- By Ken Scott
Curry isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that. There is no other dish that gets me going than curry. It satisfies primordial senses that other meals cannot. Maybe it’s a mysterious atavistic throwback. One of my ancestors probably had a chance encounter with exotica. To this day I carry the curry gene. It’s passion, religion and a way of life.
The good things in life tend to be bad for you. And curry – in the quantities I like to eat it – is no doubt bad for me. But I don’t care. In short, curry reaches the parts of me that other meals cannot. Mick Jagger couldn’t get no satisfaction. He should’ve tried curry.
Curry has the right stuff – wildly tempestuous and exotic aromas, expectancy, variety, crunch, texture, and the ability to satiate like no other food. And don’t forget the supporting cast of vegetables (raw, steamed or otherwise) and pickles, sambal or nam prik. Wash it down with a cold beer or lassi. Oh yes.
Now you can see why curry is like a religious calling and travelling in Southeast Asia is curry heaven. Good curry knows no socio-economic boundaries. From street food to restaurants with a view overlooking the river or the city at night, everyone is rich.
Southern Thailand, Bangkok, Malaysia, Singapore are, for me, Southeast Asia’s curry heartlands. But, oh my, there are wonderful additions to the curry canon in Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Singapore Curry Fish
Some dishes are to die for. In Thailand Panaeng Curry, Green Curry and Khao Soi noodles (a Chiang Mai dish); in Myanmar, the milder Chicken Curry, often with boiled egg included; in Malaysia and Singapore Prawn Laksa, Sambal Udang; when in Indonesia, seek out Beef Rendang like it was the Holy Grail. Rendang is slowly cooked for hours, and sumptuously rich and heavy.
Green Curry, one of Thai traditional curry dishes (Source: TAT)
The curries in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore tend to be thicker and spicier, less so in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam where Indian culinary influences are lighter. The curries in Southeast Asia are like football teams. They all need star players: turmeric, cardamom, coriander and chilli. The backroom physios are masters with mortar and pestle – essential for curry paste.
As you travel around Southeast Asia, get in the mood for a classic curry by visiting a fresh market on an empty stomach. The colours and aromas will drive you nuts. You’ll be ready for a classic curry lunch. The afternoon can take care of itself.
Your Southeast Asian stairway to heaven should be littered with a large assortment of empty curry bowls. Don’t feel guilty about not winding down any road afterwards either. Remember, Marco Polo only travelled so far as he did, because the further east he got, the better the food became.
Make his credo yours. Travel to eat. Eat to live. Welcome to Southeast Asia. Sambal supplied.