What is "authentic" Thai coconut curry?
This may be somewhat rambling, I'll do my best to keep it short.
I make great Thai coconut curry at home. I make it like I see it at every American Thai restaurant (only better, in most cases). The end result is a rich, soup-esque dish with whatever I feel like adding as ingredient. I use the "authentic" ingredients (kaffir lime leaves, etc). I have even been to Thailand -- honeymoon, almost exclusively tourist islands. There I found the exact same curries (red, green, Massaman, panang, etc) served and tasting nearly the same as I see here in the States.
But I have doubts: is this type of curry preparation actually typical to the country, or is it something exported to the US, altered to local tastes, and then re-exported back to Thailand for the tourists? Like American Chinese food? I'm aware that Thailand has distinct culinary regions. The one time I went "off-piste" in Thailand was a small town called Trang, where I found nothing like "Thai coconut curry" (instead, I ate other very delicious things, of course).
For example, I've been told that Thai people eat their rice separate from their curry. How, then, would they eat a big bowl of rich coconut curry? Spoon it like a soup, on its own? Seems unlikely, to me.
Anyway, I'm hoping someone who knows Thailand well will give me the lowdown on the issue.
1) Is Thai curry in the US like the curry you'd find in a Thai home in Thailand?
Hard to say without knowing how you're making your curry and which one we're talking about. Some folks might say you need fresh galangal, kaffir and shrimp paste to make an "authentic" curry, but in the absence of that, commercial curry pastes are a sensible substitute. Some curries like red and green offer a lot of leeway with vegetables and protein. Others, like massaman, are a bit more canonical: potatoes, onions, meat, spices not herbs. Does the fat separate from your curries or it served emulsified in the Western manner? Lots of variables here.
2) I've been told that Thai people eat their rice separate from their curry. How, then, would they eat a big bowl of rich coconut curry?
Forget the tiny rice bowl you get at most Thai restaurants in the States. If you want to eat like the Thai, you get a big honking plate of rice and spoon servings of curry onto your rice until its moistened. Scoop it together and enjoy. Repeat as necessary.