Sometime in the year 2015, I had an epic tasting experience that shaped my Thailand Peace Corps service. I was given an orange shaded curry at my school for lunch one day. In it, a thick hearty vegetable that had been boiled down to a dreamy, soft and malleable existence. The vegetable alone gave the dish its consistency. I immediately fell in love with the distinct, strong but sweet flavors and fluffy textures, its sweetness and high veggie content. Geng Fak Tong or Pumpkin Curry is MY FAVORITE curry in Thailand. So why wouldn’t I write about it, really? If you guys are ready, let’s dive in.
What is it though?
Being from the land of pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin flavored gyros for all I know- I didn’t think that such a vegetable could create this hearty broth. For the past two years, I attributed the difference in recipes to slight variants in the plant. #Pumpkinproblems. Well fun fact- it’s not a pumpkin at all la duh.. It’s a damn squash, a winter squash!
The non-pumpkin, pumpkin squash thing is called Kabocha. No wonder these little guys are better in savory dishes, because squash is the light at the end of the vegetarian tunnel. The word Kabocha comes from Japanese, and refers to either this winter squash or the typical western pumpkin of every basic girls Ugg and Northface inspired dreams. Thus the confusion. I mean, I literally had no idea this thing wasn’t a pumpkin. It took me two years to ask teacher Google, “What is a Thai pumpkin?”. Welp, question answered.
That being said, Geng Fak Tong is the perfect combination of sweet coconut milk, melt in your mouth Kabocha, mixed with finely ground garlic, basil, and chilis (because, Thailand). You can even throw chicken or pork into the mix if that is your deal/prerogative if you’re Britney Spears. The curry is mind blowingly good. But just please remember that it is not made with that pumpkin you carved at Halloween. That would not taste good, not good at all.
Where does it grow?
The flavorful squash, in all its hearty goodness grows in several places around the globe. Including some of the growing states like California, Florida, Colorado, and Hawaii. So for those of you in the good ole USA- there is hope. Much of the crop grows in Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Tanzania, New Zealand, several other countries. Surprisingly enough, a large amount of the Kabocha grown in in California, Colorado, Tonga and New Zealand is actually exported to Japan. Hmm, wonder why. Ask me later. The plant is grown in places with longer growing seasons, with at least 100 days for a decent sized Kabocha.
When the plant is harvested, it is not yet completely ripe. Once taken off of the root, it takes about two weeks to reach peak ripeness. During that time, keeping the plant in a warm area- some of the starches are converted into sugars leaving the squash with its unique flavor palette. Later, the squash is normally moved into a cool area for a month or longer in order to increase its carbohydrate content. I don’t know how that helps but it does, science stuff. So, apparently it’s quite the process to change the structural nature of the squash from its hard lowly plant self into sweet, orange, super veggie. The entire ripening procedure takes about one to three months after harvesting. That is a long time to wait for geng fak tong, but hey, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Where is it today?
In my belly. Cuz I love it. But other than that, it’s basically everywhere on this planet Earth of ours. In the past, the plant dominated Mesoamerica. Recent agricultural/archeological research shows that the Kabocha was domesticated around four thousand years before corn and beans. Now, that is saying something. People back then, they knew what was up. Portuguese explorers brought the plant from Cambodia to Japan five centuries ago and the Japanese obviously loved it enough to give it a name in their native tongue. More importantly, import it regularly, and make things with it. Oh, that’s why Japan imports the heck out of it.
How do I make it?
The Thai Pumpkin Curry recipe is relatively easy and streamline across several different cookbooks, as compared to the way my host mom taught me. Now, knowing that the veggie is available in the States, I plan on exploiting it, in a positive way when I get back. Here is the recipe that matched my host mom’s recipe closely…
And here you can watch me making Geng fak tong with way too much kabocha, but I ain’t even mad.