Why you should care
The secret is in the sauce.
Years before Prin Polsuk became one of Thailand’s most respected chefs, he was, like thousands of other kids in Thailand, shadowing his mother around the kitchen, hoping that something good was planned for dinner. Always hungry, there was one dish he prized above all others: the humble green curry. “I would rarely get it, but I would go crazy for it,” Polsuk explains with a sly smile.
These days the spicy and sweet dish is available in almost every Thai restaurant globally. The soup wows with the powerful flavors of shrimp, shallot, garlic and galangal. If you’re lucky, it’s been made using chicken off the bone. But green curry can vary in taste and texture — sometimes, sacrilegiously, it’s watered down with regular milk or water — so you need to know where to find the good stuff … the original green curry.
Polsuk’s childhood preference came down to simple aesthetics: the bright green color, as opposed to the earthy colors of massaman, jungle, red or panang curries. Today his appreciation comes from the years he’s studied the history and evolution of Thai food. And he cooks it regularly as head chef of Nahm restaurant in Bangkok. Led by Australian chef David Thompson, Nahm’s kitchen attempts to go back to the roots of Thai food and identify what may have changed. “You have to wonder: Did the garlic then taste like the garlic now?” Polsuk asks, in light of the genetic changes to key ingredients over the years.
It’s velvety smooth in texture and far thicker than any other green curry.
Where did green curry originate? “We actually don’t know exactly,” Polsuk shrugs. It could have been a simple swap of dry red chili to fresh green chili, he explains, or adding chili leaves to the paste or coconut cream to the “old jungle curry.” Variations have appeared as early as 1908 — a recipe inside Mae Krua Hua Pa, possibly one of Thailand’s earliest cookbooks, dating to around 1909, calls for a whole chicken to be cooked alongside a single coconut — and it was even served in the courts of King Rama VII in the 1920s.
It’s from that century-old recipe that Polsuk takes inspiration for his own green curry. In the kitchen, Polsuk works with that balletic quality of accomplished chefs, multitasking without breaking a sweat, seemingly oblivious to the chaos of the line cooks working around him. While Polsuk says Nahm does variations occasionally, it’s clear that he cooks almost completely from muscle memory. After 10 minutes, he picks up his pan and delicately spoons the contents into a bowl. The aromas of lemongrass, garlic, chicken, fish sauce and that wonderful chili are intoxicating.
Despite its mix of powerful flavors, Polsuk’s green curry, on the menu for about 600 baht ($17.70), is spicy, but not too hot. It’s velvety smooth and far thicker than any other green curry (“we only use coconut cream, no coconut milk,” Polsuk explains, which brings this curry closer to the texture of the Mae Krua Hua Pa version). While a green curry can be made or lost in that glorious paste, Polsuk shows that a closer appreciation of the liquid adds a dimension often overlooked elsewhere.
Whether you go on your own or with a group, be sure to look through Nahm’s set menus for the best selection of Thai dishes on offer. Just be aware that the main courses will all arrive at once, as they’re meant to be shared, Thai style. And make sure there’s a green curry in there somewhere.