Red and green curries are both enduring favorites with visitors to Thailand, but what of the Kingdom’s other delicious creamy creations? We explore the world beyond red and green by investigating some of Thailand’s most mouth-watering alternatives.
Thailand’s culinary repertoire encompasses a plethora of tasty curry dishes
What most westerners call curry is one of Thailand’s tastiest dishes with many varieties gracing the tables of homes and restaurants around the country for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Red and green varieties of this dish tend to be the most popular with visitors – but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to try. Thailand’s expansive culinary repertoire boasts a plethora of sumptuous curry-style dishes – and it’s not just the colour that sets each one apart from another.
Every Thai curry is crafted from a unique blend of herbs, spices and fresh produce. While there are some ingredients – coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger – commonly found in multiple curry-style dishes, the flavour balance of each curry offers a significant shift. In terms of origins, some of the factors that have influenced the flavour of each Thai curry will be geographical, based on the main local ingredients available. Some variations are also down to regional or even personal preferences.
We delve into the mouth-watering world of Thai curries to discover a few of the finest dishes beyond the famous red and green.
Geang pa is at the hotter end of the spicy spectrum
Also known in the west as a forest curry, this delectable dish is referred to in Thai as geang pa. As its name suggests, this recipe originates from remote forested regions, mainly in the north of Thailand. This means geang pa is irresistibly spicy due to the fact that the heat generated by the chillies isn’t watered down by creamy coconut milk. Coconuts are not commonly available in the northern forests of Thailand. The result is a thinner curry sauce with a consistency akin to a stew.
Traditionally, geang pa was made with whatever ingredients could be found in the area – including the meat of wild boar. Today, however, it tends to be made with duck, chicken or pork. The distinctive taste of the sauce comes down to the fragrant array of spices used – kaffir lime peel and leaves, lemongrass, green pepper corns, galangal, garlic and chillies. The jungle curry paste lacks the traditional addition of ground coriander and cumin, but it is far from lacking in flavour. The unique combination of spices imbues the dish with its own distinctive taste.
Massaman curry is a Southern Thai favourite
Unlike fiery geang pa, Thai Massaman curry is widely acknowledged as one of the milder Thai curries. Rich and flavoursome, this curry was introduced to Thailand by Persian merchants and soon became a staple dish, particularly amongst Thailand’s Muslim community. Traditionally, the dish is made with beef or lamb.
Heavily influenced by Indian spices, a typical Massaman Curry will incorporate cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. More typical Thai ingredients like lemongrass and bay leaves are also used to add flavour. Coconut milk and tamarind infuses the dish with a sublime creamy texture, and a sprinkle of peanuts on top adds a tasty crunch. Somewhat unusually for a curry, Massaman also includes satisfying chunks of potato that make this a particularly filling dish. If you still feel you’ll need extra carbohydrates to fill you up, Massaman curry can be served with jasmine, saffron or coconut rice.
Geng Hang Ley
This curry packs a powerful punch of salty, spicy and sour flavours
If you’re keen to explore flavours beyond the tourist-favoured Thai curries, then give gaeng hang lay a try. This exquisite dish originates from northern Thailand, close to the border with Myanmar. In fact, the name hang lay is derived from the Burmese words hin lay, which in English roughly translates to ‘heavy curry’. Salty, spicy and sour, this is one flavoursome dish you won’t want to miss out on. The curry paste comprises a delicate blend of dried chillies, salt, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, garlic, turmeric, shrimp paste and masala spice.
As with many Thai curries, there are regional variations. Some chefs prefer to leave out the dried chillies in favour of green peppercorns. Others will use soy to give the curry its salty kick, as opposed to shrimp paste. This makes it a truly exciting experience when you try geang hang lay in a variety of locations– especially if you’re eating in a local, family-run restaurant where the tailored recipe may have been handed down through generations.
This sumptuous, thick curry is served with a topping of peanuts and coconut cream
Last to feature in our taste guide – but by no means the final curry in Thailand’s extensive repertoire of dishes – is Penang. In terms of its flavour, Penang curry is something of a blend of massaman and red curry, though it tends to be slightly less spicy with more of a sweet kick.
The curry is named after the island off the western coast of Malaysia, so unsurprisingly the flavours incorporate Malaysian cooking traditions as well as those from Thailand. A Penang curry is fried and uses less coconut milk than your typical Thai curry, resulting in a thicker, less soupy texture. For this reason, the curry is often served on a plate as opposed to a bowl, and topped with a lashing of sweet coconut cream.
Generally, beef is the meat you’ll find in most Penang curries. This can be switched chicken, pork, or even green beans, peppers or zucchini if you’re vegetarian. The paste comprises an irresistible concoction of spices, including red chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime peel, white pepper, salt and shrimp paste.
Do it yourself
Your villa’s professional Thai chef will be able to help you master the basics of Thai cooking
If you’re keen to continue indulging in a full menu of gorgeous Thai curries once your holiday is over, then arrange for a cooking lesson or two with your villa’s professional chef. He or she will be able to pass on the essentials Thai curry preparation while teaching you about all of the fresh produce and unique cooking methods that make the sauces so special. A cooking lesson can also include a trip to the local fresh market. Not only is this an excellent chance to rub shoulders with the locals and learn about day-to-day life in Thailand; you’ll be able to see exactly which ingredients your chef selects – and also learn why.
- Some Thai curries, like Massaman, go beautifully with classic Indian side dishes like roti bread.
- Thai jasmine rice – hom mali – is the most common variety you’ll find in the typical Thai diet and it goes well with every type of Thai curry.
- In northern Thailand, sticky rice (khao neow) is characterised by its milky hue and shorter grains. A combination of starches gives this rice a sticky texture once cooked.