If there is one thing that's for sure, it's that every year the world is falling more and more in love with curry. Curry is packed full of flavors and spices and is just a joy for the tastebuds. But what is curry?
Curry today is a large term used to describe many different dishes in many different cuisines. The two most popular versions of curry are Indian and Thai. Although Thai and Indian curry are both broth-based dishes, they have entirely different flavors and ingredients.
In this article, we will take a look at the major differences between Indian and Thai curry so that you can recognize which is which and decide for yourself what version you are most interested in trying.
What is Curry?
First, let's talk about what curry is.
Today, curry generally means any food that comes from Asia (especially India and Thailand) that has a soupy or stew-like consistency. Curries are often eaten with rice, noodles, or bread depending on the country of origin.
For both India and Thailand, the word "curry" is not one that is native to their own countries. Historians believe that Indian food was first referred to as curry by the British when they anglicized the word "kari" which is the name of a specific South Indian gravy dish.
The word "curry"has since been extended to encompass almost all Indian food with gravy as well as the food of other countries including that of Thailand. In both countries, the word "curry" is often used on English menus but is not used when speaking the local languages.
For outsiders who don't know Thai or Hindi, using the word "curry" is the easiest and best way to refer to a type of dish that is so different from our own.
Although both Indian stews and Thai soups are called curries, these dishes are very different in terms of ingredients, flavor, and methods of preparation.
Types of Indian Curries and Thai Curries
Because the word curry covers such a large variety of dishes, there are many different types of curries in both India and Thailand.
The major types of Indian curry include fish curry, lamb curry, chicken curry, veg curry, and egg curry. Chicken curry is probably the most popular version of the dish and is made differently depending on the region. In South India, coconut milk can be included along with tamarind and curry leaves.
Fish curry is particularly famous in Goa and Kerala where fresh ocean fish is added to a spicy and flavorful red gravy. Lamb curry is particularly popular in North India and in West Bengal. Egg curry and veg curry are commonly served across the country.
There are also many types of Thai curry , the most common of which are green, red, and yellow. Out of the three, green curry is often the spiciest. Thai yellow curries are often the sweetest and mildest of the bunch while green curries have a hot and bright flavor from chilis and fresh citrus. Red curries are spicy but also have a rich hearty flavor.
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Major Differences Between Thai Curry and Indian Curry
Now that we've talked about the basics of both dishes, let's take a look at some of the major differences between the two.
1. Indian Curry and Thai Curry Main Ingredients
One of the major differences between Indian curry and Thai curry is the ingredients. Both Indian and Thai curry have a broth or sauce but the base of these broths and spices that are added to them are quite different.
Thai curry often starts with a curry paste that includes ingredients like fresh chilies, ginger, lemongrass, lime, shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, and more. The curry paste is added to a pan with some oil and sauted then added into coconut milk along with vegetables, meats, and fish sauce.
Red chilies are often used in Thai red curry whereas green chilies are more commonly found in green curry. Common meats added include chicken and fish.
For Indian curry, the base is often a gravy made from tomatoes and onions that are sauted until soft and blended together. This gravy is seasoned with dry spices like cumin, turmeric, coriander powder, red chili powder, and cinnamon.
While some areas of South India add coconut milk to their curry, most other regions don't and instead include yogurt, water, butter, or cream. Indian curries are commonly either vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Non-veg curries often include chicken, mutton, or fish.
2. They have different flavor profiles.
Because both Thai and Indian curry have different ingredients, it's easy to assume that they also have different flavors. But how different do they taste really?
Although both dishes are called curry and made in Asia, their flavors couldn't be more distinct. Thai curries often have a thinner consistency and a brighter flavor. When you are eating a Thai curry, you will taste the fresh herbs and bright citrusy hints from the lemongrass and lime leaves.
Indian curries often have a more velvety and thick consistency and are best categorized as a stew. While Thai curries are light and bright, Indian curries are hearty and savory. In an Indian curry, you are most likely to taste the richer flavors that come from spices such as cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, and cumin.
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3. Thai curry is more likely to include coconut milk.
Most Thai curries contain coconut milk whereas only a few Indian curries do.
