Thai curry is the shortcut to gain a true favor of Thailand. The curry not only represents the tastes of the Thai people, but also the ingredients, the dishes and the famous cuisines all of which are together termed as the Thai curry. A typical Thai curry dish is prepared from curry paste, milk of coconut, seafood or meat, vegetables or fruit and herbs. Curries are also made in India and have been a sumptuous part of the Indian diet for longer than in any other country but the curries in Thailand mainly differ from the curries in India in that the Thai curries use ingredients such as herbs and aromatic leaves to give them a different taste of spices and fragrance of the various herbs.
Thai curries in the world are called as ”kaeng”, also written as “gaeng” in Thai language. Thailand also has avast history of the origin of the curries and their preparations that have evolved over time, while still retaining their original flavor. The first Thai dictionary in the year 2416 according to the Thai Buddhist calendar and 1873 CE according to the calendar we usually follow, defines kaeng as “a watery dish to be eaten with rice and utilizing paste of the shrimp, onions or shallots, chillies and garlic as essential ingredients” of the gaeng or the kaeng. Coconut milk is not seen in this definition and thus many Thai curries like the kaeng som and the kaeng pa do not use the milk of coconut in the curry preparations.
The word “curry” in the Thai language is “kari”. the term is used for dishes that use the Indian style of curry powder called the phong kari in thai language or for kaeng kari which is made according to the Indian style ingredients and proportions. One such curry famous in Thailand is the Kung phat phong kari which is the fried prawns with egg and curry powder. Although “kaeng” is liquid substance, like the water, but the thickness of the sauce can differ from being very thick or being like water itself. Also dishes can be completely dry. Dry dishes like the phat phrik khing are stir-fried with a curry paste. Noodle dishes of khanom chin nam ngaio are also Thai curry dishes which use curry pastes.
Kaeng Chuet is a kaeng exception and is a Chinese style meat or vegetable broth with pork, tofu etc. and does not contain chillies, garlic, onions and shrimp. The term Kaeng Chuet means “bland curry” but it is a soup, and thus also called Tom Chuet. Curries are eaten with rice which is the long grained jasmine rice in Thailand’s central and south areas while northern Thai rice is sticky. The curry is also popular with noodles such as fermented rice noodles. Curries can also be eaten with Thai chapatti. Khao kaeng or khao rat kaeng or “curry-on-rice” is a traditional fast food restaurant in Thailand. It specialises in ready made curries served with rice. Thai curries also use lemon grass, galangal, coriander etc.
Depending on the type of curry many ingredients for the paste could be turmeric, coriander seeds, pepper, cumin or boiled fermented fish. The ingredients are ground together with mortar and pestle in Thai tradition and in modern times with the food processor. then the paste is fried in cooking oil and then mixed with the other ingredients. Thai curry pastes can be made at home from the ingredients available in the markets of Thailand and are also available in semi-cooked or ready made form in super markets.
Thai curries are mostly cooked with with meat and fish as main ingredients. Vegetables, fruit, certain tree leaves and flowers along with bananas are also used. Curries can also be mixed vegetable curries or the bamboo shoots curries. but usually the ingredients depend on the availability of that material in raw form in the particular season or time of the year when it is most popular in the Thai diet. For example the pork and chicken are available all round the year and so are the fish and sea food from rivers, and Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand. Other traditional ingredients in Thai curries can be frogs, snakes, snails, wild birds, fowl, Sambar deer and wild boar! In the vegetarian curries, commonly used vegetables in curries are Thai brinjal or eggplant, squash and pumpkins.
Kaffir lime leaves or finger roots are cooked with the other ingredients sometimes to add to the taste while the Thai basil is added just after the cooking is done to preserve the full taste of the curry. Fish sauce is used for flavoring, cooking as well as for an add-on taste on the tables along with sliced green chillies for the spicy taste. Lime juice or tamarind juice is also used in sour curries and to achieve a distinct taste and aroma the curry paste is first fried together with vegetable or coconut oil before adding other things for the perfect Thai curry!