Spicy Thai basil eggplant makes...
We see more and more Thai cuisine restaurants opening up throughout the world, whether searing hot or beautifully combined, the guiding principle behind good Thai food is harmony. It is a blend between centuries-old Western and Eastern influences that make it into something unique – something Thai.
The Basic Ingredients You Will Find
Most people understand Thai food to be sweet, salty, bitter and spicy. The basic ingredients tend to include shrimp paste (kapi), fermented fish sauce (nam pia), fresh coriander leaf, lemon grass, lime juice, chilies, and garlic.
You should expect to see rice served with every meal as it is one of Thailand’s primary staples. It can be served with nam phrik, fried vegetables, curries, and soups. Nam phrik is a sauce that can be quite hot, but may be prepared differently depending on the region you are in at the time. The different ways in which nam phrik are prepared are:
• Nam phrik pla raa – A chili sauce with fermented fish.
• Nam phrik oong – A chili sauce with tomato and minced pork.
• Nam phrik pla pon – A chili sauce with ground dried fish.
• Nam phrik kapi – A chili sauce with shrimp paste.
Generally, the basic ingredients for any nam phrik sauce include lemon juice, fermented fish sauce, chili, garlic, and shrimp paste.
Other seasons that we see in Thailand includes coconut milk, ginger, tamarind juice, grounded peanuts, black pepper, and galingale (khaa). Because there is so much pounding, chopping, and peeling involved in the preparation of the ingredients, a traditional Thai meal can take several hours to prepare. Fortunately, buying Thai food online makes finding some of these hard to find ingredients a little easier.
Thai Food Can Vary From Region to Region
When people talk about Thai food, they often do not realize that the food can vary, depending on the region of Thailand that the recipe comes from. For example, in the north and northeast they prefer sticky rice to steamed rice. Here are some of the distinct culinary differences between the regions of Thailand:
• The central region – The food here can be described as sweet and sour, salty, and hot. Most dishes have many different spices and condiments. They often serve rice with soups (for example, prawn soup with lemon grass (tom yam kung) or nam phrik.
• The north – Here the food is never sweet, but often salty and sour, and can be both hot and mild. They often serve sticky rice with soups or curries, nam phrik oong, or boiled vegetables. They also have a northern specialty, a sausage called “naem.” A sour flavored fermented minced pork sausage sold bound in cellophane and a banana leaf.
• The northeast – The food that comes from the northeast is referred to as hot, sour, and salty. Some favorite foods include sour minced meat salad (lard), a chopped meat salad that is quite sour (koi), and papaya salad (som tam). Though not many spices are used, they often use plenty of condiments. Meals often consist of nam phrik pla raa, sticky rice, and plenty of vegetables.
• The south – The food here is renowned for being sour, salty, and very hot. Food is often made with plenty of spices and condiments and curries are a popular option to use. One common dish is khao yam, a mixture of rice, fermented fish sauce, and raw vegetables. Oftentimes the nam phrik varieties are not popular in the south and they eat very little meat.
Thai Street Food
Much of the grocery shopping in Thailand is done on the street. It is common to see the locals walk around with soup, noodles, curry, or little bags full of rice. Because kitchens are rare and food is cheap, many people do not cook their own meals. Eating in Thailand is a social activity rather than a predetermined time to sit down and eat – your stomach will guide you. One interesting aspect is that there are no specific breakfast dishes in Thai cuisine. Oftentimes a breakfast will consist of the same food that one might expect for lunch or dinner. Even specific breakfast foods such as chok – rice porridge, can often be enjoyed for lunch or dinner as well.
Thai Cooking Techniques
The traditional cooking methods in Thailand were grilling, baking, and stewing. It was not until later (thanks to the Chinese influences) that deep-frying, stir-frying, and frying were introduced. Other culinary influences include the Japanese, French, Dutch, and Portuguese. Even though many people equate Thai food with chilies, these were not used until Portuguese missionaries introduced them in the late 1600s. These Portuguese missionaries had a fondness for chilies after their work in South America. Some of the basic cooking techniques include:
• Stir-frying [pad] – This quick and easy way of cooking is often done in a large wok. It is quite common to see Thai street vendors move around a wok that looks as though it is twice their size. Food is often tossed around to cook evenly on all sides.
• Stewing [toon] – This method of cooking allows the ingredients to retain the sweetness and nutritional goodness and is often used to tenderize tougher cuts of meat. This method of preparation often takes quite a bit longer.
• Steaming [neung] – Ingredients are cooked by the vapor that rises from the boiling liquid below. Because so many Thai cooks use the freshest ingredients, it produces the best possible results.
• Deep frying [tod] – Often done at incredibly high heats, if it is not done at the right heat the food will be greasy because it absorbs the oil. When done right the food comes out crispy rather than soggy.
• Grilling [yang] – In Thai cooking, meats are often wrapped in leaves and/or aluminum foil. Other times they are exposed directly to the heat.
• Salads [yum] – The reason that Thai salads stand out is the freshness of the ingredients that are used and the strong taste of the salad. This may include, hot, salty, and sour.
Thai Cooking Utensils
If you were to walk into a traditional Thai kitchen, there is a good chance that you would come across the following tools and utensils:
• Strainer – Often used to strain grease and liquid from different types of food
• Coconut grater – Because coconut is such a staple in Thai cuisine, this is a necessity.
• Glutinous rice basket – This tightly woven basket will help keep rice moist and warm. Even without refrigeration, the rice will keep a surprisingly long time.
• Mortar and pestle – The mortar is made from hardwood, stone, or crude earthenware. It has a weighted base. These are used to bruise coriander roots, garlic, citrus rind, and lemon gross. It is also used to deal with moist curry pastes.
• Wok – When compared to a conventional frying pan it distributes heat more evenly and is easier to clean. This is often used for deep fat frying, stir-frying, or conventional frying.
• Steamer – Made from aluminum or clay and it can fit on top of the mouth of the charcoal burner. Because rice is a staple of each meal, it is not a luxury, but a necessity.
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