International Bites: Thailand
A little bit of sweet, a little bit of spice, a little bit of sour and a lot of Kha Pun Kha is what makes Thai cuisine one of the most popular cuisines in the world.
Historically, sea food, vegetables and herbs were popular ingredients included in most Thai meals. Large quantities of meat were mainly avoided, possibly due to the Buddhist background, and instead strips of meat were flavored with herbs and spices, or meat was cooked or roasted and then shredded.
Traditional Thai food involved stewing and baking, or grilling. However, the area that is now Thailand, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia and Vietnam were settled by the ancient Chinese an estimated 1,400 hundred years ago. With the migration of Chinese people into Southeast Asia, frying, stir-frying and deep-frying of food became more popular techniques, and hence Pad Thai (fried noodles) and Khao Pad (fried rice) remain classic Thai dishes even to this day. Portuguese, Dutch, French and Japanese also had some culinary influence from the 17th century.
Well, that was the history. On my travel in Thailand, I ate a lot of Thai food. Be it any meal of the day, I tried my best to eat local. Below are my top favorite Thai dishes:
When you roam around in the streets of Thailand, a pungent smell kind of always hits your nose. It's only when you track where it is coming from, is when you reach this guy making some Fettuccine like translucent noodles. That is my friend the infamous Pad Thai.
In Thailand, noodles are not really a substitute for rice, as they are generally made of rice! Pad Thai proves that the crunchy bean sprouts, tofu, onions, egg/chicken, fish sauce, sugar, chili powder and finely ground peanuts ca blend in a beautiful way when combined with flat noodles.
I personally have never tried Pad Thai at a street shop due to hygiene concerns but I never missed a chance to grab a Pad Thai at some of the iconic Thai restaurants when in Thailand. I will mention the list of the same towards the end of the blog.
No, no, no! Don't judge the restaurant if they don't serve you Khao Pad in a pineapple! It's just a fancy way of serving Khao Pad at a few places. Khao Pad, Thailand’s famous Fried Rice, is more than a simple medley of wok tossed rice, onions, herbs, eggs, your choice of meat (prawns, crab or chicken), and chili sauce. It's light, flavorful and very tasty. This dish is also available at most of the restaurants in Thailand and I have mentioned a few where I have tasted the same, later in the blog.
Khao Man Gai
Okay, Khao Man Gai is bland! I had this rice, during a pit stop between Surat Thani and Phuket. This was the first time I had ketchup with my Thai food (I am a non ketchup person, especially where it is not needed). Khao Man Gai, a popular midday snack, is a mix of tender chicken and rice, served with chicken broth, along with sweet and spicy sauces. I wish I could help you with finding a restaurant to eat this but I didn't really feel like trying it again.
Tom Yum Goong
One of the rock stars of Thai cuisine comes in a bowl. Tom Yum Goong is a refreshing and flavorful Thai dish and one of the most famous soups in the culinary world. The combination of fresh lemongrass, chili, galangal (a variant of ginger), lime leaves, shallots, lime juice and fish sauce with shrimp or tofu makes this the perfect remedy for a Thai hangover! The weirdest Tom Yum soup I tried had fried fish skin in it but the soup was yummy!
Gaeng Daeng or Kaeng Phet
Hands down, this is one of my favorite food in the entire world. Being a lover of rice, Thai red curry is a blessing in disguise. Thai food recipes are almost synonymous with coconut milk and fresh herbs. Gaeng Daeng or Khaeng Phet is a blend of meat (mostly shrimp), red curry paste, coconut milk and finely sliced lime leaves. It is fresh, light and goes really well with Jasmine rice. My favorite place to eat Thai curries was a place in Phuket, which I have mentioned towards the end.
Kaeng Khiao Wan or Gaeng Keow Wan Kai
Just like it's sister, the red curry, Thai green curry will also never let you down. It brings together meat (mostly chicken), eggplants, bamboo shoots, coriander, basil and spoonful of green curry paste stirred into hot creamy coconut milk. This too can be enjoyed with Jasmine rice and available at my favorite restaurant in Phuket!
Khao Neow Mamuang
Unlike us Indians, I believe, Thais didn't get very creative when it came to desserts. Or maybe they just don't like desserts! The scene of Thai desserts mostly revolved around rice, coconut milk and sugar. That said, a bowl of pineapple, banana, watermelon, papaya, dragon fruit or jack fruit can also work as dessert.