A smell of spices is in the air! Lights and strong flavors all together. This is Thai food, freshly made, light, healthy and delicious. It would be impossible to leave this country and not write a post about one of the most famous heritages of Thailand, which is full of colors, flavors, spices, chili, yes, a lot of chilies!
I didn’t know much about the Thai food, but even so, my expectation was very high, because I have a particular taste for dishes that have the sour taste as a base, and this is one of the strong characteristics of the Thai cuisine, and also lots of fresh herbs.
Freshness, that’s the word, is what Thai cuisine is for me, most of the dishes are freshly cooked, with fresh ingredients, herbs and many types of chilies, they don’t use those industrialized seasonings. The locals have the habit of buying fresh ingredients every day, There are many street markets, and it is wonderful to walk around in of this colorful and delicious flavors of Thailand.
The local cuisine has its own characteristics, for example, to use just a bit of salt and the little consumption (or none) of dairy products. Expect to find in the restaurants many dishes with seafood, pork, and chicken. Salads and rice are always on the menus, like the curries and the soups. Food is full of contrasts: sweet, salty, spicy and bitter are often found in traditional recipes. To enrich the flavors it is very common to mix sugar, salt, and pepper with fruit, for example. Rice and fish are basic ingredients for preparing food. Fish and oyster sauces are considered the “Thai salt”, used to season almost everything.
Pad Thai, The National Dish
Most countries have a dish considered as the symbol of their culture and gastronomy, in Thailand, this dish is the Pad Thai. Pad Thai is all over Thailand and is a widely known dish, but I must confess that this isn’t my favorite one, it was one of the dishes that I tried before coming here, and it was also my first request when I got here, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, it’s that there are others that I prefer instead.
So, what is the famous Pad Thai, the base is rice noodles, bean sprouts, tofu, eggs, fish and tamarind sauce, the variations are countless: it may come with a banana leaf next into it, with an egg covering the whole dish, can be sweeter or sour, more spicy or mild. There are vegetarian versions, with fresh or dried prawns or accompanied by bean sprouts. But in general, it is the proportion of tamarind and fish sauces that give a special flavor to each recipe, often guarded as a secret.
Pad thai means “quickly fried noodles in Thai style” and pad by itself means “fried”, a good pad thai needs to have the five outstanding elements of the Thai cuisine: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and spicy, with sweet, salty and sour must predominate.
Som Tam, The Papaya Salad
It became our favorite lunch option when we are on the road, for being extremely refreshing and tasty. It is a salad made of green papaya with a well spiced and sour sauce. Although it seems strange, the ingredients are very simple, which are green beans, garlic, tomato, peanut, lemon, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper. All the ingredients are placed in a large mortar, so you can extract all the juice from the vegetables, the green papaya gives a crispness and a unique texture to this dish, a good dish to be a side are rice and grilled chicken, my mouth is watering just to remember this!
It is originally from Laos, over time it has gained variations here in Thailand. Like most of the dishes, Som Tam have a lot of chilies, which by Thai standards is normal, but for those who are not used it is a little bit too much, so it is worth mentioning that if you do not like spicy food, you must say before ordering your “mai pêt” which means no chili, this is goes for all types of dishes since the chili is part of the Thai seasoning.
Tom Yum Gum, The Shrimp Spicy Soup
This is my favorite Thai food, it’s that dish if is available on the menu, I will ask for. It is a type of spicy and sour soup, which can be made with vegetables, shrimp or chicken. It looks simple, but the aromas and flavors explode in your mouth.
Tom Yum is an ancestral dish from Laos and central Thailand, apparently because of the abundance of shrimp in the rivers, is one of the most famous Thai dishes, in my opinion, is one of the tastiest soups which I ever had.
The name Tom is related to the cooking process, means soup, and yum came from the acids, so a translation would be a sour soup. What I noticed, is that the recipe may vary between region, regarding the use of coconut milk, we did a cooking class in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and there they use coconut milk as a base, other ingredients are, lemongrass, turmeric, kaffir leaves (traditional Southeast Asian aromatic herb), galangal (It is a root that looks like ginger, which can be found only in Asia), coriander, tomato, red chili, lemon, chili paste, and fish sauce.
If you have the opportunity, please, try this dish, but do not forget to mention about the level of spiciness, because this dish has to be spicy.
Tom Kha Gai, The Chicken Soup
Its look like the Tom Yum, the Tom Kha Gai is also a soup, but it has no variations in the recipe, the base has to be coconut milk and chicken, and it is also sour and spicy. It’s delicious and uses almost the same herbs as Tom Yum, they are very similar. It has mushrooms and a chicken broth, which give a different flavor, leaving aside the chili paste and the fish sauce. It is worth to mention that this dish is a good option, for those who like the contrast between sour and spicy.
Massaman, The Chicken Curry
This is Felippe’s favorite one, it was the dish chosen by him as the best, the massaman curry is a delicate dish, with intense flavors and a little different when we speak of Thai food.
It is a dish from southern Thailand, some people say that they come from Malay and Indian influences, others say that it was created in the time of the kingdom of Ayutthaya. The flavors of this dish come from the spices that are not often used in other types of Thai curry, such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, anise, cumin, bay leaf, nutmeg, fennel, and coriander. Those spices were brought to Thailand by the Malay, a trade dominated by Middle Eastern Muslim.
The spices are infused in a coconut milk along with traditional Thai herbs such as galangal, turmeric, leaves, and kaffir, lemongrass, coriander, shrimp paste, red chili, garlic, onion, fish and tamarind sauce, at the end is added the chicken and the potatoes, the perfect side is white rice or a good Indian bread.
Thai Green Curry
The curries, in general, are also famous in Thai cuisine, and in my case, it was the first Thai dish I have tried. When I was in New Zealand, this was one of the most dishes requested at the Hotel that I used to work, and I did not miss the opportunity to learn how to do it, but there, the only option was to buy the curry paste.
There are several dishes based on Thai curries, the green, yellow, red curry and the massaman which I mentioned before.
The name green comes because of the chili, that is used to make the base of curry paste, which includes garlic, onion, galangal, lemongrass, coriander root, cumin seed, kaffir leaves, white pepper grains, shrimp paste, and green chili, all these ingredients goes inside the mortar until becomes a paste, the coconut milk is the base to make the broth, the curry can be only with vegetables, seafood or chicken.
The green curry is my favorite, just because it is not so spicy as the red and the yellow, although I always have to ask to not put so lots of chilies, as, on Thai style, the amount of chili is too much for me.
Khao Soi, The Northern Thailand Noodles
Like as all of the Asian country, in Thailand has noodles everywhere, the most common are pork and chicken, they use rice and egg noodles, the taste is sweet, like the Chinese one, but there are also some that are a bit sourer.
But I want to give special attention to the Khao Soi, typical noodles from the city of Chiang Mai, located in the north of the country, we heard a lot about it while when we were there, but we did not try, and for some reason we let it pass. At the end of our days here, we were at the city of Nan and the Khao Soi seemed to be very famous there as well, I have to confess, I’m not a big fan of noodles, but I was in love with the combination of the Khao Soi. The base of the broth is made with spices, cardamom, coriander seed, ginger, turmeric, garlic, onion, and coconut milk, the broth is rich in flavor, but it is more a liquid broth, just because it is a noodle and not a curry, the chicken is cooked together, cabbage pickles and lemon are served as a side. It turned out to be one of our favorites noodles, it’s that kind of comfort food, warm and very well seasoned, if you have the opportunity, do not miss the delicious Khao Soi.
Mango Sticky Rice