Dine-amite Dining: The History of Thai Massaman Curry
The food in Thailand is the best! It’s spicy, tasty and unique. One of the joys of a trip to this awesome country is the chance to taste some of the most delicious food of your life, and the Massaman curry ranks right up there at the top of the list. In fact, we’d go as far as saying it’s one of our favorite Thai curries – right up there with Khao Soy!
What is Massaman Curry?
Strangely for a national classic, Massaman curry might actually originate from the neighboring Muslim state of Malaysia but ever since the 17th century it’s been an important part of Thai cuisine. Rich and tangy but not too spicy, Massaman is unusual amongst Thai curries in that it doesn’t include curry leaves as part of the cooking process. Instead, spices and aromatics like cumin, lemongrass and galangal are mixed with slightly sour tamarind to create an incredible base for a meat or vegetarian dish.
Coconut milk introduces a tropical tang and potatoes bulk this out to be a one-pot meal in itself, although you’ll frequently find yourself having rice served alongside your Massaman. Don’t fight it, the portions in Thailand can be smaller than expected so you’ll probably get through it all anyway!
Origins of Massaman Curry
So how did a potentially Malay, muslim dish make its way onto Thailand’s national menu? Well there are a couple of different theories of course, but here’s our favorite. Back in the 17th Century, the ties between southern Thailand and neighboring Malaysia were strong and cultural influences were swapped both sides of the border. Recipes were swapped and the local people around Trang and Hat Yai started experimenting with this delicious dish.
At about the same time, the Persian merchant Sheik Ahmad Qomi was visiting the royal court of Ayutthaya with a very similar recipe that became wildly popular amongst nobility and royalty. The two recipes combined, and boom- a modern-day classic was born!
How to Cook Massaman Curry
Massaman is the accessible face of Thai cooking and it’s pretty easy to give it a go yourself. Treat yourself to a shopping trip to one of Thailand’s wonderful food markets to pick up the fresh ingredients. For best results we recommend buying the spices the morning that you’ll be doing the cooking, to make sure you get maximum flavor impact.
In terms of the cooking timeline however, the opposite is true! Massaman does best when the flavors have time to develop, so do all your cooking a day ahead of schedule and let the finished dish sit in the fridge for 24 hours before reheating and serving. The meat gets tender, the spice flavors get rich and deep and the sauce develops a wonderful fragrant taste.
Getting hungry yet? Yep, us too! Here’s a basic Massaman recipe to get you started:
- 100 g Massaman curry paste (the ready-made ones are great, you don’t need to buy a spice grinder and make your own!)
- 1 kg chicken
- 300 g potatoes cut into pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 300 ml coconut milk
- Handful green cardamom pods
- Sprinkling of palm sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
- Cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- Toasted crushed peanuts for garnishing
- Coriander for garnishing
How to Make Massaman Curry:
- Fry the curry paste in half the coconut milk, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes
- Add the chicken (or whichever meat or veg you want to use), and cook for 3 minutes
- Throw in the fish sauce, palm sugar, and tamarind along with a splash of water, tasting after a couple of minutes to make sure the balance is right. If you need to rebalance then add more palm sugar or tamarind paste
- Add cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves
- Throw in the rest of the coconut milk and simmer for 20 minutes
- Add the chopped potatoes and onions and simmer for another 20 minutes
- Serve and garnish with the toasted peanuts and coriander leaves
Seriously, this dish is SO GOOD and shouldn’t be missed, but if you’re too hungover to cook it yourself then don’t worry, we’ve got your back! We serve a fucking badass massaman at all our Bodega hostels so you can kick back with a beer and let us do all the work.
A delicious curry with your mates? Sounds like the start of another banging night out!