What Makes Thai Curry So Distinctive?

Although the word ‘curry’ comes from the Hindi word ‘kari’ referring to the curry plant native to India, the term has travelled the world and expanded in meaning.

Most obviously, a curry is regarded as a (generally spicy) sauce to accompany rice or bread. Logically it is also associated with India, but there are many other Asian countries that are home to their own varieties of ‘curry’.

thai green curry
Thai Green curry with prawns. Yum.

Take Thailand; their variations of the dish, typically separated with beautiful simplicity into ‘green’, ‘red’ and ‘yellow’, are served with rice or noodles and are gaining popularity for their distinctive taste.

So what differentiates Thai curry from the rest?

Thai cooking does not use dried or powdered spices

Unlike their Indian neighbours, Thai cooking focuses only on fresh ingredients, including the ‘spicy’ elements of their dishes. This includes fresh chillies, herbs, and roots.

As a result, the curries are cooked for a shorter time and the original base to any dish is necessarily a paste, not dry spices.

The spicy kick therefore tends to be more powerful initially – being fresh – whereas Indian curry flavours will stay with you for longer.

thai curry paste
Thai curry pastes made from different chillies

Some essential ingredients for Thai food are not common everywhere

The ingredients that represent the foundation of most Thai dishes are not always easy to find, and their taste is difficult to replicate otherwise. A few of the rarer essentials include:

Thai ingredients
Galangal, lemongrass, and other ingredients used in Thai cooking

Galangal – ginger’s less common sister (see below).

Lemongrass – visually very similar to spring onions but harder to find since they are grown in tropical regions. It has an extremely unique citrus edge.

Shrimp paste – made from fermented shrimp and salt, this odd ingredient adds a lot of flavour to the paste. Sometimes a fish sauce is added to the mix, also common in many Eastern Asian cuisines.



If you are lucky enough to have an Asian supermarket nearby, you’ll be able to recreate tastes from Thailand! If not, it’s very rare to use those ingredients of a daily basis, making the combination of flavours very distinctive.

Coconut milk typically makes the sauce thin

Whichever of the traffic light curries you choose to eat (red, yellow, or green), the bulk of the sauce will typically be coconut milk, providing the trademark watery texture we all love.


So if you are planning to experiment with Thai cooking, this is a good place to start! Find your nearest Asian supermarket, and you’ll find it’s not nearly as difficult as it seems!

And remember: the colour of the curry simply denotes which kind of chillies you should use (i.e. green curry uses green chillies etc.) and their respective spice levels. Green is the hottest, so be careful how much you use.

Have we missed out any typical ingredients or cooking tips for Thai cooking that could help budding chefs? Let us know in the comments!


Ingredient of the week: Galangal

Every week we choose a special ingredient from our menu to explore its background and uses.

This Indonesian root, which is a member of the ginger family, is an ingredient that is often used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. In Western cooking, many replace galangal with ginger since it is hard to find. This is not recommended however, as the taste is quite different; it adds that unique earthy, citrus flavour to so many of your favourite Asian dishes, often paired with lemongrass.

Are you unfamiliar with this exotic ingredient? Try it on this week’s menu, along with many of exciting world dishes!

Nope, not ginger. This is galangal

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