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Do You Know How to Eat Thai Food?

THE GREAT PLEASURE of eating Thai food is the great variety of taste, the exotic aromas, plus all the spices and herbs that go into even a simple dish. All of these make Thai food a fascinating treat, but do you really know how to eat Thai food? There are between 35 and 40 spices and herbs that go into the various Thai dishes served. Any recipe may contain up to 110 of these. Some, like sesame seeds, spring onion and the mandarin orange, are entirely edible and indeed are expected to be eaten as part of the dish. But many others are spices only and not to be eaten, they are added only for the favor and the aroma, and although they make the dishes superb, the actually eating of them can ruin an appetite quickly. Let's take a look at what some of these are.

Take chillies for example. In Thai they're called "prik" and many Thai people love to eat them whole. You'll see people pick them up, pop them into the mouth, and chew away. But will you do this? Can you do this? These chillies are the hottest part of the Thai dish. Even for most Thais chillies are meant only as a seasoning. Some visitors can be egged on to try one and actually do in order to show bravado, but the Thais who encourage this are only joking. They would never even do it themselves.

Another example of a spice not meant to be eaten is lemon grass. Lemon grass has an appealing name and the aroma is what gives so many Thai dishes their fresh and delicious flavor, especially Tohm Yum; but to take a bite of the lemon grass produces an intolerably pungent flavor on the taste buds and the rest of the meal could well be missed.

And there are many more. Mace, for example, not to be confused with the defence spray, is the outer covering of nutmeg. Although used to make Masaman curry paste, it is not something you'd eat otherwise. Cloves and cinnamon, taken from flower buds and tree bark, are excellent cooking spices but if you've ever bitten into either of these you know they can be repulsive on their own.

Ginger, Kaffir Lime, Jasmine, Bay Leaf -- these too are elegant and exotic spices and they make Thai dishes simmer with floral aroma in various scent themes; but to eat these as they are could make the stomach toss and turn for days. The biting taste of ginger, the acrid taste of Kaffir Lime, the flower buds of the Jasmine bush, picked in the evening when in bloom, and the relatively harsh taste of Bay Leaf, these are all meant to add tone and dimension to dishes, not be eaten on their own.

When dining on Thai food, it helps to remember that the Thai cuisine is what is because of the more than 30 spices used, but it also helps to use the same discretion you'd use at home in avoiding the tangier, spicier and more acrid herbs direct to the tongue.

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