Thai Food Products & Cooking
Thai food products are generally divided into five separate groups, which are rice, meats, fish, vegetables and fruits. Rice is a very important part of the Thai diet and rice is typically found in almost every Thai dish. Jasmine rice is very popular as well as sticky rice. Rice noodles are also found in all noodle dishes. Thailand is the largest rice producer in Southeast Asia., which is a good thing considering that Thai people love rice!
There are a number of excellent meat products available in Thailand including pork, chicken and beef. In my travels throughout Thailand I have noticed that pork in all forms seems to be the most popular meet among Thai people. Typically the pork sold in local markets is ground up or chopped into small pieces. It seems that every part of the pig is utilized, as often you will see pig heads for sale at markets. Often you will see whole pigs cooking on the street. One of the things that you will notice here about pigs is the size as most are much smaller than those found in the United States. One thing is for certain; being a pig in Thailand is going to result in a bad ending for the pig!
Chicken is also very popular meat to eat in Thailand and is available everywhere. Often in he suburban areas of the larger cities as well as in the rural areas you will see “free range” chickens running around. The local Thai people that “own” them and want to eat one will simply go outside and catch one. As with pork, chicken found in the markets is very fresh and is used in a number of Thai food dishes. Chicken is also available as a stand-alone food product that is either roasted or fried. Chicken is very fresh everywhere you go as live chickens are always running around “free range”. The first time I visited my wife’s home, one of her relatives went outside and caught a chicken an hour before we ate and it sure was good. Thai style fried chicken being delicious, especially when served with sticky rice and a cold Singha!
Beef is not as popular in Thailand as it is in the west and is usually found in the form of ground beef. Steaks are available, but are typically only purchased by foreigners or as “farangs”. One of the interesting things that I have seen here in Thailand is how few people like beef. A few weeks ago, my wife decided that she wanted to have steak for dinner. We headed to one of the local steakhouses where she ordered a steak. At the end of the night, she had hardly touched it and we stopped by and picked up some street food on the way back to our home. The street food that she picked had pork in it, which seems to be what most Thai people prefer. I guess that the stray “Soi” dog enjoyed her steak!
Fresh water as well as salt water fish is a found everywhere in Thailand and is a big part of the Thai diet. Freshwater fish is generally found at the inland areas of Thailand while saltwater fish is consumed more along the coast. I live in a seaside town in Thailand and saltwater fish is found at every market as well as squid, shrimp and a large variety of shellfish including clams and lobsters.
One thing that many people from the west get uneasy about is seeing pork, chicken, beef and fish out in the open at the markets un-refrigerated. Today, I was at the market and while shellfish was on nice, I saw fish that had been cleaned out in the open and it was really hot here today. Pork and chicken were outside as well. It is very common here. In general, people do not need to worry about this and the meat and fish are fine. Keep n mind that this is the way that meat and fish have been handled in Thailand for generations. They know what they are doing! The best thing to do if you are unsure of where to buy fish or meat is to look where the Thais are buying their meat and fish. They know what is good! Do not bother looking for a health department number to call and request a food inspector because there is no one to call!
Vegetables here in Thailand are interesting and well as delicious. There is a mixture of vegetables that we have in the west as well as a number that have no western counterpart. As with all food here in Thailand, the vegetables are farm fresh, literally. The weather here in Thailand is always some form of hot or really hot, so things are grown year around. Even during the rainy season, there is always fresh vegetables and fruits available as the rain is generally during the late afternoon, night and mornings.
One thing that I think really impacts the quality of the vegetables and fruits, here in Thailand is the lack of pesticides and fertilizers, plus everything is fresh. Everything is natural and organic, with most produce being raised on small local farms and not by means of industrial farming. Everything is organic and it does not cost any more, but you had better be sure to wash everything well because any fertilizer used is natural if you get my drift!! One of the things my wife and I enjoy is shopping for vegetables at the local market. We are big market shoppers as well, so we go to the market everyday to buy what we need for the day. The markets here in Thailand are just amazing, but I will not get side tracked too much. The key word on produce here in Thailand is fresh, fresh, fresh!
Anyway, people from the United States and other western countries will be very familiar with a number of vegetables here in Thailand including cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, which is known as makhuea locally, mushrooms and lettuce. Cucumbers are basically the same as those found in the west as far as size and taste is concerned. The tomatoes here in Thailand are what we would call in the United States “cherry” tomatoes and are much smaller that those found in the United States. Given the number of expats living here, it is surprising that larger tomatoes have not found there way here. Although I am not a big fan of eggplant and mushrooms, I find the eggplant and mushrooms, here in Thailand much better. The lettuce that you see here is more like a romaine style lettuce and not the typical iceberg lettuce found in the United States. I cannot emphasize it enough that freshness is the key!
Some of the other vegetables here in Thailand are not as familiar to most people in the west including yardlong beans or tu fak yao as they are know in Thai. Today I saw some of these beans at the market that were at least 12” long. Other vegetables include bean sprouts or Thua ngok, bamboo shoots or no mai, cocinia grandid or phak tam leung,, gourds, which is know as buap momm in Thai, squash or nam toa in Thai. The key points to remember about vegetables in Thai food as they are typically used as an ingredient in a dish and not as a stand-alone item or a “side dish”.
The fruits here in Thailand are as amazing as the vegetables. As with vegetables, there are a number of fruits that most people in the United States will be familiar with including water melons, grapes, apples, oranges, strawberries, pineapple and bananas. The one difference is in the size of the fruits with the Thai fruits generally being smaller in size. An example of this would be oranges, which are the size of a tangerine in the United States. Looking for a navel orange? Not going to find it here in Thailand!
Other fruits include coconuts, papaya, mango, durian and a number of other fruits that are native to Thailand and Southeast Asia. Other fruits include “Gaou mung gon”, which is a white fruit with black specs and is very sweet and is encased in a red skin. Often you can get these fruits being sold by street vendors on food carts. Want to try something “different”? Look for durian, which has a unique smell and is best consumed outdoors!
People will recognize most of Thai food products even if they have never been to Thailand. While some of the food products are unique to Thailand, what makes Thai food unique is two things. The first is the way that the different food products are combined with spices and herbs to make something unique and delicious. Second is the shopping experience to buy the food products. As with many things in life, Thai food is about the journey and the overall experience.