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Thai Food

 

 

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Thai food is currently the pin-up model of international cuisine with outpost kitchens in little towns across the globe. A culinary pilgrimage to the mother country will expand your appreciation of the cuisine’s versatility, simplicity and communal traditions. Food is everywhere in Thailand and you will quickly discover that eating is one of the country’s great preoccupations. The average Thai takes time out to eat, not three times per day, but four or five. Sitting down at a roadside rót khěn (vendor cart) after an evening of cinema or nightclubbing, a Thai may barely have finished one steaming bowl of noodles before ordering a second round, just to revel in the experience a little longer. At the market stalls across Thailand, you’ll witness first-hand the interbreeding of numerous foreign contributions from India, China and Asian Oceania, and how Thailand has adapted these cooking techniques and ingredients.

Thai cuisine is the national cuisine of Thailand. Thai cuisine places emphasis on lightly-prepared dishes with strong aromatic components. Thai cuisine is known for being spicy. Balance, detail and variety are important to Thai cooking. Thai food is known for its balance of five fundamental flavors in each dish or the overall meal: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and (optional) bitter.

Thai food would be more accurately described as four regional cuisines corresponding to the four main regions of the country: Northern, Northeastern (or Isan), Central, and Southern, each cuisine sharing similar foods or foods derived from those of neighboring countries and regions: Burma, the Chinese province of Yunnan and Laos to the north, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to the east and Malaysia to the south of Thailand. In addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also the Thai Royal Cuisine which can trace its history back to the palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1351-1767 CE). Its refinement, cooking techniques and its use of ingredients were of great influence to the cuisine of the Central Thai plains.

Thai meals typically consist of either a single dish or rice "khao" with many complementary dishes served concurrently and shared by all. It is customary to serve more dishes than there are guests at a Thai meal.

Thai food was traditionally eaten with the right hand but it is now generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. The fork, held in the left hand, is used to push food into the spoon. The spoon is then brought to the mouth. A traditional ceramic spoon is sometimes used for soups. Chopsticks are used primarily for the consumption of noodle soups. Knives are not generally used at the table. It is common practice for Thais and hill tribe peoples in the North and in Northeast Thailand to use sticky rice as an edible implement by shaping it into small, and sometimes flattened, balls by hand which are then dipped into side dishes and eaten. Thai-Muslims frequently eat meals with only their right hands.
Thai food is often served with a variety of sauces (nam chim) and condiments. These may include phrik nam pla/nam pla phrik (consisting of fish sauce, lime juice, chopped chilies and garlic), dried chili flakes, sweet chili sauce, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, sriracha sauce, or a spicy chili sauce or paste called nam phrik. In most Thai restaurants, diners can find a selection of Thai condiments, often including sugar or MSG, available on the dining table in small containers with tiny spoons. With certain dishes, such as khao kha mu (pork trotter stewed in soy sauce and served with rice), whole Thai peppers and raw garlic are served in addition. Cucumber is sometimes eaten to cool the mouth after particularly spicy dishes. They often also feature as a garnish, especially with one-dish meals. The plain rice, sticky rice or the khanom chin (Thai rice noodles) served alongside a spicy curry or stir-fry, tends to counteract the spiciness.

A Thai family meal will normally consist of rice with several dishes which form a harmonious contrast of ingredients and ways of preparation. The dishes are all served at the same time. A meal at a restaurant for four people could, for instance, consist of fish in dry red curry (Chu chi pla), a spicy green papaya salad with dried prawns, tomatoes, yardlong beans and peanuts (Som tam Thai), deep fried stuffed chicken wings (Pik kai sot sai thot), a salad of grilled beef, shallots and celery or mint (Yam nuea yang), spicy stir fried century eggs with crispy basil (Khai yiao ma phat kaphrao krop), and a non-spicy vegetable soup with tofu and seaweed (Tom chuet taohu kap sarai) to temper it all.

