Thai cuisine is famous for its delicious curries and the many ways it incorporates this spice in its dishes. Spicy, sweet, and tangy—it’s the mixture of all these flavors that make Thai curries so distinct.
If you are traveling to Thailand, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the different curry varieties and what makes each one unique. Here’s our guide to understanding the many flavors of Thai curry:
Three Main Types of Thai Curry
Thai curries refer to both the paste and the dishes. They are categorized according to their colors: red, yellow, and green. This classification applies to the chili that made the curry paste. Aside from their shade, these different types of chili also bring different flavors to their dishes. Traditionally, the red curry is known to be the spiciest among the three and is served to the bravest diners. Green curry is the mildest, while the yellow falls somewhere in between.
Traditionally, Thai chefs added up to 20 red chilies to give red curry paste its fiery color and taste. These days, it’s usual for modern chefs to reduce the number of chilies and substitute it with chili powder. This addition enhances its flaming color and gives it a more complex flavor.
Red curry is used in a wide range of dishes, the most famous one being Thai Red Curry with Chicken. This recipe uses coconut milk as its base sauce and includes garlic, lemongrass, turmeric, and shrimp paste.
Green curry is called kaeng khiao wan in Thai, which means sweet green curry. As its name says, this type of curry is sweeter and milder than its red cousin. Green curry dishes are vibrant and light at the same time, easily making them a crowd favorite. Aside from green chillis, other herbs are used to add texture, color, and flavor. These commonly include coriander roots, kaffir lime leaves, and basil. The most popular proteins to integrate into Thai green curry are seafood, vegetables, and chicken.
Aside from yellow chilis, turmeric, cumin, galangal, and yellow mustard seeds lend their color to make Thai yellow curry. This combination of spices makes the curry paste bright and brilliant, and the dishes warm and inviting. There’s a variety of dishes that use yellow curry as their base. Often, these dishes contain coconut cream in addition to coconut milk.
Aside from these three primary colors, there are different types of curries used in Thai cuisine. Massaman curry and Penang curry are a few of the most well-known. Massaman curry has an unmistakable Persian influence and contains peanuts in its recipes. It originated in Southern Thailand, near Malaysia. Penang curry got its name from an island in Malaysia and is said to have come to Thailand through Laos. This curry is of a similar shade to red curry, but it is much drier than the traditional Thai dish.
Thai curries may be different in colors and flavors, but one thing is constant: they are all incredibly delicious and delightful dishes that Thailand is known for. They are best eaten with friends and family, over hearty laughs and conversations—and don’t forget the extra jasmine rice!
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