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Thai curry vs. Indian curry

  • d

I have heard it said that a lot of people who love Indian curry do not like Thai curry at all, and vice versa. How do those hounds who have tried both feel? Also, can someone explain some of the major differences? I don't really think I'd like Indian food, but I don't want to miss out on something that might be to my liking. It just seems like it's all mush, and I'm really picky about knowing (and probably being able to see) exactly what I'm eating.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. I absolutely love Thai curries!

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  1. If you haven't tried it, how do you know whether you would like it or not?

    Here's a web resource that is a good starting point for everything you want to know about Asian food:

    Link: http://www.asiafood.org

    1. There is such a huge variety of "Indian" curries as well as variation in quality. Don't knock it till you've tried it several ways and several places!

      2 Replies
      1. re: julesrules

        I was first introduced to curry with a red Thai one. Haven't looked back. I love them all. Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and West Indian.
        There are way more kinds of Indian curry than Thai I find. So while I don't like all Indian curry, I won't go hungry at a buffet either.

        1. re: Crockett67

          Oh my goodness, I was stationed in Okinawa and I would probably commit murder to have some real Japanese curry.....

      2. d
        David "Zeb" Cook

        First off, I've never heard this advice and I love both Thai and Indian food. They are very different in all their variations. As for the differences, they are definite, but there are huge regional differences within India, too, that make generalizations hard. But what the heck...

        Various Thai curries are usually built around a wet paste which you can make from scratch (best) or buy premade. There are lots of curry paste variations but common ingredients include fresh chiles, galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, coriander (fresh and seeds), and probably more. This is usually fried to release its flavor then other ingredients are sauted and coconut milk, fish sauce, and other seasonings added. Thai dishes tend to use more oriental vegetables and ingredients.

        Indian dishes I'm familiar with are usually built around a base of sauted ingredients, often seasoned with cumin, coriander, tumeric, chile powder, cinnamon, and/or other spices. Oil, ghee, yogurt, water and coconut milk add moisture. Usually the dish is finished with a roasted ground spice mixture (a garam masala, for example). Indian dishes use more legumes (dals) such as chickpeas, lentils, etc.

        This overview is hardly worthy of the great flavors in both cusines. There's a lot more to both than just curries. I encourage you to try them both out.

        David Cook

        1 Reply
        1. re: David "Zeb" Cook


          I like both Thai and Indian food.

          I also like both Sicilian and Greek dishes.

          Not the same, but all have their merits!

        2. David Cook is correct, although I would note that the two cuisines have more in common than differences, particularly relative to french, italian or even chinese. My understanding is, for example, that "Masaman" curry is "muslim" style, or based on a garam masala like curry. Many of the curry ingredients are similar, with regional variations such as lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.

          I think the most important distinction if you are concerned as to whether you'll like one or the other is that Indian curries are often yogurt based, while Thai curries are very commonly coconut milk based. If you don't like coconut, you might hate Thai curries but like Indian curries.

          8 Replies
          1. re: sbp

            I disagree (8 years later). I think that what I do not like about many Indian foods are the inclusion of cinnamon and/or cardamom.

            1. re: kamknauss

              Wow, I just noticed your "8 years later" statement & realised you'd just bumped up an old, old thread :-)

              BTW, amongst my Thai relatives and friends, I've *yet* to come across a single one of them who like Indian curries!

                1. re: huiray

                  All of them said that they didn't like "the smell". I do think it's because of the cinnanmon/cardamom content as mentioned by kamknauss.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Interesting. Nevertheless, isn't cinnamon and cardamom used in Thai cooking, although in limited situations?

                    In fact, it seems to me that cinnamon isn't used universally in "Indian" cuisine. If anything, I would suspect cumin to be far more prevalent. In contrast, cumin *is* used in Thai cuisine but more sparingly, such as in Southern Thai curries (Massaman, e.g.)... http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/ingr...

                    1. re: huiray

                      Indeed, fenugreek would be another "strong" spice to the Thai palate. Anyway, it's interesting how cooking Indian curry differs from Thai curry: Indian spice mix (minced shallots, minced ginger, Masala spices) will be sauteed in ghee or hot oil first before addition of vegetables or meats, whereas the Thais will heat up coconut cream then add a wet spice mix (galangal, lemongrass, fresh chilis, shallots - no powdered spices).

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        I think you understated the "heating up" coconut cream. There is the old way and the modern quicker way but both of them start with frying the curry paste in "oil". The old way is to take the coconut cream and "crack" it to release the oil and fry the curry paste in the cracked cream. The modern way is to just fry the curry paste directly in oil then add in the cream afterwards.... Both ways are frying in oil - just different types. Thais and Thai cooks have indicated that they don't like Indian food because of it's strong (overwelming) smell. Smell and Taste are related senses (plug your nose and food changes taste). Sort of related when I went to the market looking for beef bones, they were near impossible to find because "they smell bad". Thai people generally seem to have a more acute sense of smell, which is why I recommend foreigners visiting Thailand shower often....

