Ready to use Thai curry paste, including its vegetarian variants, is available in many countries including India. Still there are times when a tourist may like to take home some Thai curry paste while leaving Thailand. At first I need to clarify what a vegetarian Thai curry paste means, and then later I will tell about the exact products, prices, and where to buy them in Bangkok. Thai curry paste, whether its packed & ready to use variety or a fresh paste prepared and used by a Thai restaurant usually contains a non-vegetarian ingredient: shrimp paste or shrimp powder. The idea of adding shrimp is to add flavour. I hate to break this to you but it is 99% likely that the vegetarian Thai curry that you order in a Thai restaurant that is not a 100% vegetarian restaurant, is made using a curry paste that contains shrimp paste. I have been told at many Thai restaurants that they would be able to prepare a red or green Thai curry containing only vegetables and no meat or seafood. But when I ask them if the curry paste they use contains shrimp paste, they look clueless. To make it very clear, shrimp paste is a standard ingredient in Thai curry paste produced and used in Thailand. But at the same time, a 100% vegetarian Thai curry paste can also be purchased in Thailand if one knows where to look for it. In Bangkok I always find it in Tokyu Department Store at MBK Center.
See The Ingredients
Standard ingredients in a Thai Curry Paste are like this: dried chillies, garlic, onions, lemon grass, galangal, salt, ginger, turmeric, and spices. A vegetarian curry paste will only have these but a regular curry paste will contain shrimp paste up to 5% or even more. If the ingredients are printed only in Thai language, just leave the paste at the store counter. Unless you can read the ingredients clearly in English, do not buy and do not trust what someone else tells you.
The Products That I Found in Tokyu Department Store
Namjai Vegetarian Yellow Curry Paste
This Namjai Brand yellow curry paste does not list shrimp paste in its ingredients. Namjai brand also has red, green, and some other curry pastes but all others include shrimp paste but not this yellow curry paste. A 50 gram packet of Namjai Yellow Curry Paste cost 12 THB at Tokyu. The price might have increased now but still it would be cheap and among the cheapest curry pastes that you will find anywhere. Ingredients in this curry paste are – dried red chillies 26%, garlic 18.5%, onions 13.5%, lemon grass 13.5%, galangal 5.5%, salt 12.5%, ginger 4.5%, turmeric 3.5%, and spices 2.5%. I have used this paste several times and need to give a few tips. Its very high on chillies and you will need to add a lot of water and a lot of coconut milk to make it less hot. When adding coconut milk, also simultaneously add par boiled potatoes or some other starch to prevent the coconut milk from curdling. You may need to add more salt for taste but no other spices are needed. Cooking process is simple: shallow fry the paste in a little oil, add water, boil and add veggies. When veggies are cooked, add coconut milk, a few boiled potatoes, and boil for a few more minutes.
Vegetarian Red Curry Paste
With the help of a nice Tokyu staff, I was able to find this red curry paste that does not contain shrimp paste. Its brand name is printed in Thai only but the ingredients are printed in English. It contains chilli 45%, garlic 20%, lemon grass 20%, red onion 5%, spices 5%, galangal 3%, and salt 2%. As you can see, this one is pure fire with 45% chillies and just a little salt. I have yet to use this paste but think it will need a lot of water, coconut milk, and some salt too. The packet suggests 400 gram coconut milk for a 50% packet of red chilli paste. One packet of this red chilli paste cost 22 THB. Expensive as compared to Namjai but this was the only vegetarian red curry paste I could find.
Ready To Eat Vegetarian Red Curry With Tofu
There was this ready to eat Thai red curry with Tofu at Tokyu. This 145 gram ‘heat and eat’ meal cost 29 THB for one pack. As per the list of ingredients, it contains coconut milk 22%, bamboo shoots 21%, carrots 9%, red curry paste 3%, basil, chillies, salt, sugar, and oil. As you can see this meal contains red curry paste but since the front of the packet clearly states it is a vegetarian meal, I am assuming that the red curry paste used is shrimp-free. Again I have yet to try this but it looks quite promising.
Get Additional Discount
If you are buying these curry pastes/curries at Tokyu, you may like to get an additional 5% discount. Go to the ground floor Information Counter of MBK and ask for a Tourist Discount Card. With that card, you will get a 5% discount at Tokyu if your purchase is over 100 THB and you pay in cash.