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Thai Cuisine

What were your images of Thailand before your first visit? Images of Thailand among outsiders vary according to taste and temperament. To some people the country conjures up a "King and I" fantasy of gilded temples and palaces, to others a palm-fringed beach of snowy white sand, an exotic tribal village high in misty mountains, or the brassy, cosmopolitan lure of Bangkok. All are valid enough as individual impressions, yet misleading in terms of the whole for Thailand, like the nation's food, is a complex mixture of flavors and the product of a unique history.

Thailand is not a very big nor a very rich country, but it is unique. It has a way of life that mixes ancient ritual with the ways of the modern world. Thailand is most fortunate, with both the land and surrounding seas yielding rich harvests. The staple, rice, is grown in abundance, as do the numerous varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices that enliven the Thai palate. Despite all the problems of the modern world Thailand still has much of old Siam.

The Thais are great eaters, not necessarily in quantity but in the way they relish their food, appreciating individual tastes and subtle combinations of dishes.

Thai cuisine as we know it today traces its history back into the far past and has undergone numerous changes and adaptations. It nevertheless retains its distinctiveness which makes Thai food highly popular among connoisseurs of fine dining the world over. Thai food will certainly bring an even wider appreciation of its many delights.

Welcome to one of the world's great cuisines. This is food you can enjoy cooking as much as eating. Like the word "Thai" (which means free), Thai cooks are never rigid in their approach. So be flexible in your interpretation of the recipes, particularly when you are not always able to find every ingredient. Thai food combines the best of several Eastern cuisines: the oriental bite of Szechuan Chinese, the tropical flavor of Malaysian , the creamy coconut sauces of southern Indian and the aromatic spices of Arabian food.

Because Thai food is delicious, nutritional, and easy to cook, it is becoming more and more popular internationally. The national style of cooking is winning a well deserved place in global culinary culture due to its uniquely combined spicy-salty-sweet-sour taste of this very special Asian cuisine. And today, in cities throughout the world, more and more new restaurants skillfully combine and refine the available ingredients that the resulting dishes have a new exciting character.

Thais do not use knives and forks but forks and spoons, holding the fork in their left hand to help get the food onto the right-hand-held spoon. Each spoonful should be moderately filled to conform with accepted custom. Eating by stuffing the mouth full is considered impolite. There shouldn't be any sound of scraping the utensils on the plate nor should there be grains of rice on the lips. The Thais do not scoop portions onto their plates as home style serving in the west tends to do. They share from a common dish, taking only enough for a bite or two at a time. This way one avoids seeming too greedy and everyone has an ample share of each dish.

The ideal Thai meal aims at being a harmonious blend of the spicy, the sweet, and the sour and is meant to be satisfying to the eye, nose, and palate. Mouth-wateringly different, Thai food is basically 'chilli hot' (as you like it) blended with subtle additions of locally grown roots, grasses, and aromatic herbs to lessen the 'bite'. The use of spices and aromatic plants such as sweet basil, mint, and galingale which enhances the flavor of Thai dishes. Thai food appeals to more than taste alone.

A dish should appeal equally well to the eye and most as well as the taste buds. Thai food is a original and rich amalgam of evocative aromas, subtle blends of herbs and spices and contrast in textures and tastes. A single-word summation of Thai food would not be 'heat' but 'harmony', a harmony of tastes, colors, and textures designed to appeal to both the eye and palate. Besides the qualities of pleasant appearance and excellent taste, Thai food is recognized as one of the most outstanding culinary creations in the world.

A few ingredients that cannot be substituted are: coriander root which is used both as an ingredient in the cooking and part of many marinades; coriander leaves which are used for cooking and garnishing. The "Naam Pla", a fish sauce which adds saltiness and brings out the finer flavors of other ingredients. Coriander is an acquired taste and although parsley is sometimes suggested in recipes as an acceptable substitute, its use will certainly result in a great loss of 'Thai-ness' in the cooking.

