At HIP we recently made a yellow Thai curry. The base is a curry paste which includes garlic, lemongrass, salt, shallot, galangal, dried red chili, coriander seed, kefir lime peel, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, and nutmeg. While most of these ingredients are fairly familiar, one sticks out (okay, maybe two).
Galangal is a rhizome that is similar to ginger. Actually, if you were to look at a picture of galangal you’ll find it has a similar look as well. Galangal is sometimes referred to as Thai or Siamese Ginger. It’s a bit more citrusy with pine notes and has a few variations that can determine some finer flavors. Lesser galangal originated in China and has a more peppery bite. Greater galangal is a taller plant that grows in Indonesia and has a mild flavor. Light galangal comes from the Eastern Archipelago in southeast India and is the closest to ginger in flavor.
From a texture standpoint, ginger has a bit more juiciness while galangal is a bit more dry and dense. Both ginger and galangal can be found fresh or dried and powdered. While you can substitute ginger for galangal if necessary, you’re missing out on some flavor if you do so. I would suggest going to your local international market if you wanted to find it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Viet Wah, H Mart, Uwajimaya, 99 Ranch Market, or Asian Family Market (Lake City) had it.