What’s your favorite cuisine? I have a few I like, mainly Ethiopian, Indian, and Thai. If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you may know that I’m currently traveling through South East Asia and have been since July, 2016. I was in Thailand longer than expected. I was initially living on an island in the Bay of Thailand for two months, and then left to do some exploring through Myanmar, Thailand’s neighbor to the west.
Unfortunately, on my 3rd day in country, I got injured and had to return to Thailand for medical treatment. Diagnosis: torn ACL and a bucket handle tear of the meniscus, one of the most severe types of meniscus tears. The first few weeks after surgery were a bit rough, but things get better day by day and my situation was definitely enhanced when I found Hom Hostel. It’s a “cooking club” and everyday, I learned about new foods and typical Thai dishes are always served for breakfast. While I’m not here to write a travel review (I’ve already done that), I have to say, the hostel has the best kitchen I’ve seen since I left my home last year!
Let me bring a little Thai food into your kitchen, it’s actually not so tantalizing! You can make Thai food at home or go to any Thai restaurant across the globe. There are so many dishes, ingredients, and flavors. The food history and flavor combinations are complex and food itself plays a big role in the culture here. Everywhere you go, there’s food. There are small “hole-in-the-wall” type places all over, in the evenings, the streets are lined with vendors, and it seems every nook and cranny in Bangkok is filled with someone selling something edible. You can find fresh cut fruit, watermelon, pineapple, guava, dragon fruit, papaya, and more, for the equivalent of .60 a bag, fresh juice, grilled meat on a stick, Thai iced tea, roasted grasshoppers and larvae, and complex traditional Thai dishes are commonly available at most markets.
Rice, like in so many other Asian cultures, is the heart of most meals, but salads, curries, soups, and relishes are popular as well. Many people say it’s cheaper to eat out than to cook at home and often times, this is the case. Luckily, if you choose the right foods, you can keep it pretty healthy as well and street markets are the places to go! According to Chef David Thompson in his book, Thai Street Food, they gained popularity in the 1960s when many Thai people began leaving their villages and farms in search of better jobs in growing cities, namely Bangkok. Women were at the forefront of the Thai street food culture as men stayed home to work the farm, or headed off to the military or monastery.
Thai Food incorporates a lot of fresh ingredients. Most vendors did not and still do not have a refrigerator, but some now keep ice, especially those that sell fruit or fish. Chinese immigration had a large influence on Thai street food. Many Chinese went to Thailand to escape the poverty that plagued their towns and villages and they had to make a living in a new country. They began preparing and selling Chinese food: noodles, rice, congee, and different meats cooked in the quintessential Chinese 5 spice mix. Overall, Thai cuisine has many influences from all over Asia and Thailand itself is broken down into four gastronomic regions, Central, Northern, Southern, and Isan, or northeastern. While one could write a book on this subject, let’s get to some good stuff- some of the main ingredients of Thai cuisine.
As mentioned above, rice is often the center of the dish, but it’s what goes around it, of course, that provides all the flavor. Flavors come from onions, shallots, garlic, galangal, a ginger-like root that gets smashed to release flavor while cooking, cilantro, lemon grass, kafir lime leaves, chilies, fish sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. Thai food has many salty, savory, and spicy components, but sweetness from various ingredients is often used. Coconut milk is common, and palm sugar, white sugar, and fruit juices are added to sweeten up main meals. The list of vegetables is endless, and many dishes are even garnished with flowers, brining us to yet another component of Thai food and snacks- presentation. Food always looks good, whether it’s served from a street vendor, a restaurant, or on display in the grocery store. Vegetable carving is very popular and most dishes are served with some type of edible decoration as a garnish.
If you haven’t tried Thai food before, give it a shot. There are many Thai restaurants all over the United States and while there are many dishes with very specific recipes, I’ve found some, such as cashew chicken are made differently where ever you go, so whether you try Thai food in Thailand or somewhere else, you’ll likely get a good combo of flavors. Stay tuned for some authentic, healthified Thai recipes soon!
Have you had Thai food? What’s your favorite dish? Leave your comments and questions in the section below!