The Thai prefer to eat polished rice, tending to look down on untreated rice as inferior. While the polishing and washing removes most of the vitamins, particularly the vitamin B family, the side dishes and sauces that are served with the rice are extremely rich in vitamins and more than replace the loss. Long grain rice is cooked (usually steamed) to a light and fluffy texture with out the use of additives such as salt, the seasons and spicy sauces being served separately and added according to individual taste.

A large container of rice is always the centerpiece. Surrounding the large central bowl of rice there will be several dishes offering a balanced selection of flavors and textures. In addition to the rice, a typical meal might include a soup (Tohm Yaam), a curry (Gaeng), fresh vegetables (Yaam), a fried dish (Phad), a spicy hot dipping sauce (Naam Prig) and a steamed one. The soup is served together with the other dishes whereas western customs is to serve the soup before.

Reading the recipe can be a little confusing due to transliterations from Thai into English. Different people, including professionals, will spell the same foreign word in a variety of ways in English. Please be flexible by understanding that these different renderings in English should not annoy or confuse you. These spellings are an attempt to reproduce sounds in Thai that do not exist in the English language. Thailand's most well known soup, Tohm Yaam Goong, has as many spellings as there are recipes on how to prepare this dish.

A full composition of a typical Thai meal would be rice, curry, soup, fried dish, salad, dipping sauce with fresh vegetables, steamed or grilled dish, solid dessert, liquid dessert, and mixed fruits. These delicious Thai dishes would be enough to serve at least five people. To show an example of a set menu of popular Thai foods, the above recommended dishes would definitely serve three persons. In the case of only two persons dining, a dessert or mixed fruits as well as one other dish can be reduced.

Meal Number 1

Preferred by many visitors to Thailand is a hearty dish "Pla Pae Za" or steamed fish. The origins came from Chinese immigrants to Siam. Naturally, the Siamese adapted and refined the Chinese recipe transforming this dish to be our own. There are two different recipes "A" has the taste of preserved Chinese Plums or "Neung Bouey Dong" and "B" is the taste of sour tamarind with chilli or "Gaeng Sohm". The main recipe includes a river fish, Pla Chon and the ingredients of shredded ginger, onion, preserved garlic, chicken stock, lemon, and preserved plums for the "A" recipe. Meanwhile, curry paste made from red shallots, salt, shrimp paste, fresh chilli; moistened with tamarind juice, slices of tomatoes, lemon juice, and fish sauce are the key ingredients in the "B" recipe.

The next popular dish, "Hoy Lai Naam Prig Phao" or Fried Clams in Roasted Chilli Paste, relies on the flavor of roasted chilli paste made from shallots, garlic, dried prawn, dried chilli, palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind juice, salt; mixed with soy sauce chicken stock and basil leaves.

A dish of vegetables such as "Paad Pak Boong Gub Goong" or fried lopmoea (climbing vine) with shrimp and soy bean paste would be a perfect companion with this suggested meal.

Also on the menu is a popular side dish "Khai Loog Khoey", or Son-in-Law's Eggs. A brief explanation is boiled eggs fried with thick gravy made from palm sugar, tamarind sauce, shallots, garlic, chilli, and coriander.

A sweet ending for this traditional Thai dinner would be the seasonal fruit of June Lynchee, stewed with palm sugar, salt, and coconut cream. Finally, this sweet concoction is topped with ice flakes. "Lynchee Loy Fah".

Meal Number 2

Start off this meal with an interesting appetizer, Yaam Naem, well known throughout the north, and is especially delicious with a cold beer. The success of the dish lies in the pickling process, made from minced pork and seasoned with a secret recipe. When it is served, again it is seasoned with red shallots, ginger, parsley, peppermint, green chillies and lemon according to the guests' taste.

One of the most favorite Thai curries that visitors should try is Gaeng Ped Moo Fug Thong, a red curry with pork and pumpkin. It is not too hot but it is a mild creamy consistency. The basic curry paste requires dried red chillies, red shallots, garlic, lemon grass, galingale, coriander, kaffir lime zest, pepper corns, cumin seeds, salt and shrimp paste. The recipe additionally requires pork, pumpkin, coconut cream, coconut milk, fish sauce, palm-sugar, kaffir lime leaves, basil leaves and fresh green or red chillies.

