Upon hearing our European intern’s question about the diversity of curry in Thailand, it dawned on us that the three Thai curry musketeers are a universal mystery. So we’re here to unravel the mystery of each Thai curry for you. From their distinctive shades to tastes and aromas, the spices and herbs are behind everything.
Before we dive into more details, there are a few basics you should know about these heavenly dishes. We believe you’re already familiar with Thai curry, Thai spicy soup (tom yum), and Thai mild soup, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Thai watery delights can be roughly grouped like this – one with coconut milk and one without. These two main types are made up of myriad of the spicy (with or without curry) and the mild.
For a more complete picture of the herbal amalgam, a rundown on core Thai spices will cast light on the magic behind not just Thai curry, but other Thai delights as well.
Thai Spices – The Backbones of the Exalted Thai Food
We have different kinds of chilies for different purposes: Bird eye’s chili for a fiery touch and fresh and dried cayenne pepper for the spirited aroma. We usually mix them all up when it comes to curry, though.
Finely chopped, the purple tear maker brings its aromatic oneness to the table.
A prerequisite to almost any Thai dish. We roughly chop them for fried dishes, and mash them up for curry paste.
Mushed up with other spices, lime skin is a wonderful team player that takes curry paste to where it wants to be.
The piquant and musky essence adds a zest to our edibles.
The citrusy tang balances out the zest and is a perfect lift of freshness.
Apart from brightening up the food, turmeric was our great-grandma’s go-to skin smoothing cream.
These are the cornerstones. Coriander root, cumin, ginger, caraway and a bunch of tropical spices also come into play in various Thai dishes.
Now let’s move onto the colors of Thai curry.
What Makes Green Curry Green?
Green cayenne pepper and green Bird eye’s chili play a major role in Green Curry’s 50 shades of green. If that’s not enough, chili leaves (any kind) and sweet basil leaves make for a great backup team.
Already a global zap, green curry doesn’t need more introduction. We’ll just leave you a quick hint here — real green curry oozes musky citrus base, isn’t too runny or too thick, and has fair amount of bamboo or winter melon and sweet basil leaves.
And What About the Red Curry?
We all know it’s the red chillies, but there’s more to it than that. Even Thai amateur home chefs struggle with making a ‘red’ red curry, so we’ve gathered some pro tips. Cut out the top end of chilies as the darker shade tends to outplay the red. Dried red cayenne peppers can also be a great help. Don’t worry, they only boost the hue, not the spice.
Although lesser known and slightly less ubiquitous, Gang Phed Ped Yang (Roast Duck with Red Curry) tops our list of favorite Thai dishes. The meaty and succulent duck meat is the best at soaking up and oozing out the herbal-infused creamy coconut curry. Contrary to its look, red curry is not tangy with any particular spice. It’s a blended union of everything nice with tantalizing aromatic chili base.
And Last But Not Least, the Yellow Curry?
It’s turmeric! That’s the golden goddess behind this Thai curry’s mellow yellow. However, seeds of fennel, fenugreek and coriander also deserve the accolades.
You might already know the much sought-after Japanese curry. Thai yellow curry is its distant cousin, with a heavier and earthier note of spice. Chicken leg (or other meat) and potato are two basic elements in Thai yellow curry. Our personal favorite is one with lime leaves. Their piney and citrusy essence is a counterbalance to the curry’s fragrant. Don’t confuse Thai yellow curry with the renowned Massaman, though. The latter is peanut-musky and sweeter with a sour tang from tamarind.
So… Which one is the most spicy?
There is no absolute champion when it comes to Thai curries’ spicy level, or Thai food for that matter. As you’ve read, it all depends on how much of different kinds of chilies and other hot spices you put in. The same type of chili from different regions or different seasons also exude varying degrees of hotness. (It’s a labyrinth, this whole spicy spice business.) Our advice: don’t let the ferocious-looking red curry scare you. In reality, they might be just a tiny bit piquant.
We suggest you give all three curry musketeers a try. After all, you’re in Thailand, the Land of Smiles. And spices, might we add.