Before I get started on all the ins and outs of Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice, I should admit right out the gate that I’m not a huge curry fan. Somehow, I always manage to forget this. “Alright!” I commonly exclaim, “Curry! I love curry!” Then I start eating and I remember that, oh yeah, no I don’t.
The problem is, I think, that at some point my brain got all scrambled up about what curry really is. What I like is Japanese curry, and Japanese curry, like Japanese game shows, is unusual and fascinating.
If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you know that it’s more like a thick brown gravy than a traditional South East Asian curries. Generally it comes from a rue, and nothing really goes in it except maybe some sliced up carrots and potatoes and maybe an onion. Certainly not coconut cream, one of the most common elements of Asian curries, and never anything like morning glory, young coconut shoots, or banana flowers as in Trader Joe’s Thai curry here.I love the hell out of wacky Japanese curry – the real stuff, on the other hand, I’m still getting used to.
The other thing I love about Japanese curry, as long as were on the subject, is how it’s represented in Japan as a non-Japanese food. Without a doubt, no one but the Japanese are making curry in this very particularly Japanese way, but for some reason every package of Japanese curry mix is emblazoned with images of tropical isles , swamis, or Vermont. It’s very perplexing. Presumably the Japanese imagine people in Vermont are always serving each other big plates of Japanese curry all the time – much the same way I imagine people in Vermont are always wearing sweaters and strolling through orchards.
At any rate – Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice is certainly not that. Instead, it’s a rather nice coconut green curry packed into a frozen TV dinner. Trader Joe’s has really gone all out on trying for authenticity here. Take a look at your green curry – what do you have in it. Looks like some bamboo shoots, spinach, and maybe some onion? Ha, no. Try young coconut shoots, banana flowers and morning glory. That’s not just an ingredient list, that’s a line of free form poetry. Obviously these three intriguing ingredients bring their own unique tastes to the meal, but you’ll have a hard time picking any of them out seeing as how they’re slathered in a typically strong tasting curry. What you will notice are the interesting textures they lend – crisp, firm and stringy, respectively. It’s an elegant touch to bring these rare produce to America’s shores, and give the whole dish a feeling of being truly exotic. The spice is there as well. While the whole curry could probably be classified as “Mild Plus”, there is no shortage of piquant and interesting spices to light up your tongue.
While “sai tung” means “take out” in Thai, a phrase commonly bantered about by food vendors on the street of Bangkok, don’t go searching your Thai dictionary for “gaba”. The “Red Gaba Rice” mentioned on the box should actually be “Red GABA Rice”, as in the amino acid chain GABA, aka “gamma-aminobutyric acid”.
The more conventional name for “Gaba rice” is germinated brown rice – unpolished brown rice grains that are allowed to germinate and sprout, in this case for up to 48 hours, before cooking. Germinating your rice is a clever way to increase the nutrients in it, in particular the above mentioned GABA, which in turn gives your rice a better protein profile. You can see that in the Nutrition Facts box – despite being a vegan dish, this curry has 10 grams of protein in it. Of course, it also has 70 grams of carbs, but that’s just the way it goes.
The other effect of letting your rice germinate is that the texture changes. You’ll notice that the rice here is considerably chewier than regular steamed rice. Partnered with a saucy curry like it is here, that’s a welcome feature as it lends more body and substance to an otherwise quite basic meal.
Having disclosed by curry bias, I feel I can admit that I wasn’t in love with this curry. Trader Joe’s has a few really really amazing quick and easy frozen dinners (like this one, and this one). This curry was a nice change of pace, but I wasn’t addicted to it. Of course, I fully expect to hear a dissenting voice from some die-hard fans in the comments on this, and I certainly hope I do.
There’s a lot to love here, especially for vegans and vegetarians seeking cuisine options, fans of authentic Thai, or anyone looking for a good dinner that only costs $2.99. Now if only TJ’s could put a picture of Delaware on it they might win me over.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a classy bit of Thai curry.
Would I Buy It Again: No, but I’m not a big green curry fan.
Final Synopsis: Authentic Thai curry, done cheap and quick.