This Thick, Rich Thai Curry Is Always Part of My Sticky Rice Order

The gang hung lay is richly spiced, thick, and tastes even better the next morning.

3 min read

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If you order from enough Thai restaurants in Chicago, you begin to notice regional specialties on different menus. Some talk of coastal cuisine, featuring whole grilled squid or fishy, stewy gang tai pla. Others focus on the distinctive cooking of the eastern Isan region near Laos, with its fermented sausages and green papaya salads. At Sticky Rice, the best part of the menu is labeled “Northern Thai Dish” and highlights recipes from the city of Chiang Mai and the part of the country that borders Myanmar. 

I love it all, but the standout — the one dish that makes this my bar-none favorite Thai restaurant for delivery — is a pork curry called gang hung lay. It isn’t a saucy coconut curry but rather a dense one. It’s a rich, chunky gravy thickened with pounded lemongrass and galangal. It’s heavy with all the warm spices you might find in a garam masala, and studded with strips of ginger and long-cooked garlic cloves. Whew! This stew gets a mannerly bit of funk from shrimp paste, some sweetness and edge from tamarind, a salty backbone of soy and fish sauces, and of course heat from hot chilies. It is inhalably good spooned over fragrant jasmine rice, and it makes you appreciate each and every falling-apart chunk of long-stewed pork bobbing in the curry. 

In its preparation, this dish is very similar to Burmese curries in its use of dried spices and the way in which the base flavor is formed by frying the aromatics, and then stewing the curry until it releases its oil. Gang hung lay is a great example of how border cuisines take on a life of their own: this and other northern dishes like this are Thailand's version of the border-hopping innovation you might find along the Adriatic Coast or in the Southeastern United States. 

A little of this rich curry goes a long way. Since my typical order from Sticky Rice also includes a green papaya salad (always singing with lime juice), the house specialty of fatty roasted duck larb, and whatever noodle dish I’m feeling like, there are always leftovers. The curry improves with a night in the fridge, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that the microwaved leftovers served over rice with a fried egg is my ideal breakfast.