Thai Curries: What’s the Difference?

Back in the states, I frequented Thai restaurants fairly often. It was always a favorite and if I had the opportunity, I would almost always make the trip. I will admit though, my visits to these restaurants were always boring. I always ordered one of the same two dishes over and over again – Panang curry and Pad Thai. I didn’t really mind; I obviously loved both of the dishes. However, the reason for my picky eating habits was not because I didn’t enjoy other Thai cuisine, it’s just that I didn’t know what the heck it was! Specifically, I didn’t understand the Thai curries.

I knew I loved Panang curry, but I would often have the urge to branch out. I was itching to try some of the other curries listed – green, red, yellow – but I had no idea what they were and always was too afraid to try. Thai food is expensive, and what if I didn’t like it?! The list of ingredients didn’t help either. Most were very similar and as a newbie, I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. So, I stuck with my favorite and called it good.

Here in Thailand, I have been given the opportunity to learn about all different kinds of curry and I am so thankful for that. They are all so good for their own reasons, combining some similar ingredients to make distinctly unique flavors. When I head back to the states, I will never make the mistake again of always ordering the same dish. Now I know how many amazing things are on the menu!

For those of you already back in the states, I thought I would give  a quick crash course so the next time you hit up a Thai restaurants, you aren’t as shy about trying something new.

A Long Time Ago

Traditionally, all Thai curries started from the same base and their differences were derived from the types of chilies that were used. Not surprisingly, red curry used red chilies, green curry used green, and yellow curry used yellow. Over the years, each kind of curry began to take on its own style by adding different vegetables, flavors, and spices.

Red Curry

Red curry is traditionally made with up to 20 different types of red chilies and was often extremely hot. The more modern versions have toned down a bit and the majority of pastes these days are made with only a few different types of chilies and some other distinct Thai spices. Red curry is definitely spicy and is made in a coconut milk base. Usually red curry is made with chicken, pork, or beef (rather than seafood) and basic vegetables can be added. This curry is served more as a soup with a plate a rice to go with it.

My Opinion: ♥ ♥ ♥

I have never ordered Red curry. If every other Red curry tastes like the one I made at home today then I am definitely a fan. It is spicier than I am used to but I am getting used to that here in Thailand and actually am starting to enjoy it. I will be ordering more Red curries in the future.

Green Curry

Green Curry is given its name not only because of the use of green chilies but because of the distinct color of the dish. The addition of Kaffir leaves, Thai basil, and Thai eggplant add to the overall “greenness” of the dish. Green curry is often just as hot as Red curry, but has a distinct sweetness to it at well. When cooking, the paste is added to a coconut base and includes a protein, usually beef, chicken, or pork. A few vegetables are added, namely Thai eggplant, and this soup is usually served more soup-like than some of the others.

My Opinion: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I really like Green curry because of the added sweetness to the dish. Even if the curry is spicy, it is rounded out with this added sweet flavor. I am not a huge fan of the eggplant addition to this dish. Sometimes it tastes great, other times not so much. Overall though, this is a pretty consistent dish and I order it fairly regularly.

Yellow Curry

Yellow curry is known to be richer and creamer than some of the other Thai curries because of the addition of both coconut milk and coconut cream. Additionally, Yellow curry is often defined by an added ingredient like palm sugar or tamarind that add a special sweetness to the dish. Both the added sweetness and the coconut cream make this dish far less spicy than some of the others. Yellow curry is made with all kinds of protein from beef and chicken to fish and shrimp.

My Opinion: ??

I have never had Yellow curry! I always seem to go for the curries that I know I love. I need to branch out a little more I guess.

Panang Curry

Panang curry isn’t actually from Thailand. It originated in Malaysia hence being named after a state in the northern region of that country. The basic curry paste of Panang curry starts with all of the same ingredients as Red curry; however, it takes on its own unique flair with the addition of crushed roasted peanuts. Often, Panang curry is made with fewer chilies as well to create a more savory palate as opposed to spicy. When cooking, Panang curry is made with a coconut milk base, a protein (usually poultry), and simple vegetables. Sometimes the vegetables are omitted and the protein stands alone.

My Opinion: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I am a huge fan of Panang curry, mostly because I do not like crazy spicy food. I have never received a dish of Panang curry that was too hot for me to eat nor have I received a plate that I just haven’t liked. I have received a range of styles from very thick with no vegetables, to very soup like with many vegetables. I love them all!

Massaman Curry

Unlike the other Thai curries, this curry stems from the south of Thailand and the Muslim community. Massaman curry is by far the most different of all the curries. Usually made with beef, this dish also includes coconut milk, roasted peanuts, and potatoes. Rather than being spicy, this dish is almost always known for its savory and sweet flavors created by the addition of tamarind sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and palm sugar.

My Opinion: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

If you are a stew enthusiast then you would love this dish. The combination of beef, potatoes, and a hint of sweetness make this dish incredible. I absolutely love it. I could eat it for days. Definitely give it a shot next time you are at a Thai restaurant!

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