For all the popularity of green, red and massuman curries on the international stage, the jungle curry – known as gaeng pa – is perhaps the least well known. This fiery curry originates from the northern Thai forests, where it was traditionally cooked with wild boar and whatever else could be found by way of vegetables. Gaeng pa is not usually made with coconut milk, since coconuts are not found in the jungles of northern Thailand.
Gaeng pa jungle curry is the speciality at Gaeng Pa Sriyan, an unassuming restaurant a short hop from Bangkok’s Victory Monument that is famed for the chilli-laden dishes it turns out, hailing from up and down the country. Be warned – this is not a restaurant for the mild-mannered, faint-hearted diner. The flavours here are intense and the spice level unforgiving, even for Thais supposedly used to this intensity of heat.
Gaeng Pa Sriyan is also known for the exotic meats it serves in its extensive menu of dishes that include stir fries, curries, soups and salads. Where most restaurants limit you to chicken, beef, pork and perhaps prawns or squid, at Gaeng Pa Sriyan the more exciting and adventurous line-up includes frog, winkles (a type of snail-like shellfish found in rivers and saltwater rock pools, which I’m most used to devouring freshly foraged from British beaches and doused in pepper and vinegar), quail and wild boar.
The soupy jungle curry might be the speciality – and it’s worth ordering, whether with frog like we did or something slightly more mainstream – but the pad cha hoy comb is another show stealer. Pad cha pla kapong, a hot and spicy flash-fry of sea bass featuring lots of wild ginger and green peppercorns, is among my favourite seafood dishes – and done stupendously well at Lung Meuk Pa Lord seafood restaurant in Prachuap Kiri Khan. Here at Bangkok’s Gaeng Pa Sriyan, the same winning formula is applied to de-shelled winkles, with even more emphasis on the spice than I’m used to in Prachuap.
Other dishes on the menu at Gaeng Pa Sriyan include a pad krapao basil stir fry made with minced quail meat – quail meat is wonderfully meaty, and at the same time toothsome, and goes equally well in gaeng pa jungle curry, which I’ve made at home before with minced quail and with a less soupy consistency than that served at Gaeng Pa Sriyan.
We also ate a dish of pad phet moo pa – wild boar stir fried in red curry paste. I’ve never been much of a fan of pad phet stir fries, finding them both a little too dry and a little too heavy on the kaffir lime for my liking, but the boar shone here and would do well in other stir-fries and curries at Gaeng Pa Sriyan.
It’s practically obligatory to end your meal at Gaeng Pa Sriyan with a bowl of homemade ice cream, with or without sticky rice. Durian ice cream is available, but even just the plain coconut ice cream – studded with small pieces of coconut flesh and other goodies – is refreshing at the end of the kind of super fiery meal you need to expect at Gaeng Pa Sriyan. If you can handle the spice, Gaeng Pa Sriyan serves up the kind of authentic, take-no-prisoners Thai cooking you can’t miss – just expect to emerge dripping in sweat and gasping for breath.
You’ll find Gaeng Pa Sriyan in Bangkok’s Dusit district, on Nakhon Chai Si Road and just after the junction with Ruam Chit and Nakhon Ratchasima roads (approaching from the direction of Victory Monument). Expect to pay around 60 baht for a taxi from either Phaya Thai or Victory Monument BTS stations; otherwise, bus number 14 passes right by. Delivery is also available by phone or through the FoodPanda web site.
954/2 Nakhon Chai Si Road; 02 241 4216
Monday to Saturday, 10am-9pm