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What is Masaman Curry?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Masaman curry is an ethnic dish usually considered to be part of Thai cuisine. Sometimes spelled as massaman curry, this particular Thai food is normally created by combining relatively mild spices with coconut milk and a few other ingredients. The curry is often served with rice and sometimes with a form of pickled ginger or cucumbers.

The name for the curry comes from Muslim traders who brought the spices used in the dish from India and the Middle East to the southern portion of modern day Thailand. One spelling of the name, musulman, is simply a more ancient form of the word “Muslim.” In some areas, the dish is referred to simply as Muslim curry.

Preparing this particular Thai food is relatively simple. While recipes vary, a basic masaman curry includes coconut milk that is seasoned with curry paste. Potatoes, some type of beef, cashews, and a few other spices form the basis for the recipe.

It is the special curry paste that gives masaman curry a distinctive flavor. When combined with bay leaves, sugar, fish and tamarind sauces, cardamom, and cinnamon, the end result is a spicy yet sweet concoction that provides a pleasant layer of flavor to the beef and potatoes. Onions can also be sliced and added to this basic recipe. This same mixture of curry sauce, coconut milk, and spices will also work very well with chicken or duck.

Blending the milk and curry paste is the first step in preparing masaman curry. It is important to heat these two ingredients over low heat, allowing the paste to completely break down in the milk. As the mixture begins to bubble slightly, add the meat. Make sure the curry sauce completely covers the chunks of meat.

Add the remainder of the spices while holding the cashews, potatoes and onions to add just before the dish is finished cooking. After roughly a half-hour, the beef will be tender. Maintain the same low heat and add the slivers of onion, chunks of potatoes and the cashews, then simmer the entire masaman curry for about twenty more minutes.

The liquid will reduce during the second half of the preparation, leaving a thin coating on the chunky ingredients. However, the bottom of the pot should still have an ample covering of the sauce. If the onions and beef appear to be almost completely exposed, add small amounts of water until the curry again covers the bottom half of the larger chunks.

Masaman curry can be served over white, saffron, or fried rice. For people who are watching carbohydrate intake, serving on a bed of steamed green and yellow vegetables will also result in a filling meal.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including DelightedCooking, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Jun 03, 2014

@discographer-- I have made masaman curry with ready made masaman curry paste from the store. It turned out quite good.

If you can make the curry paste yourself, that is better because everyone has preferences for different flavors. So you can add more of the spices you like and less of the spices you don't like. Your curry paste will be unique to you.

But I realize that one doesn't have enough time to make it always. So it's fine to use ready-made paste. Just follow the rest of the directions and boil the paste with coconut cream to make a nice thick curry sauce. I also add broth to my sauce instead of water for extra flavor.

By discographer — On Jun 03, 2014

I was at the Asian grocery store the other day and saw small cans of masaman curry paste. Has anyone made masaman curry using the ready-made paste? Does it taste good?

By turquoise — On Jun 02, 2014

I had no idea that masaman is a variation of the word "musulman". In Hindi, the word for Muslim is "Musalman." It is still used as such, so it's not an ancient word. It's interesting that they named this dish after the Muslim traders carrying the spices. But without the spices, masaman curry would not be masaman curry, so that makes sense.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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