This expert guide to Thai curries reveals the difference between Thailand’s most popular curries, spanning the mild, mellow flavours of massaman, the rich heat of red curry, spicy green curry, and fiery jungle curry.
The most popular kind of curry in Thailand, gaeng kiao wan literally translates as ‘sweet green curry’. It originally hails from Central Thailand, but is now enjoyed across the country, and here in Australia, where green curry is a must-have on Thai restaurant menus and a favourite to make at home. The curry paste combines fresh green chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, kaffir lime and shrimp paste. It is then cooked with coconut cream, your choice of protein, and bitter little pea and apple eggplants.
Another from Central Thailand, Thai red curry, or gaeng phet, translates as ‘spicy curry’. It gets its robust flavour and vibrant hue from dried red chillies, plus other dried spices such as coriander and cumin seeds. A milder, thicker, slightly sweeter take on Thai red curry is choo chee curry, generally served with seafood.
Drawing inspiration from the dry spices of India, Central Thai yellow curry is packed with turmeric, giving the resulting curries, stir-fries and rice dishes a golden glow. There’s also a southern variation of yellow curry, also known as gaeng som, a sour, spicy curry flavoured with tamarind. It contains no coconut milk, and the watery broth is generally spooned over rice.
From Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand comes hang lay, a rich, unctuous curry made with pork belly or pork loin, and flavoured with tamarind, galangal, ginger and lemongrass. Containing neither coconut milk nor oil, this robust curry gets its richness from the slow-braised meat.
Another Chiang Mai staple is khao soi, a delectable curry noodle soup laced with coconut milk, turmeric and ginger. Think of it as a Thai twist on laksa.
In the Issan region, in Thailand’s northeast, the fiery jungle curry reigns supreme. Also known as gaeng ba, literally ‘crazy curry’, this super-spicy version is enough to send you mad! There’s no soothing coconut milk here – instead, expect a watery curry with plenty of punch.
From Southern Thailand comes a curry with the most family-friendly appeal, sweet, rich and luscious massaman curry. Flavoured with coconut milk, peanuts, potatoes and dry spices, this Muslim dish is made with beef or lamb, slow cooked over many hours until fork tender.
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