Feast recipe: Northern Thai Curry

Every year from April 13 to April 15 the people of Thailand celebrate Songkran, or Thai New Year. The name comes from Sanskrit and means 'a move or change', and the date of Thai New Year was set according to the astrological calculations. 

In order to celebrate this exciting event, why not whip up this Northern Thai curry courtesy of SBS food magazine Feast.  

There are as many versions of Gaeng Hang Lay as there are northern Thai cooks. Some season with soy, some use shrimp paste, while some leave out the chillies in favour of black peppercorns. This is best made at least a day ahead and it freezes well, too.


  • 1kg boneless pork belly, rind removed (optional)
  • 10 red Asian eschalots*, peeled
  • 7cm-piece ginger, peeled, cut into julienne
  • 2 tbs tamarind concentrate*, plus extra, to taste
  • 2 tbs grated palm sugar
  • Steamed jasmine or glutinous rice, to serve

 Spice mix

  • 2 tbs cumin seeds
  • 11/2 tbs coriander seeds
  • 11/2 tbs fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tbs black peppercorns
  • 3 tsp whole cloves
  • 4 cinnamon quills
  • 4 curls dried mace (optional)
  • 11/2 tbs ground turmeric
  • ½ whole nutmeg, grated

Curry paste

  • 15 dried long red chillies
  • 6 lemongrass stalks, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 3 large red Asian eschalots, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2cm-piece galangal, peeled, chopped
  • 2 tsp dried shrimp paste*


  • To make spice mix, place cumin, coriander and fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and mace, if using, in a frying pan over low heat. Toast, stirring, for 3 minutes or until fragrant; don’t allow spices to brown or burn. Transfer to a plate and cool, then stir in turmeric and nutmeg.
  • To make curry paste, soak chillies in 250ml hot water for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving 60ml liquid. Process chillies, lemongrass, eschalots, garlic, galangal, shrimp paste and 1 tsp salt in a food processor. Add enough chilli soaking water to form a smooth paste.
  • Cut pork into 4cm cubes. Place pork in a bowl with curry paste and knead paste into pork with your hands. Add 1 tsp salt and spice mix, and knead to coat pork with mixture.
  • Place a heavy-based pan over high heat. Add pork and cook, turning occasionally, for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Add 1L water, or enough to cover, and bring to the boil. Stir in eschalots and ginger. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 hours or until pork is meltingly tender.
  • Season with 1 tbs salt, tamarind and the sugar. The curry should have a pronounced tartness with a balance of sweetness. Serve with steamed or glutinous rice.

* Red Asian eschalots, tamarind concentrate and dried shrimp paste are available from Asian food shops. Tamarind concentrate is a sweet-sour concentrated tamarind juice.

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How do you celebrate Thai New Year? Tell us about it in the comments section below or head to twitter and Facebook to upload images

If you'd like to visit Thailand now, or at any time of year, why not take a look through all our trips. There's bound to be something that gets your mouth watering!

(Recipe: Robyn Eckhardt Photography: David Hagerman)

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