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Jan 26, 2004 04:19 PM

Different Types of Curry - Need clarification!

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I would like to know what the different types of curries are. I know there is red curry, green curry, Mussamun curry, Panang curry. But I don't know how they are different in terms of flavor and ingredient. Can anyone explain it? Thanks!

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  1. Here's a detailed discussion of curry pastes. The site also has a good discussion of masalas (aka curry powders).


    1 Reply
    1. re: Kirk

      Thanks for the informative link! I've often wondered about curries.

    2. Of green, red, and yellow thai curry pastes, green is generally the spiciest, followed by red and then yellow. green curry gets its color from cilantro and/or coriander root, red from red chiles, and yellow from tumeric/indian style curry powder. massaman is muslim in origin (massaman means muslim in thai I believe) and panang curry is made with peanut butter.

      I think its pretty standard for most if not all curry pastes to contain galangal, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, cumin, coriander, shrimp paste and lime zest. I might be forgetting a few things in there and I imagine a few of those aren't in everything.

      I've read that thai cooks taste their curry pastes and adjust the ingredients accordingly. do any anglos out there do this? when I try this my tongue burns for a few minutes and then my breath reeks of garlic for a few hours. maybe that's something farangs shouldn't try at home.


      9 Replies
      1. re: Jesse

        A respectful correction -- green is not generally the spiciest curry. In Thai it's gaeng kiaow waan ---"sweet green curry", and in Thailand at least it is usually one of the mildest (thought not completely without heat) and made with coconut milk. For Thais "waan" denotes not only sweet but less spicy flavors.
        Red curries vary in heat and are usually spicier than green .. perhaps the spiciest red-colored curry is gaeng paa ("Forest Curry") which is a northern curry, made without coconut milk and with meat and a variety of vegetables (depending on season). Not long ago I sampled a gaeng khae in northern Thailand --- also red in color and really hot.
        Not all yellow curries are created equal -- mussaman is a southern Thai curry but most curries in the south are very spicy. Gaeng tai plaa (southern fish curry) is sort of a yellowish green and usually very spicy. Gaeng lyang (literally "yellow curry") is a soupy Mon curry with pieces of pumpkin, without coconut milk, spiced predominantly with black pepper rather than with chiles.
        Perhaps the spiciest curry overall I've had in Thailand is gaeng som ("sour curry", though sometimes the "som" is translated as "orange" rather than "sour" thus, "orange curry"): bright orange, flavored with tamarind (the sour), coconut milk free and heavy on the shrimp paste. Usually with fish.
        No curry in Thailand is made with peanut butter.

        I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are too many types of Thai curries to generalize about hotness based on color alone. It's safer (for the sake of your taste buds) to deduce heat by determining the style of curry instead.

        1. re: foodfirst

          Thanks for the corrections and great info. I guess I put too much faith in the cookbook I learned most of what I know from.

          I see that sripraphai makes two kinds of gaeng som (one with shrimp and vegetables and one with shrimp and a "cha-om omelet") so the next time I'm there I will have to try it since I've never had anything with tamarind I didn't love. Hopefully I'll be able to take the heat.

          Isn't some sort of peanut paste a key ingredient in panang curry? Or is that not an authentic thai curry?

          Thanks again,

          1. re: Jesse

            No peanut paste in Panang curry, according to the recipe below. I don't know if it's authentic Thai curry (Panang is a city in Malaysia so that may be its origin), but it is one of my favorites!

            Ingredients are:

            6 ea Dried red chili peppers
            1/4 ts Fennel seeds
            1 ts Coriander seeds
            1/4 ts Mace
            1 ea Lemon grass stalk -=OR=-
            1 ts Lemon grass, dried
            1 ts Lemon zest
            1 ts Galanga, fresh*
            3 md Shallots, peeled & chopped
            5 ea Garlic cloves, chopped

            Galanga is "lesser ginger."


            1. re: Kirk

              I must assume you are confusing the pronuciation of the city of Penang, Malaysia, not Panang.

              Penang (Malaysia) is pronounced like "pee-nong" (with a soft "a" in last syllable), and last syllable almost like "bong" in English. Panang (Panaeng) curry is pronounced "pan-aeng", last syllable is like "bang" in English - no relation between the two.

              Although many areas of Thailand are influenced from all around, the fact is, Panaeng curry is a middle-Thailand curry, not a south Thailand curry, so it is further removed from Malaysia and hence less influenced.

              South-Thailand curries have more Malaysian influence due to proximity, and those tend towards the yellow Muslim curries. The Thai Massamun and yellow curries of the South are more Malaysian influenced than the Panaeng. Panaeng is not named after the city of Penang. A common farang mispronounciation leading to a misconception.

              1. re: Uncle Claw

                Thanks for the clarification, Uncle Claw. I had always thought that panang and massaman curries were similar in taste and derivation, but I certainly am not an expert. I am also about as "farang" as they come!

                Do you know what the origin or meaning of "panaeng" is, then?

            2. re: Jesse

              Oh, try the one with the cha-om omelet! Cha-om is a feathery herb with a strong flavor of garlic, and it's lovely in the gaeng som. I'll bet the restaurant will accomodate your heat preference, if you're worried the first time around. Gaeng som is heavily shrimp paste-y, so as long as you don't have a problem with pronounced (some might say "stinky") fish flavors you should like it. I love the sour/hot combo, it's addictive. Enjoy!

              1. re: Jesse

                I have six Panang curry recipes in front of me. Four of them call for the inclusion of crushed/roasted peanuts in the curry paste.

                Erik M.

                1. re: Erik M.

                  Then I guess that somewhere around two-thirds of your recipes for Panang curry use peanuts in the curry paste. : D

                  I am sure they taste great. What could go wrong when you mix peanuts, chiles, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk, along with the other Panang ingredients? (Unless, of course, you have a peanut allergy.)

                  1. re: Kirk

                    I sometimes see peanut curry on thai restaurant menus and also saw it offered in MBK food court in Bangkok. Is this the same as panang curry?

          2. My husband keeps talking about Dim Kat Curry. Anyone know what that is? I have not been able to find any reference for it.