What makes Thai food so different is the inclusion of all kinds of exotic and aromatic herbs as well as spices. Of these, garlic-Thai garlic is slightly less pungent than it! European counterpart - pepper, coriander and liberal doses of nam pla, a fermented fish sauce, are the most commonly used.
Like other Asian nations, Thailand has rice as its staple. The long grain variety is the most popular and is usually cooked by steaming, without the use of additives, The result is that it is light and fluffy and so fragrant that it can be eaten by itself. Another variety of Thai rice is more glutinous, a sticky texture that is especially popular in the North.

Noodles of various kinds can also form the basis of a meal or used in dishes such as pad Thai, fried noodles with baby shrimp and bean curd.

To the basic rice and noodles are added various other dishes. In Thai cooking, frying, boiling, steaming, barbecuing and baking are main methods employed.

A combination of herbs and spices, freshly ground, can either be put directly into the pan for frying with the main ingredients or added to soups and stewed dishes. Alternatively, a paste featuring chilli, lemon grass, coriander root, garlic, shrimp curd and pepper is used.

A typical family dinner may well have fish, pork and chicken on the same menu. All dishes including soup are served at the same time, the soup being in individual bowls and the main dishes being communal, with diners taking only spoonfuls of each at a time and mixing it with the rice on their plates. A spoon and fork are the usual eating utensils, with chopsticks being used by ethnic Chinese.

The menu at a typical Thai restaurant will be amazingly long and will be a testament to the cook's creative imagination. The various dishes on offer can be broken down into seven main categories: soups, poultry, meats, seafood, rice and noodles, vegetables and salads, and desserts

Soups
Thai soups can feature virtually any kind of ingredient, from mushrooms and pumpkin to shrimp and catfish, or any type of meat.
Some are flavoured with coconut milk, while others are based on fish or meat stock. Probably Thailand's most famous soup is tom yum gung, a hot and soup prawn mixture with a tongue-tingling taste achieved by mixing the flavours of chilli, lemon grass and fresh lime juice.

Main Dishes
Thailand produces excellent poultry, including chicken, duck and pigeon. These may be cooked in many ways, wrapped in pandanus leaves, made into a curry, barbecued, casseroled, or stuffed with tomatoes, onions, or even ground pork.
Meats are invariably cut into small pieces which are then cooked in various ways. Among the favourite methods of preparation are fried with garlic and Thai pepper, or as part of a curry, particularly gaeng keowan, green curry.
Thailand's seas and inland waterways provide a huge selection of fresh and dried seafood. These include lobsters and crayfish, prawn, crab, mussels, clams and an almost endless variety of fish, The cooking methods for these vary from steaming to frying, or as part of a soup. Fish is often served with a thick or spicy sauce, then sprinkled with crispy fried garlic.
Certainly worth trying are gaeng garee gung, lobster and prawn curry; poo pad pong garee, curry powder and chilli crab; tort mun pla, fried fish cakes and plakapong-kow nuang, steamed sea bass.

Vegetables
These are rarely simply boiled in the western way. Rather, they are stir-fried with garlic and oyster sauce, or steamed, in which case they are often eaten with small fried fish and a pungent shrimp sauce, Salads, too, hardly resemble their western counterparts. A typical salad might include beef and chilli, plus strips of lettuce and tomato, or green mango, As an alternative, there is a green papaya salad, known as som tum, which also features ginger, lime juice, fish sauce, chopped dried shrimps and peanuts.

Desserts
To round off a great meal, Thailand offers some really delicious desserts. Often made from rice, tapioca or types of jelly, these are mixed with fruit, fresh or preserved, and chipped ice, They provide the perfect complement to a rich and spicy meal. Not to be missed are sankaya gap kanoon. coconut custard with jackfruit pieces, kow-neeo ma- muang sticky rice with mango and eye-teem kati, coconut ice-cream.
Finally, a word about Thai fruits. These are abundant in number and variety, but among the best are pineapple, banana, orange, pomelo, mangosteen, rambutan and lychee.

 

 

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