Thai Food



Food

THAILAND IS BOUNTIFUL

A bountiful land lays the foundations of a gastronomically great country. In Thailand, the pearly white rice is produced in abundance and remains the yardstick by which well being is measured. The government has set up an efficient irrigation network, which gives a second harvest in most areas. Moreover, among the many varieties of rice, Thailand boasts a fine, long grain type, called "khao hom mali", so delicious that it can become a meal in itself. The produce of the sea and rivers comes only second in importance to rice, as the saying goes "There is rice in the fields and fish in the water". It sums up how the Thais appreciate their natural good fortune. Stroll in any open air market and you encounter an infinite array of sea and river fish, as well as all sorts of shellfish including prawns, shrimp, crab, squid, mussels, cockles and perhaps a few unknown shellfish.

There, too, your eyes will be attracted by a wide variety of the freshest of vegetables. Some are unknown to westerners; for example, lotus stems. Others may be slightly familiar, such as bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, available in some large cities. Still others are very familiar indeed, such as the crispest of lettuce, pure white cauliflower and yellow pumpkins. These grow on the fertile land around Bangkok, as well as on the high semi-mountainous slopes in the northern part of Thailand, where new varieties are introduced frequently.

Meat is not nearly so popular as seafood particularly in the southern part of the country, with its enormous catches from the surrounding waters. Thais almost never eat a piece of plain meat, such as a steak or roast beef, although these are readily obtainable in every hotel. Pork is surely the most popular meat, followed closely by beef; the meat is typically cut into slices and combined with rice or vegetables. More and more, Thailand is turning towards beef, and prize cattle can be seen grazing on the high slopes of the north and north east of the country. Lamb and veal are seldom seen in Thai restaurants, but may be found in western places.

With its more or less even warm weather, Thailand has three seasons, rather than the usual four. As a result, there is an enormous selection of tropical fruits available all year round, although certain fruits, of course, have their particular season. Some of the most interesting ones include mangoes, durians, longans, rambutans, mangosteens, and guavas. Although many of these are unknown to most tourists, be certain to order some fresh fruit as a dessert at the end of a Thai dinner. Although some of these fruits are occasionally shipped to the west, to taste them on the spot, during the right season, is one of the highlights of a trip to this country.

EATING YESTERDAY AND TODAY

A modern traveller might find quite a number of changes in the table manners and in the preparation of Thai dishes, which are mostly due to increasing foreign influence since the reign of King Rana IV. In the old days, Thai meals were often simple and consisted generally of rice accompanied by two or three side dishes. The food, lightly cooked, remained crunchy, with all the nutritional value and original flavour intact. Moreover, it was served in measured quantities, prepared with very little fat, with an emphasis upon seafood rather than meat. Thai food could therefore claim to be the forerunner of "nouvelle cuisine," which theoretically is lower in calories. Gradually, however, people began to cook with spices and flavours, and ultimately as the centuries passed, became an extremely sophisticated cuisine.

HOW THAI FOOD WAS SERVED

There was rarely any formal protocol at meal times, and eating was delightful for its simplicity. Heavy etiquette-bound entertaining so frequent in the West was unknown. Tables and chairs were absent and everyone gathered around a mat on the floor. The men sat cross-legged, the women with their legs tucked behind them, so that feet were always pointing away from the group. Plates, bowls, forks and spoons were placed at random. Because the food is cut in the kitchen, knives are seldom served. Today, in some informal Thai restaurants, silverware is placed in a large container on each table. No chopsticks are used in eating (except in Chinese restaurants of course), although for some reason, Thai restaurants in western countries offer them; but it is not authentic. The dishes arrive in any order at all often all at once. Dishes are shared.

Nowadays, well to do Bangkokians would not dream of eating on the floor. Tables, chairs and even knives are in. There are many more new dishes and new ways of cooking. In the old days, food was grilled on a wood fire or boiled in a clay pot. Today the Thais use more and more gas or electric stoves and ovens, in addition to charcoal stoves.

Food can therefore be baked or barbecued broiled or boiled, fried or sautéed dried or steamed.

COOKING AS AN ART

Thai cooking can be readily envisioned as a work of art. The people have a natural and creative sense of beauty, and express it in many ways. Both men and women learn to create beautifully shaped fruits and vegetables, carving them with all of the skill of a talented artisan. It brings to mind the expert precision with which craftsmen cut and polish rough stones.

There seems to be no end to the forms and shapes in which fruits and vegetables are carved, all intended to delight the eye of the diner. When lovely dishes are served on china plates, they are reminiscent of large pieces of jewellery, embellished with enamel and patterned with floral designs.

THE THAI ART OF SEASONING

As previously mentioned, the appeal of much of the Thai cuisine owes a great deal to the spices, herbs and seasonings grown under the brilliant skies of Thailand. Also, in some cases, they were brought from China, India and Java, but the final art of the country's cuisine comes from the skill and sophistication of Thai cooks and chefs.

Some visitors have heard, erroneously in point of fact, that all Thai food is hot, or extremely hot. Although some Thai dishes are quite spicy, far more dishes are completely mild, and require no adjustment whatsoever. Much of the heat of the spicy dishes comes from red or green peppers, commonly referred to as chillies. The Thais call them "phrik" and have many amusing names for the hottest of them. There are no less than a dozen of these, ranging from quite mild, almost innocuous, all the way to searingly strong and burning.

