Savoring the authentic taste of Thai curry
Curry Gaeng is truly Thai in spirit. It is a secret gem tucked inside Fantang food hall on Yanping Road, where owner Valantina Tsoi serves the most authentic Thai curries to her guests.
“I lamented the fact that Shanghai does not have any solid Thai curry options so I wanted to bring that possibility here,” Tsoi said.
Tsoi is originally from Hong Kong but her grandparents are Thai Chinese so she grew up on Thai cuisine.
“On a vacation to Southern Thailand a couple of years ago, I was staying at an eco resort where they made all the curry pastes themselves, mostly from herbs grown in their own garden. Those were the most delicious curries I’ve had. It was then I understood the secret of a good curry is to make it from scratch,” she said.
After Tsoi’s curry epiphany she returned to Thailand several times to discover, research and learn the different curry styles from the country’s many regions.
Armed with new knowledge of curry-making, the sommelier turned entrepreneur wanted to give it a try by launching a delivery-only shop a year ago.
“But when the current venue came up it made total sense because of the central location and proximity to my customer base,” she said.
The current space is small but efficient, with a clear branding on Thai curries.
“I focus on Thai curries because they are very under-represented in Shanghai and around the world — maybe because there are so many Indian and Japanese options around. I also wanted to bring fresh and exciting Thai food to the city that is as close to what you would find in Thailand,” Tsoi said.
Tsoi says there are so many ingredients and a huge amount of handiwork involved in Thai curry making that it doesn’t make sense for the average cook to attempt it at home, but at the same time, good curries have to be made from scratch.
“We don’t use any MSG or additives, we hope to deliver curries that are delicious and healthy by just combining the pure natural flavors of fresh ingredients.”
Curry Gaeng serves several different curries with regional differences. The restaurant’s main character belongs to its pungency of herbs. They can be any combination: spicy, salty, sweet and umami or differ in their styles. They can be wet or dry, or with or without coconut milk.
“I wanted my menu to reflect particular styles from different Thai regions. Instead of the usual ‘traffic light’ (red, green, yellow) curries you find in most Thai restaurants, with options to swap and change just the proteins (chicken, pork, beef), we present our curries in their rightful combinations and styles,” Tsoi said.
Signature dishes include the central Thai-style Gaeng Phet, a red curry of duck, pineapple and cherry tomatoes, and Kua Kling, a dry curry of chicken that is originally from Southern Thailand. They start these signature dishes by making their respective curry pastes containing around 15 ingredients. For red curry, its paste gets cooked with coconut cream to release its flavors, and then stock and ingredients are added and boiled, yielding a saucy, liquid curry. For a dry curry, they dry roast the curry paste in a pan without water and continue the dry roasting process with minced chicken, yielding in a sauce-less curry that is spicy and savory.
For Tsoi, who previously worked with craft spirits in sales and marketing, playing with unusual drinks besides the flavors and textures of Thailand has been a revelation. She supports local independent startup brands, including hard seltzers from Kith and Kin, craft beer from Witchcraft and Cita, and fruit sodas from PAO, all of which are made in China.
“Kith and Kin seltzers are brewed in Shangri-La with natural Tibetan mountain spring water and naturally sweetened with monkfruit and no added sugar or coloring. These craft seltzers brewed from grapefruit and pomelo pair especially well with our fiery Thai curries,” she said.
Opening hours: 11am-10pm
Address: Fantang food hall, 98 Yanping Rd
Average price: 80 yuan (US$12.39)