I tasted Thai food for the first time when I was in college. I remember having Thai iced tea and loving how sweet and refreshing it was. Then I had tom kha gai and thought how unusual (and delightful!) it was to be sipping spicy, tangy, coconut milk. And I finished the meal with a bowl of yellow curry, which was so similar in some ways to stews that I had growing up, but was really so different.
The similarities were in the ingredients – chicken, potatoes, and onions – that form the base of a lot of western-style stews. The thickness of the curry is also similar to many stews and the spiciness of yellow curry is more subdued than many other Thai curries. I think this is why some Thai people say that yellow curry is a good dish for “farang” (the Thai word for westerners) to start with.
Yellow curry is made in the same way that many other Thai curries are made. You start with thick coconut cream and heat it until the oil starts to separate from the milk. Then you add the curry paste and cook until it’s nice and aromatic. You cook the chicken in this curry paste, then add more coconut milk, water, and the vegetables, and adjust the seasonings.
You’re welcome to make your own curry paste, but the boyfriend and I have found that pre-made pastes generally work pretty well. Just be sure that you get a brand that’s made in Thailand – our current favorite is Mae Anong. With a good paste like this, you should be able to produce a respectable restaurant-quality bowl of yellow curry.
I imagine that many “farang” are introduced to Thai food with yellow curry like I was. And it’s a great place to start. It can open the doors to many other types of curries – some fragrant, some peanuty, some sour, all spicy – and from there to other combinations of flavors that Thai food is so famous for. So if you haven’t made Thai yellow curry at home before, I hope you give it a try!