Beginner’s Choice: The World of Curries and Soups

Dry curry

My friend Anna cooked an Indian dry potato and cabbage curry dish and had Foodpanda deliver it to cheer us up last week. Those of us who were on medical leave certainly appreciated the kind detail.

We tried to work out what spices were in the dish. I found a recipe online. The dish had mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric and red chili among the ingredients. Anna wanted feedback. We gave her a thumbs up. It was very good!

Curries

Curries originated in India, but now there are many different types of curries, including Japanese curry. Thai curries definitely have Indian influence, but they are very distinct from Indian curries, mainly because Thai curries are cooked with fewer spices (chili powder, turmeric, cumin) and more fresh herbs (lemongrass, kaffir, lime leaf, basil leaf, fresh coriander and galangal). Thai curries are usually cooked with coconut milk, while Indian curries are water-based. Thai curries are seasoned with fish sauce, while Indian curries are seasoned with salt. I won’t attempt to name the ingredients which go into Japanese curry, which looks more like a stew than a curry.

Thai curries are called “gaeng”, which also means soup. Broth-based soups are called “gaeng jued” which mean “bland soup”. Soups are meant to be soothing, except in Thailand, where they can be spicy and sour, like tum yum soup.

There is mee Siam in Malaysia and Singapore which is a mildy spicy noodle soup. Jason and Emily, who are in Hong Kong, sent a photo of their mee Siam lunch. They bought live prawns in the market, and they used a ready-made paste instead of making the soup from scratch. They recommend it for students studying abroad who are homesick for local Singapore cuisine.

Herbal soups and teas

Asian cuisine is more than food, it is often considered medicine, like the Chinese herbal soups which are drunk to cure various ailments and to boost immunity. Herbs are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

I once had a very bad cough and cold and a friend bought me some herbs to boil and drink. It had a dead bee in it. I was a bit apprehensive, but the concoction cured me of my cough and cold.

Sweet soup dessert

I went to a Chinese medicine shop recently to buy ingredients for cheng tng, a Chinese soup dessert. I haven’t learnt how to pronounce pang da hai correctly yet, so it usually takes a while for me to explain what I am looking for. Pang da hai is a black seed that has jelly inside, and it is the main ingredient of cheng tng. I usually also buy dried longans and dried lotus seeds in the Chinese medicine shop. The other ingredients like white fungus, red dates, rock sugar, ginkgo nuts, barley, sago and candied melon strips are available in supermarkets. I have yet to find out the properties of each ingredient, but they combine nicely into a refreshing hot or cold sweet soup. Fresh longans added to the dry ingredients make the soup even nicer.

HomSkil’s Cooking Adventure Series

HomSkil recently ran online presentations on the Basics of Thai Cooking. Participants are now well-informed on the different regional cuisines in Thailand and the essential ingredients in Thai cuisine. They can travel to Thailand and enjoy the cuisine they have heard about and appreciate the culture behind it.

Have a good weekend and a great week ahead.

By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 12 November 2022

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