Thai curries often use coconut milk as their base liquid and to make a good Thai curry, it is important to buy the right type and quality of coconut milk. The coconut milk adds a slight thickness while still keeping the soup-like consistency of the dish.
In India, it is not as common to add coconut milk to a curry dish. In the north, people often only add water or a small amount of cream and butter. To thicken the consistency, most Indians use blended tomatoes or onions.
South India is more likely to include coconut milk in their curries for a hint of sweetness.
4. Indian curry starts with dry spices whereas Thai curry starts with a paste.
To make an Indian curry, most chefs will start by heating oil in a pan then adding a combination of dry spices and toasting them until fragrant. Most Indian dishes include cumin seeds, cinnamon, coriander powder, turmeric, and red chili powder. Many also include a spice called garam masala which is a mixture of around 10 spices.
It's possible to buy garam masala in a grocery store, but most chefs have their own mixture that they create by toasting whole spices then grinding them.
Thai curry, on the other hand, starts with a curry paste that is heated then added to coconut milk. It is possible to buy green, red, and yellow curry paste in a store but most good Thai cooks make their own.
Curry paste is made by mashing ingredients such as fresh ginger, lemongrass, shrimp paste, and garlic in a mortar and pestle so that the natural liquids are released.
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5. Indian curry is often thicker and more stew-like.
In general, most Indian curries have a thicker consistency than Thai curries. This is because Indian curries often include more vegetables such as onions and tomatoes that are blended or cut into very small pieces. Indian curries may also use heavy cream or potatoes as a thickening agent.
Thai curry maintains its thin consistency because its vegetables are added in large pieces to keep the broth soupy. Yellow curry is sometimes made to be thick, but this is usually only in restaurants and homecooked yellow curry is often thin.
6. Thai curry is spicier.
While India and Thailand are both famed for their spicy food, Thai curries are often spicier than Indian curries.
If you are NOT a fan of hot foods, then you may want to start with Thai yellow curry which is often milder and sweeter. Both green and red curries are hot but can be made less spicy for western guests.
Indian curries include more spices but are usually less spicy than Thai curries. Just like in Thailand, in India, dishes are made less spicy for western guests and you will be able to order dishes without the heat if you aren't a fan of spicy food.
If you ARE a fan of spicy food, then it is a good idea to tell the waiter you want the heat or they may make you a less spicy version of a dish. But be prepared! Thai medium heat and western medium heat are two very different concepts.
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7. Indian curry uses dairy products.
Indian cooking and Indian curry often include at least a few dairy products. Most Indian curries start by heating up ghee or clarified butter into which the dried spices are added. Indian curries may also use ingredients such as cream or yogurt as a thickening agent, this is especially true in restaurants.
Thai curries almost never use dairy products. Thai food is usually cooked in coconut oil or peanut oil and uses coconut milk or chicken stock as broth.
8. Indian curry is eaten with basmati rice whereas Thai curry uses jasmine rice.
While much of East and Southeast Asia use jasmine rice for their dishes, India uses basmati rice. Jasmine rice is often seen in stores in the west and has a shorter grain and is stickier and clumpier when cooked. Many Thai curries are eaten over this type of rice.
Indian curry is always eaten with basmati rice which is much longer and thinner in shape than jasmine. Basmati rice is also drier and less sticky.
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9. Indian curry is never eaten with noodles and Thai curry is never eaten with bread.
Besides rice, both Indian and Thai curries can be eaten with other staple carbs. Thai curry can be eaten with noodles. Noodles in Thai cuisine can either be thin like ramen or thick and flat like egg noodles.
India never eats curry with noodles unless it is Thai curry, which is beloved on the Indian subcontinent. Indian curry is usually eaten with rice but can also be served with bread. The most well-known type of Indian bread is naan, but there are also other popular versions such as roti, chapati, and paratha.
10. Curry leaves are sometimes used in Indian curries.
The last major difference between Indian and Thai curry is the use of curry leaves. Curry leaves are a very Indian ingredient and are sometimes used in Indian curries. Surprisingly, even though they have the same name, curry leaves are not used in all Indian curries.
Thai curries almost never use curry leaves as an ingredient and instead use lime leaves and lemongrass for a tangy and bright flavor.
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