Thai Cuisine

What is the World’s Favourite Dish?

A Quick Guide to Massaman Curry

In CNN Travel’s online survey of 2018, readers were asked to rank their favourite overseas dishes. From a list of 50 of the World’s most delicious foods, Thailand’s ‘massaman curry’ came out on top as the world’s best-loved dish.

Image credit: naito29/

Origin of the Dish

Massaman (or matsaman) is not an intuitive word in the Thai language. The curry’s name is generally thought to be derived from the word ‘mussulman’, which was an early Thai word for Muslim. According to some experts, the dish originated from the 17th-century royal court of Ayutthaya. The former capital, located in central Thailand, had a cosmopolitan court, which had Persian merchants in attendance. Some believe it was they who first introduced many of the dish’s spices to Thailand.

However, a counter-theory contends that massaman curry is actually a southern Thai dish. It is said to have been influenced by the cuisines of Malay and Indian. And, that the name ‘massaman’ is actually derived from the Malay word for ‘sour’, which is ‘masam’.

A Spicy Affair

Massaman curry is a full-flavoured but relatively mild curry that has many spices not often used in Thai cooking. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, nutmeg and mace are all combined with the common Thai ingredients.  These include dried chilli peppers, coriander (cilantro) seeds, lemongrass, galangal, white pepper, shrimp paste, shallots and garlic. All are combined to make the massaman curry sauce.

The curry sauce is then fried with coconut cream. Next, meat, potatoes, onions, fish sauce (or salt), tamarind paste, sugar, coconut milk and peanuts are added. In traditional versions, orange, orange juice or pineapple juice can be added to the sauce to give a fruitier flavour. The curry when served is usually eaten with jasmine rice as an accompaniment.

The curry is traditionally most commonly made with chicken but today beef is just as popular. Other variations on the dish include the use of duck, mutton or goat. However, pork, generally a favourite with Thailand’s predominately Buddhist population, is used much less often. A vegetarian version of the dish substitutes meat for tofu. For me, the dish works best with any cuts of slow-cooked beef.


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