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May 12, 2009 10:04 PM

Question about local ingredients... does anyone put peas in their Thai curry?

Hi - I'm in Los Angeles, where we have about a quarter million Thai people. We have some wonderful Thai food here but sometimes I wonder how much they just try to make use of what vegetables are available locally.

So I was wondering, in Thailand does anyone put peas in a curry? (Round, sweet green garden peas.) I was served some in a panang curry here once and I don't think it belonged there. I noticed that Thai green peppercorns look similar and I wondered if maybe peas were used in place of peppercorns just for looks or something.

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  1. Thais don't put sweet peas, but the pea eggplant or "ma kuea phuong" in green curries. See photo in link below:

    The pea eggplant has a different texture from sweet peas, and tastes slightly bitterish.

    3 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      Thank you! That must be it. I think I saw these in a glossy, official travel brochure from the Thai government or travel industry that focused on food. Next time I make a curry in earnest, I'll try to pick up some of these at a Thai Town market here.

      1. re: Cinnamon

        You'll find them. I had Thai green curries on a couple of occasions in LA last Oct, and they used "ma kuea phuong". The better one was at Banana Bay Thai restaurant in Rowland Heights (if you happen to be in the neighborhood). The huge restaurant was filled with Thai customers. And Java Spice Indonesian restaurant across the street served the most authentic Indonesian I'd ever tasted outside Asia.

        1. re: klyeoh

          Thank you, I'll add it to the list.

    2. i have never seen peas in curries here. Klyeoh is right, pea eggplants are typically used in green curry. they really look like peas but taste totally different.

      typically, penang curry doesn't have any vegetables in it (except those crushed up in the curry paste), just meat. but i think experimentation with local ingredients is a great thing. take the california roll!

      3 Replies
      1. re: justintime

        It is great to work with what you have, but when possible I like to at least know what the original ingredients were and usually prefer them. Here in the U.S. while we have lots of great food developing now... in places... but you could go for years ordering a certain kind of dish that's only mediocre... and then go to some other country that it came from and order it there, and the impression is "so THAT is what this is supposed to taste like!"

        We have a lot of really bland, odd chicken dishes here, for instance. It's odd to order them off a menu when other things taste far better (from most people I've spoken with). It's almost like people order the chicken in memory of some good chicken dish they had years ago or far away, and it never quite lives up to that.

        I am really glad to live in L.A. where we have access to a lot of Asian ingredients if you go to Chinatown or Thai Town, and we've got some great Mexican too.

        One dish I had prepared recently was Singapore Noodles, which I loved - only to read that doesn't really originate from Singapore but is eaten elsewhere in Asia. Makes me wonder what that dish started as!

        1. re: Cinnamon

          Singapore Fried Noodles (or what we call "xin zhou mi fen") originated in Hong Kong - its unique use of curry powder in an essentially Chinese fried rice noodles dish gave rise to the name, since Hongkongers tend to think of Singapore when it comes to use of curry powder.

          Although I'm from Singapore, I first tried "Singapore fried noodles" in Washington DC's Chinatown back in the late-80s. Obviously, the HK/Cantonese community brought the dish there.

          Nothing in Singapore closely approximates that dish. Perhaps a distant cousin might be our fried breakfast rice noodles & beansprouts, which is flavored with soysauce, and can usually be ordered with sides of sunny-side-up egg, luncheon meat (Spam), etc. The best breakfast fried rice noodle dish in Singapore, IMO, can be found at the Arcade, Raffles Place.

          1. re: klyeoh

            Thank you. What the restaurant I ate at called Singapore noodles involved large shrimp, noodles, orange sections and probably some light curry... a very light-citrus shrimp pasta dish. It seemed simple and very good. It might have been one variety slapped with the name Singapore noodles. I can see now that when I finally get to go somewhere in Asia, I'm going to be trying to order all sorts!

      2. If you want to use peas, use peas. There a good addition. Fry them with onions and green paste at the start of the dish, just to crisp them up a bit, gently. Then add your milk, peppers, chicken, etc. and let chicken boil in coco milk. Delicious, Enjoy.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Murphyed

          Might be delicious but it sure ain't traditional Thai.

          1. re: ThaiNut

            Any thoughts as to what the Western cooks are replacing when they add peas to a curry? (Eggplants, peppercorns, etc.?)

            1. re: Cinnamon

              As Klyeoh stated above, it is a very small form of Asian eggplant that
              looks like a pea.

