Kaeng karii: The best Thai dish you’ve never heard of

Kaeng karii: The best Thai dish you’ve never heard of

We combed Yaowarat and beyond in search of the best Chinese and Muslim-style curries Bangkok has to offer
Kaeng karii
Kaeng karii
Kaeng karii
Kaeng karii
Kaeng karii
Kaeng karii
The selection of curries at Nay Yong, a streetside curry stall in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Thai curries are world famous, but few outside of Thailand are aware of "kaeng karii." It’s probably the only curry in the Thai repertoire with a recipe that includes packaged curry powder, and, oddly enough, the only one boasting a flavor often described as mild, even bland.

The dish takes two forms. One, with apparent Chinese origins, is an almost creamy stew or gravy, typically supplemented with little more than thin slices of pork or beef and served with sides of “kun chiang,” a waxy deep-fried pork sausage, and cucumber.

The other, with palpable Muslim influences, typically combines chicken, onions, tomato and dried spices in a thick but mild curry, and is typically served in a bowl with a side of “ajaat,” lightly pickled vegetables in a sweet/sour dressing. (See above gallery of images.)

Some of the better places in town to sample both types of kaeng karii are:

Kaeng kariiKaeng karii neua, or beef curry, at Jek Pui, a streetside stall in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Jek Pui

Undoubtedly the most popular place in Bangkok to eat Chinese-style kaeng karii, Jek Pui is a streetside stall in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Noteworthy for the fact it has no tables (diners sit on plastic stools and hold plates in their hands), the kaeng karii here is creamy both in texture and flavor. Diners liven it up by adding sides of sliced chilies in soy sauce and kun chiang.

Corner of Thanon Charoen Krung and Thanon Mangkorn. Open daily, 4-7pm. Price: 30 baht

Nay Yong

Although not quite as popular as Jek Pui’s, many will likely consider Nay Yong’s kaeng karii tastier. The dish has the characteristic smooth texture of Chinese-style curries, but packs a bit more flavor and spice. And unlike elsewhere, the kun chiang served here is meaty rather than waxy.

Corner of Soi 6 and Thanon Yaowarat. Open daily, 7pm-late. Price: 30 baht.

Kaeng kariiA dish of kaeng karii neua, beef curry, at Udom Phochana.

Udom Phochana

Udom Phochana, a 60-year-old Chinese-Thai restaurant in Banglamphu, serves a version of kaeng karii that is more gravy-like than curry-like. The beef version revolves around thin slices of beef and crunchy beef tendons, hearty chunks of sweet potato and sides of sliced cucumber. A pork curry is also available, and both are served with sides of sliced green chilies, green onions and thick soy sauce.

78 Thanon Phraeng Phuthorn. Open daily, 7am-3.30pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 221 3042. Price: 40 baht.

Yusup Phochana

Yusup, an unassuming streetside restaurant north of Bangkok, serves some of the best Thai-Muslim cuisine in town, including a delicious Muslim-style kaeng karii .The dish, served here with chicken, is lightly spiced and includes thick chunks of potato, tomato and onion. It’s accompanied by a slightly sweet ajaat of sliced cucumbers, chilies and shallots. 

Kaset-Navamin Highway. Open daily, 11am-2pm. Tel: +66 (0)85 136 2864. Price: 50 baht.

Roti-Mataba

Roti-Mataba, a longstanding Muslim restaurant in Bangkok’s Banglamphu district, cooks up a hard-to-find kaeng karii plaa (curry with fish). Served over rice or the restaurant’s famous roti, a type of crispy pancake, the dish is equal parts rich and sour.

136 Phra Athit Road, Open Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-10pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 282 2119. Price: 40 baht.

This is the fourth part in an ongoing series that highlights some of Thailand's finest but underrated dishes. To read part one, on the delicious 'khao khluk kapi,' click here. In part two, we explore the adventerous 'kuaytiaw luy suan.' In part 3, we head north for a taste of khao soi’s underrated partner, Khanom jeen nam ngiaw.

Austin Bush is an American writer/photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. His photos have been published in variety of magazines, books and newspapers including DestinAsian, Food & Travel, Olive, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, as well as numerous Lonely Planet publications. For an online portfolio and samples of his work, check out www.austinbushphotography.com.

Read more about Austin Bush
CNN Partner Hotels

Destination Berlin

It's crowded and outdated, but Berlin's hexagon-shaped Tegel air hub has won a place in the city's heart