                        I pretty well love any curries, Indian, Thai, my family style curry that I grew up on which I am not sure of it's origins (my grandfather was a ship captain - could be from anywhere) even Japanese......

                        1. re: cacruden

                          We've split off cacruden's family style curry recipe to the Home Cooking board, here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/873923 .

          2. Indian food is a comfort food for me. I love it. Indian curries have a yogurt base typically and they can make veggies taste sooo delicious. I suggest lamb/chicken zaffarani(cardamon/saffron red sauce) & my favoite is paneer muslum (indian cheese w/a almond cream sauce & peas. the garlic naan (bread) is a must & I like the rice pudding for desert. whereas thai cooks mainly uses coconut milk & chilies for flavoring.

            1. When I vacationed in Tokyo, I was surprised to find Japanese "curry." It was, naturally, far less spicy ... at least in the single incarnation I tried. I've also seen Jamaican dishes called curry. What's the common thread here? I imagine it's some sort of interaction - direct or indirect - with Indian culture. For Japan, it's fairly indirect ... maybe travelling along the same routes that Buddhism expanded upon?

              I guess my basic question is this: historically, does "curry" have one origin from which it spread or many independent origins?



              1. You say that you don't think you'd like indian food. Forgive me if I'm incorrect, but you almost seem to use the terms "curry" and "indian food" interchangably. They aren't. The term curry comes from an indian word, kari, meaning sauce. Not all indian dishes are curries. In fact, most aren't, though curries are the dishes that tend to end up in restaurants. Restaurants in the US and UK tend to not be very faithful to traditional indian, as well as thai home cooking.

                Indian cuisine is extremely varied and, like italian food, is very regional in nature. If the only indian dishes you've had was prepared with "curry powder", you haven't really had good indian food. As has been said before, the range of spices is enormous, and the techniques and combinations vary by region and by season. Having said all this, there are a number of indian dishes that you can consider curries and they do tend to be yogurt based. A good cookbook might be "An Invitation to Indian Cooking" by Madhur Jaffrey .

                Thai is completely different in flavor, technique, and ingredients. Of the Thai "curries", they are often coconut milk based and can be blended with herbs, spices, ginger, garlic, lime, fish sauce, etc. Like indian food, the range of Thai cooking extends well beyond curry. A great cookbook for Thai is "Thai Food" by David Thompson.

                I love both Indian and Thai cuisine. In addition I like the curries from both these cuisines. They are, indeed, very different. I'd encourage you to try both, especially if you are willing to cook them yourself.

                1. I agree with David and Squid that both Thai and Indian curries can be delicious. I especially like Indian Baingan Bharta (sp?) but think that Thai curries tend to have a more complex taste.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: DonShirer

                    One of the best Baingan Bharta I'd ever was at Masala Kraft in Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (a year before the attack by Islamic suicide bombers). It was a nice restaurant in a very elegant hotel then. The version at Masala Kraft was served in a huge aubergine :-)

                  2. Indian cuisine--including its manifold curries--is, along with Italian, Mexican and American, one of my most favorite.

                    Thai food can be delectable, but I do not like coconut milk (which is practically ubiquitous in curries), and I blanch at the very notion of fish sauce. That said, there used to be a local Thai joint called Chow Thai, which made a dish called gai ga pao (hot and spicy chicken), that was as delicious as anything I've ever eaten in my life. Now I didn't realize at the time (this was back in the 80s), but it almost certainly included fish sauce. Hell, back then I didn't even know what fish sauce was. Ignorance be bliss.

                    1. Not true, I love both and most Indians & Pakistanis I know enjoy Thai curries as has heat and many familiar flavors. In fact, coconut milk based South Indian curries do resemble Thai more than North Indian versions.

                      1. While I enjoy both Thai & Indian cuisine, as far as curries go, I much prefer the Indian types because so very many (in fact nearly all, it seems sometimes) Thai curries include coconut milk, & I'm not a big fan of that ingredient.

                          1. I started with Curry in Japan, as a student at Waseda University. When it was cold in the Winter and I was wrapped in my sleeping bag, studying at night with my little Hitachi heater, I'd make rice and a Japanese Curry as a midnight meal. Good memories there.

                            Travelling through Asia I began to try Thai, and Malay curries, also discovering Sambal. In London, I found a different Westernized style, and finally tried Indian Curry for the first time in the Mid East. Slow cooked with goat meat, I had a few extra servings, say five.

                            If it is well made, I like it all, hot or mild.

                            1. I should add that we have much better results with induction cooking of Curry, in any form, than electric or gas.

                              I use Setting Nr. 5 to bring up the oil base, then the curry paste made or purchased, meat/vegetables, and then dial in the low temperature used for dark chocolate, to let it simmer. That would be 80-82 C, or 150-180 F.

                              The longer it cooks, the better the taste. No burning either.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                "The longer it cooks, the better the taste."
                                That is true for some but not for all.
                                Many Indian "Curries" start to lose some of the flavor from the Spices and actually start to get muddled and muted.
                                I find the same is true for most Thai Curries.