by Brian Clarey
You probably think you know what curry is, and I’m here to tell you that you probably don’t.
Because curry is not just one thing. Sometimes it’s a dish. Sometimes it’s a sauce. Usually it’s a spice blend — there is no single spice universally referred to as “curry” — and even in that category there are as many variations on ingredients and ratios as there are types of tea.
Most of the Asian curries tend to lean on coriander, turmeric and cumin, but cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom and even good old cayenne pepper can round out the heat levels.
The Thai curry tradition, maintained in High Point at Thai Herb in a nondescript strip mall on Eastchester Drive, sees fresh herbs, spices and oils pounded into paste, used as a base for sauces. Regional differences account for variations in ingredients.
There are other menu options at Thai Herb, rice and noodle dishes, mostly, with a fine slate of appetizers and more boring conventions to pan-Asian cuisine like fried rice and spring rolls. But there are eight named curries listed for lunch and dinner, perhaps the most of any menu in the Triad.
Red curry has red chilis, garlic and shrimp paste. Panang curry is mild, with lemongrass and peanuts. Yellow curry is rich and sweet with coconut milk. Massaman curry comes from the Muslim tradition, a thin, red stew. There is also a mango curry and a pineapple curry, both of which pair succulent fruits with the layers of heat.
Curry is credited with salubrious properties from a preventative for colon cancer and Alzheimers to a sexual stimulant. In my experience, the truth lands somewhere in between. I swear every time I eat good curry I can feel it in my medulla, a warmth that radiates as I go through the meal.
I decided on the green curry, which gets color and flavor from green chilis and coconut milk. Thai Herb rates the heat of the dish on a scale of 1-6. And because it’s my first time there I go for the 4.5. Pro food-writer tip: Don’t be a hero your first time in a Thai restaurant. Some of those curries can melt a spoon. Let someone else be the guy weeping and gasping for water after asking for it “extra hot.”
In my opinion, the green curry is the most savory and nuanced of the form, with heat coming from several angles atop a base of coconut milk, awakening the elusive fifth taste of umami even without the benefit of a protein to the dish.
And while each curry dish comes with a selection of meat, the menu is ripe with vegetarian options as is consistent with the diet of Thailand.
I took mine with thin cuts of chicken, which is all well and good. Also suspended in the sauce are julienned zucchini, diced green peppers, fresh basil leaves and green beans. But when the time came I strained the good green curry sauce from the dish and poured it atop the last of the rice, which for this task worked even better than a biscuit.
Thai Herb is one of a crop of Asian eateries that is luring High Point diners away from the traditional American Chinese restaurants that once dominated the industry in the Third City — and, to some extent, still does.
In the little Eastchester strip mall that houses Thai Herb, there are also two Chinese restaurants.
Thai Herb, 1116 Eastchester Drive, HP; 336.889.3896; thaiherbhighpoint.com