The next popular dish is grilled catfish with palm sugar sauce Pla Doog Yaang Naam Pla Waan .

Other kinds of fish can also be used if catfish is not available. The sauce usually consists of palm sugar, wet tamarind, fish sauce and the mixture has to be heated and fried red shallots will be laid on the top.

A dish of Paad Nua Naam Mun Hoy, fried thin slices of tender beef with oyster sauce would be a perfect companion to the other dishes or selections of this meal. Green peppers, straw mushrooms or champignons, onions, garlic and a little bit of sugar make up the flavoring.

A sweet ending for this traditional Thai dinner is made from rice flour, palm sugar, salt, pandanus leaf, and coconut Khanom Piak-Poon Bai Toey.

Meal Number 3

Of all the curries, this dish is one of the favorites visitors should not miss, Gaeng Ped Bped Yaang Red curry with roast duck. It is not too hot but mildly creamy from a combination of coconut cream, tomatoes, Lumyai (longan), pineapple and eggplant. The basic red curry paste would require coriander, galingale, kaffir lime, cumin seeds, nutmeg, basil leaves, lemon grass, and lime leaves along with chillies, garlic, shallots, pepper corns, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and sugar. Steaming rice is the perfect accompaniment for duck curry.

Next, the delightful river fish soup, Dtom Yaam Pla Chorn, is mildly hot and sour. This type of soup makes Thai food internationally famous, especially well known abroad is Dtom Yaam Goong (Prawn). Prawn, fish, chicken, pork, and beef can also be used to vary the flavor. This famous flavor includes lemon grass, galangal, red shallots, coriander roots, lime juice, green or red chillies or chilli paste, lime leaves, mushrooms and fish sauce.

Also, on the menu, there is a classic Thai salad, Yaam Khai Yiew Mah alkaline preserved eggs (known as l,000 year old eggs in the west) along with cashew nuts, green lettuce, onion, coriander, green chilli, fish sauce, sugar, lemon, and preserved ginger.

This menu should have one more dish for variety is a dish of beef with vegetables and oyster sauce, or very popular Paad Paak-Ruam Nua Naam-Mun-Hoy.

Visitors will enjoy seeing and eating this month's seasonal fruit in a dessert of rich glutinous rice Lumyai (Longan) with the addition of salty coconut milk Khao Niew Piak Lumyai, a similar consistency to western pudding. This time of year this dessert can be easily found at the dessert corner in the local fresh market as well as in first class hotel coffee shops and restaurants.

Meal Number 4

The rich and coconut creamy sauce of this dish, Panaeng Goong Mae Naam River Prawn with Thick Red Curry, goes well with steamed rice or even with noodles or pasta. It is not too hot but mild, all Thais and foreign visitors love it. Chicken, pork, fish, beef can be substituted whatever your preference. The basic Panaeng curry paste would require coriander, galangal kaffir lime, cumin seeds, nutmeg, basil leaves, lemon grass, and lime leaves along with chillies, garlic, shallots, peppercorns, peanuts, fish sauce, shrimp paste and palm sugar.

The character of the next dish is Stir-fried Pork with long Eggplant, Paad Ma-Khua Yao Gubb Moo which relies on the extraordinary freshness of pork, eggplant, soya paste (soybean), and basil leaves.

Also, on the menu is a popular salad, Yaam Thua Poo, Winged Peas or Beans and Sliced Chicken with various ingredients very good for entertaining your friends because of tastiness that goes along with cold beer in the rainy season. A bowl of clear broth, Soup Tao Hoo Kao Gubb Paak Ruam, Bean Curd Soup with Mixed Vegetables made from of course bean curd, mushroom, green onion, lettuce, and cabbage.

A sweet ending for this meal is the combination of Thai melon, taro, black sticky rice, sweetmeat, and coconut cream with palm sugar Taeng Thai Ruam Mitr.

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