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Eating Elegant Thai Food

Trying to define Thai cuisine is quite difficult. Since Thailand is at the geographical crossroads of Asia, it's hardly surprising that other Eastern cultures have played a role in the development of its cuisine. It is more apropos, perhaps, to state what it is not: Chinese, Indian, nor Indonesian. It actually combines the best of these Eastern cuisines: the oriental bite of Szechuan Chinese, the tropical flavor of Malaysian, the creamy coconut sauces of Southern India, and the aromatic spices of Arabian food.

The kingdom is blessed with rich harvests from both the land and surrounding seas. Rice grows in abundance, as do the numerous varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices so beloved by the Thai palate. While flavored meats such as pork and poultry are a traditional source of protein, many types of fish and shellfish both freshwater and from the sea are equally popular, more so in some regions than others.

Thai culinary art has been regarded as the quintessence of Thailand's cultural heritage for centuries. But while the kingdom could have compiled a collection of over 5,000 recipes for traditional Thai and contemporary Thai style dishes, the first known collection of recipes didn't appear in print until after World War I. Even then, they were not widely circulated. Only within the last two decades have the unique flavors of Thai food a happy, harmonious blend of fresh herbs and aromatic spices gained increasing popularity with diners all over the world. Such ever-increasing international awareness and popularity can best be described as phenomenal.

Even only 2 or 3 years ago, few foreigners apart from those fortunate enough to have visited Thailand had ever heard of, let alone experienced, the uniquely combined 'spicy salt sweet sour' taste of this very special Asian cuisine. Yet today, in cities throughout the world, more and more new restaurants ranging from small family style eateries to large plenty establishments, are opening their doors to serve up these gastronomic delights.

While Thai food itself has a special place in the kingdom's history and culture, so do the traditions surrounding the way it is served and enjoyed. In the ancient days, an ordinary family or group would sit on a floor mattress and surround the main courses while a pot of steamed rice, a jug of clean drinking water, a set of desserts (solid or liquid), and a tray of fruits sat behind some of the diners. Centuries later, Thai people adopted the western dinning table as shown in the picture below.

Families now sit down to a decorative table setting where all dishes are served simultaneously. This way, diners may select from each according to preference. The centerpiece is dominated by a large pot of rice surrounded by smaller dishes of snacks, such as a small side-dish of Naam Prig or Lohn with dipping sauce. A medium-sized dish of green or boiled vegetables usually sits nearby, along with medium sized dishes of Yaam (salad) either baked (Yaang or Phao), steamed (Neung) or fried(Paad) and either with or without mild spices.

Unlike the Western custom of serving soup before the main course, Thai soup Dtom Jued (clear soup) or Dtom Yaam (mild spicy soup) as well as Gaeng (curry with coconut milk) is served together with the other dishes. Small dishes of lemon juice, Naam Pla (fish sauce), Soy sauce or chilli sauce could also be served for diners wanting to add even more tastiness to their plates. Meanwhile, Thai desserts (solid or liquid) and exotic fruits await nearby to give the meal a sweet finish.

The Thais love to eat, and all day. One dish snacks and quick dishes are very much a part of life, and are often enjoyed standing or sitting by small pavement stalls. A snack can be eaten alone sometime before lunch or in the late afternoon. It can also be served as an appetizer before the main dinner dishes are ready. Note: Quick dishes are geared for one person and for convenience sake. However, a snack, dessert, or fruits can complement a quick dish.

Thai food is delicious, nutritious, and easy to cook. But one word of warning: It can be habit forming. You may not want to eat it every day, but you will certainly return to it often.

A family in ancient times enjoyed their
meal sitting on pillows around a low table.
Rice, water & desserts waited behind the dinners.

Today, Thai families eat traditional foods
at a modern dinning table. Rice now serves
as a centerpiece, and dishes are all served at once

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