I used to be one of the many Westerners who browsed the menu at every Thai restaurant and settled on, "Pad Thai, please" because of its easy association with Thai cuisine [it is one of Thailand's national dishes].
However, I discovered that venturing into other areas of a Thai menu brought out the delicious sweet, savory, spicy and oh so comforting flavors of a dish right in the heart of Thai culture: curry.
Curry is actually a blend of spices, the predominant being turmeric. Turmeric is one of seven super spices, dubbed thus because of its antioxidant powers [It is known to reduce joint swelling.].
But, to many, curry is an intimidating dish, one that every restaurant and culture might prepare differently, giving ample reason for confusion. Curry is actually very much a cross between a soup and a sauce, and there are no set ingredients that make a curry curry.
Turmeric, coriander and cumin tend to be involved. A Thai curry typically includes meat, fish or vegetables in a sauce that combines chilies, spices and herbs. Thai curries can also be called "red," "green" or "yellow," with red and green using those colored chilies and yellow much more similar to Indian curries that use turmeric and cumin.
So, eat your curry with a spoon, and add rice right to the bowl if you need something more solid to go along with the bold flavors of the soup/sauce.
Ask for your curry "not spicy," "medium spicy" or "extra spicy" according to your preference.
You'll be surprised with the knock-out flavors these three restaurants have to offer in their traditional curry dishes.
Green Curry - Thai Dishes
My first step to fulfill my curry craving was Thai Dishes, a gem of a restaurant that has remained somehow hidden from my knowledge in my four years here. Once you know where Thai Dishes is, you can't miss it; the architecture is distinctively Thai. Once inside, you will be surprised by the clean, modern atmosphere. The menu offers favorites from many Asian traditions, such as orange chicken and good old-fashioned Pad Thai.
When it comes to curry, the green curry is a good way to go. Served over a healthy bed of mixed vegetables including peas, carrots, eggplant and bamboo shoots and finished with the sweet taste of Thai Basil, this dish is soothing yet spicy. Green curry is perhaps the least approachable variety as it tends to be the spiciest; it also has a fair amount of coriander, which adds a strong lemony flavor to the dish.
$8.95 for a lunch portion
1015 North Sepulveda Blvd.
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Yellow Curry - Kah Asian Lounge
I did not know what to expect when Kah went into this ever-changing restaurant spot on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, but a menu mysteriously appeared at my door one day announcing free delivery, so I thought I would give it a try. The first order, I had the green curry, and the memory of this delicious dish is admittedly what sparked my craving for curry this week.
This time, I tried the yellow curry lunch special. Oh my, oh my, this dish was as soothing and warming as a good lobster bisque. The rich coconut milk base was the perfect texture, not too watery, and the hot carrots and potatoes simply added to the warming qualities of this dish. Served with a ginger salad and fried won ton, this lunch special is the perfect way to unwind midday.
$7.50 for a lunch portion
1019 Manhattan Beach Blvd.,
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Red Curry - Bamboo Thai Bistro
With only two Thai restaurants in Manhattan Beach, sometimes you will have to venture just outside the city to get your fix. I have had my fair share of dishes at Thai Top in Hermosa Beach and Chaba in Redondo Beach, but the simple red curry lunch special at Bamboo Thai in Redondo Beach rivals them all.
This no-nonsense, modern Thai restaurant on Aviation Boulevard is the perfect place to pop in and out if you're in a rush. While you're there, enjoy any of the four curry options. I tried the red curry, served over a bed of fried tofu, red and green bell peppers and bamboo shoots. I could have done without the green bell peppers, which seemed to fight the curry the way they were served. However, the tofu was cooked to perfection, and this curry had just the right amount of spice. Served with a sizable scoop of sticky rice, a ginger salad and a vegetable spring roll, this lunch will keep you fueled throughout your day.
$6.95 for a lunch portion
2208 Artesia Blvd.
Redondo Beach, CA 90278