the shrimp paste can be substituted with fermented soybean or yellow bean salt.
Panaeng Curry (Gaeng Panaeng)
This curry is named after the island off Malaysia's west coast, and it is a sweeter, richer, and drier curry. This curry uses coconut milk, but a lot less than other curries, keeping the roux quite dry. Because of this, it is generally served on a plate and topped off with coconut cream. The paste for this curry is made of red long chilies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime rind, coriander root, white pepper, sea salt, and of course, shrimp paste. In Thailand, Panang Curry will usually be served with beef and is hot and spicy. Depending on what parts of Thailand you are eating it, some people will add peanuts. Usually, it is prepared with veggies like green beans or peppers.
Massaman Curry (Gaeng Massaman)
Massaman curry is more unique amongst other Thai curries because it is more of an interpretation of a Persian dish rather than being an actual Thai curry. This curry uses Persian influenced spices and comes from the deep South of Thailand. It is a thicker stew-like, mild, slightly sweet curry with deliciously roasted spices. The paste consists of dried red chilies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, cumin, cloves, white pepper, salt, and shrimp paste. Generally, this dish is prepared with chicken, potatoes, onions, peanuts, cinnamon, white cardamom, and nutmeg.
Jungle Curry (Gaeng Pa)
This curry from central Thailand gets it name due to the diversity of herbs, ingredients and flavors that are used to make it. It can be very spicy! The most important element of this dish is the curry paste that is made from an assortment of herbs and of course chillies. Holy basil is added to the curry to give a unique flavor. You can cook with chicken or pork but the best jungle curries are often cooked with wild meats such as wild boar or frog.
One of the most famous dishes from Northern Thailand. Some people consider this to be a noodle dish, others consider it a curry. We will consider it to be a coconut curry noodle soup. Similar in profile to the muslim-influenced Massaman curry, khao soi paste is made with a combination of moist aromatics and dry spices, that are toasted to bring out the aroma. Traditionally chicken or beef and served with egg noodles. Expect crispy egg noodles on the top. It is accompanied by pickled cabbage, shallots, lime and chilli oil, for you to flavor to your liking.
Gaeng Hang Lay
This curry comes from Northern Thailand near the Burmese boarder, and as such has an Indian influence to it. The core ingredient in the curry paste is the Hang Lay Massala spice mix, but one can use garam massala instead. Usually cooked with fatty pork belly or ribs, and with the addition of pineapple creates as sweet, rich and mild curry, that is super super tasty! A must eat if in Northern Thailand.
This is a southern and spicier version of Gaeng Som. The curry is usually made with a liquid fish base combined with curry paste and turmeric, which turns it into a yellowish orange color (as opposed to the orange color of Gaeng Som). Most often it has checks of fish, such as seabass. It is is commonly cooked with bamboo shoots, chunks of green papaya or even lotus stems.
Gaeng Tai Pla
Another curry from the deep south of Thailand. Its name is derived from "tai pla", a salty sauce made from fermented fish entrails, which gives the curry a strong smell and flavor. The ingredients are a combination of fish, fermented shrimp paste, eggplant, pumpkin, string beans and bamboo shoots. It is a very spicy curry and has a very intense taste and pungent aroma. Locals in Pattalung and Songkla provinces love it, and for you to decide if you like it!
This is a curry based on red curry paste mixed with roasted peanuts. It is different from Panaeng curry as it has less herbs and an added aroma of roasted coconut. Most commonly you get a seafood version from mackerel, seabass, sardines or shrimp.
How to cook with ready-made pastes
In Asian food sections or speciality markets, you can sometimes find ready-made paste, which can be a lot easier to make in comparison to creating your own paste from scratch. You will want to start by sauteing the paste in some oil for a few minutes to release the flavors. Usually, the ready-made pastes are raw, so it's good to release the flavors a bit. Then, comes the coconut milk; whisk it in and simmer. Next, you want to add the protein such as chicken or beef, pork or whatever else you are using. After the meat is cooked through, you can add your other vegetables in all according to your preferences.
If you’re looking to learn more about Thai cooking when you are in Bangkok, a cooking class at The Market Experience, is your best option. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help.