South East Asian Curries
What immediately springs to mind when you think of a South East Asian food? I know, for me it is flavour, colour and intensity. The food from this region is amongst the best in the world. A melting pot of cuisines from Indian, Persian, French, Spanish to Chinese. It’s a very special cuisine indeed. The curry forms only a small part of the fresh, wholesome variety of dishes that this part of Asia is renowned for. But as with Indian food, they are what we tend to hold in the highest esteem.
My love of Indian food is well documented on this website – I cook and eat it on an almost daily basis. Not a day goes by when I don’t at least think about my next chilli fix. But as we all know, if you’re looking for that hit of spice then South-East Asia is the place to find it. The cuisine of this region is so colourful, fresh and diverse. From the fiery curries of Thailand to the mild fragrant stews of Vietnam to the intensity of Singaporean and Malaysian sauces.
So what defines a curry? Well, anything in a ‘Kari’ or sauce… Vegetables, seafood, meat and even fruit can all be found in delicious sauces from Bangkok to Jakarta and from Bali to Myanmar with every tasty slurp in between.
My love of South Eastern curries started with an almost obsessive love affair with Thai food. From there, unlocking the delicious flavours of Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, The Philippines, Myannmar and Malaysia. Unlike Indian curries, which on the whole are cooked over a long period of time, South East Asian curries tend to have a much quicker cooking time and typically have a thinner, more soup-like sauce.
There are, however exceptions to the rule; one such dish is the delicious Indonesian Rendang, cooked over 3-4 hours, where the resulting sauce clings to the meat in a thick, glossy slick. I’s one of the finest South East Asian out there.
Spice is used liberally, in some of the region and sparingly in others. Typically, Thailand’s curries are rich in spice – as are Malaysia, Singapore’s and Indonesia’s offerings. The heat is turned down in favour of the fragrant, mildly spiced curries of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. As there are a number of former colonised countries, there are traces of European cuisine throughout the region – most notably the Spanish fusion food of the Philippines which boasts the Adobo (stew) as it’s national dish.
A lot of South East Asian curries combine a mind boggling combination of ingredients to create wonderfully complex flavours. At first, because of their often vast array of ingredients, some curries may seem like too much trouble, but once mastered, you’ll see why making them from scratch is far better than buying pre-made in a jar. Whichever curry you decide to tackle, none are too tricky once you become familiar with the basic techniques and ingredients. A good tip is to make curry pastes in bulk and freeze them in small quantities to use them at later. This will cut down on preparation time and you’ll have your curry on the plate before the fragrant Jasmine rice has time to boil.
Be sure to stock up on the essential stock cupboard items and you’ll always have the foundation ingredients from which to create a vast array of dishes. See the list to your right to get started.
An essential piece of equipment you’ll need is a pestle & mortar to make the pastes and powders essential to any tasty curry. It really does make a difference to the texture and flavour of your curries to use a pestle and mortar and although you can create pastes using food processors, they generally don’t give the same result. The old way is definitely best! When it comes time to pound a fresh paste I picture a face that’s been annoying me all day as I methodically slam the pestle into the mortar again and again.
Get hold of a good Wok too, all your curries can be cooked in this and nothing does it quicker than the wok.
Once you make a few curries of your own you begin to see what part each ingredient plays in the overall taste of a curry. It also allows you to control the taste of your own curries. Spicing them up or down depending on yours or your guests’ chilli tolerance.
Give yourself the treat of a South East Asian Curry. Below are a just a few of my favourites.
Burmese Chicken Curry