Massaman or matsaman is not a native Thai word. It
is generally thought to refer to the Muslims with earlier writers
from the mid-19th century calling the dish "Mussulman
curry"; Mussulman being an archaic form of the word Muslim.
The dish is said to have originated in 17th century
Central Thailand at the court of Ayutthaya, through the Persian
merchant Sheik Ahmad Qomi from whom the Thai noble family of Bunnag
descends. Others contend that massaman is a southern Thai dish,
influenced by Malay and Indian cuisine, or that its name is derived
from the Malay word masam, which means "sour".
The curry is extolled in a poem from the end of the
18th century, attributed to Prince Itsarasunthon of Siam, the later
King Rama II (1767-1824). It is dedicated to a lady who is believed
to be Princess Bunrot, the later Queen Sri Suriyendra, wife of King
Due to its Muslim roots and Islamic dietary laws,
this curry is most commonly made with beef, but there are also
variations on the dish using duck, chicken, mutton, goat, or, even
pork(though not by strict Thai Muslims).
The flavours of massaman curry paste (nam phrik
kaeng matsaman) come from spices that are not frequently used in
other Thai curries. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin,
bay leaves, nutmeg and mace would, in the 17th century, have been
brought to Thailand from the Malay Archipelago and South Asia
originally by Muslim traders from the Middle East, Indian
These are combined with local dried chili peppers,
coriander seeds, lemongrass, galangal, white pepper, shrimp paste,
shallots and garlic to make the massaman curry paste. This paste is
first fried with coconut cream, and only then are meat, potatoes,
onions, fish sauce or salt, tamarind paste, sugar, coconut milk and
peanuts added. Massaman is usually eaten with rice, in a meal
together with other dishes.