One of the most distinctive ingredients in Thai curry is fragrant basil. Several varieties of basil grow in Thailand, but the most widely used is sweet basil. Raw leaves of sweet basil, an annual herbaceous plant, are scattered into each dish to create a fresh, sweetly spicy flavor that entices the senses. Another integral ingredient in Thai curry are chilies- red, green, or yellow, chilies are used to add varying amounts of heat and vibrant color to the presentation of a dish.
A trek through the regions of Thailand will showcase each area's own unique alteration to the curry concept. Since coconut palms thrive in Southern Thailand, coconut cream and milk are prominent in local curries. Coconut milk creates a luxurious creamy texture and adds a satisfying nourishing element in Thai curry. With fishing being an important part of the economy, fresh seafood is abundant in Southern Thai dishes and the heat scale is tantalizingly hot with the use of yellow chilies and fiery bird’s eye chilies (prik kee noo).
A jaunt on a motorbike to Northern Thailand and the coconut palm layered landscape transforms into a jungle rain forest. Northern Thailand’s climate is too cool for coconut palms to thrive in abundance, so unlike the rest of Thailand, coconut isn’t as dominate in curry dishes. The northeast region developed a hotter spice palate; since food was often sparse, the spicier it was, the longer it was edible. Other variations, to the curry concept, include the use of glutinous (rather than long-grain) rice, small dried red chilies, and fermented fish (plaa raa) as a seasoning.
The cooking of the far south has a strong Malay influence, which leads us to the next stop on our curry journey: Malaysia!