              1. re: ThaiNut

                Thanks. I've tried the golf-ball-sized Thai eggplants, have been keeping a lookout for any of the pea-sized ones to try in a curry (I understand they are different). We have many Asian grocers here, but this may have to wait till next time I make it up to our Thai Town area. It's still the one place where you can count on getting the most Thai ingredients together in L.A. (hopefully they'll have the pea-sized eggplants). Elsewhere there's a great chain called 99 Ranch (and then many Japanese/Korean/etc. grocers). And there's a large Vietnamese population south of town. It's really wonderful to have all this selection, although it takes some scouting to find certain ingredients.

              2. re: Cinnamon

                Pea eggplants are more resilient towards the slow simmering/stewing process which curry-cooking requires for the taste to develop. Peas, on the other hand, may soften too much & perhaps turn pale/yellow if simmered for, say, 30 minutes during the cooking process for panaeng curry or green curry.

                1. re: klyeoh

                  As Kleyoh also noted earlier, the Thai name for the pea-sized eggplants is 'MaKhua Phuang'. 'MaKhua' means 'eggplant' and 'phuang' means 'group' or 'cluster' because these eggplants grown in bunches like grapes. Here on the east coast they are seasonal and very hard to find. Twice I have brought commercially packaged seeds back from Thailand but have never been able to get them to grown successfully. Maybe it can be done in Florida or Calif.
                  The golf ball sized eggplants are fairly easy to get here on both fresh and frozen form. They work great in some Thai dishes and if your quarter them they make an acceptable substitute for the pea-sized ones.

                  1. re: ThaiNut

                    I did a stir-fry with some but haven't utilized them in a curry yet - still have about five left in the fridge, maybe it's curry time tonight. I'll post back if I ever find the pea-sized ones. (Now, don't get me started on broccoli varieties used in 'Asian' cooking here!)


                    (Whatever anyone wants to put in their curry is fine with me. I just find some of the more traditional blends taste better to me. There's a lot of pull toward blander and sweeter foods in the U.S., especially certain regions. It's wonderful to find the more exciting flavors that come from some other places.)

                    1. re: Cinnamon

                      Personally, I'm not too hot about the pea eggplant - not very fond of their slightly bitterish taste. I'd prefer any other type of eggplants in my green curries :)

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Interesting thread. I spend about 5 months a year in New York and most of the rest of the year in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In Thailand, I've never had a green curry without the pea-sized eggplants. They are there for their bitter taste and their texture. If you don't like those, green curry is a dish to avoid in Thailand. In NY, I've never had those eggplants, not even at Sripraphai. Sripraphai does use the golfball sized eggplants, which most restaurants do not. That's actually my test for authenticity in NY Thai restaurants. If a restaurant uses eggplant, it passes. Most restaurants fail because the substitute cut up long beans instead of any eggplant. I'm really disappointed now to learn that the pea-sized eggplants are available in the US and not a single Thai restaurant in NY uses them (at least none that I've tried.)

                        I've never heard of using sweet green peas as a substitute. The sweetness would Americanize the dish beyond what most bad Thai restaurants do.

                        1. re: el jefe

                          L.A. supposedly had 80,000 Thais living here in 2002, Wikipedia claims - the largest Thai population outside Thailand. One report I read estimated the real current population was more like 200,000.

                          Are the long beans traditional to som tam, by the way? I'm able to get great green papayas here - shredded or not, and have copied the better restaurant recipes around and added long beans to the dish. And I use dried shrimp as hadn't figured out yet what brand of shrimp paste to get and whether it was usually the presweetened or just the (fermented, I hear) shrimp with salt paste.

                          1. re: Cinnamon


                            Yard-long beans are about the last ingredient to go into the mortar when making som tam. This is so that they just barely get pounded enough to crack the skins. As for shrimp paste ('kapi' in Thai) that is NEVER used in som tam. You might be confusing it with a bit of fermented fish that Laos and Northeastern Thais usually add to their som tam but is often omitted by Bangkok Thais.

                            1. re: ThaiNut

                              Thanks ... when I make it with just dried baby shrimps, pounded, it tastes quite a bit like the way the som tam at my favorite local Thai place makes it. So I'm fine to stick with that.

                              I do see now where you've responded on this topic in a past thread:

                          2. re: el jefe

                            Oh, I won't skip a green curry on account of the pea eggplants - it's just too delicious!