However, important as they are, chillies constitute only one of the many ingredients combined to give a unique blend of flavours. When properly used, they should never overshadow the delicate citron taste of the lemon grass (a common ingredient in Thai cooking), or the somewhat different kariff lime, or the elusive flavour of turmeric. Moreover, each cook will vary the recipe according to taste, and the blending will differ from one cook to another and from one province to another.

These ingredients come in different forms; rhizomes (much like plant bulbs) for ginger, leaves for coriander, stalks for bamboo shoots, and seeds for sesame, and so forth. The use of coriander ground with garlic and peppercorns is, for example, a typical flavouring combination. Various garden produce is used to enhance the taste of many dishes. Lime is squeezed on salads, soups and curries, where coconut milk is used in soups and meat and fish preparations.

A wide range of dried spices, such as cumin; nutmeg cloves or bay leaf are always found in Thai kitchens. The proper use of these ingredients, together with others, is regarded as culinary art in Thailand. Many herbs and spices may be purchased in western countries, but many, where fresh leaves are necessary, are not quite the same. This perhaps may explain why even an excellent Thai dinner in one's country can never match the exciting experience of a perfectly prepared meal in Thailand. For any fine cuisine, there is apparently nothing like home.

COOKING SKILLS

Another skill lies in the selection and preparation of the ingredients. Thai cooks are expert in the handling of cutting tools and are unbeatable in the art of slicing, cutting and carving vegetables, fruits and meat. An unwritten rule requires that each morsel of meat and fish, when eaten with half a spoonful of rice makes just one mouthful. The origin of this rule lies in the absence of knives, a symbol of aggression, at meal times. Well- sharpened knives are obviously vital to the Thai cook, as well as the pestle and mortar used for pounding and crushing the spices and other herbs. Most of the cooking is done in a "wok" or "katha", a deep cone-shaped pan, placed over gas or charcoal.

FRUIT CARVING

Thai food becomes a form of art, particularly in the preparation and presentation of fresh fruits, and fruit-based desserts. As much skill as the chef can muster is placed in the appearance of all fruits, often being carved into the shape of flowers. These skills are an art form passed from mother to daughter, and this has been true for many centuries. The result is fruit, carved to perfection, and intended to make it more appealing; sometimes the fruit is carved to make it easier to eat. The peeling itself requires so much care that a special bronze knife with a very thin blade has been devised. Some fruits are totally peeled and cut in segments, with the seeds removed. Many fruits are artistically carved into a seemingly endless variety of shapes and forms, in addition to flowers, such as leaves, wheels, stars and the like.

EATING THAI : A NEVER ENDING PLEASURE

Thai food comes in many forms-soups and curries, relishes and salads, dips or sauces, fries meat or fish.

For a quick meal, villagers enjoy lightly-cooked or even raw vegetables served with nam phrik, a chilli and fish sauce, typically served with fish. Such dishes are easy to prepare because ingredients are never far away; vegetables come from the garden, an d fish are plentiful in the nearby rivers. In larger communities, when breakfast is not eaten at home, it is often bought from roadside stands and outdoor snack restaurants. Lunch is typically a quick affair of noodles with meat or vegetables, kuai thia o, or dish of rice and curried foods. Dinner is usually eaten at home with the family gathered about.

Special evenings may be spent in one of the huge open-air restaurants, lively and diverting, perhaps a trifle noisy, but with delicious food. Dish after dish accumulates on the table, accompanied by plenty of local beer, soft drinks or whisky. One restaurant which covers several acres even has waiters on silent roller skates.

SOUP CAN BE A FULL MEAL

A Thai meal is not regarded as complete without soup. In fact, soup is eaten from dawn to dusk. Pavements are crowded with soup stalls, and boats meander along canals and the river, dispensing soups to eager patrons. Soups are generally served throughout the meal; the diners frequently take a spoon or two of soup to refresh their palates.

There are three main types of Thai soups. KAENG CHUT is a mild Chinese-style broth with meat and vegetables. As it is gentle to the taste, it makes a pleasant contrast to spicier dishes. Thai sometimes vary the flavour by adding coriander, but this is a matter of personal taste.

KHAO TOM, a clear rice soup, is a sort of universal healer, comparable to chicken soup in the western cuisine. It is a favourite morning-after remedy for those with hangovers or upset stomachs. It is claimed that this soup can cure fevers, colds and just about anything else; it helps to believe in its curative powers. The rice is well cooked in a large quantity of water. Before serving, it may be seasoned with nam pla, vinegar and chillies, accordingly to the chef's taste, and typically has b its of meat or poultry added.

The queen (possibly the king) of all Thai soups is surely TOM YAM KUNG, a delicious shrimp soup, flavoured by lemon grass, kariff lime leaves, shallots, chillies, and coriander leaves, finished off with a fish sauce and lemon juice. This appealing soup is sometimes served in a charcoal-heated bowl; it continues to simmer during the meal. No other soup can be compared to this delicious preparation, a combination of spice and fresh ingredients, with an extraordinarily subtle taste.

OTHER REGIONAL DELICACIES

Chicken is extremely popular, more so than duck or goose, possibly because it is so plentiful. Because chicken is naturally smooth to the palate and quite bland, it goes well with a variety of Thai spices and sauces. From central Thailand, a favourite preparation is green chicken curry, typically served with an egg, plus a side dish of yam, a generic term for salads. Salads are particularly refreshing in the warm climate, and people tend to nibble on them when eating spicy dishes, as a contrasting taste and texture. Thai salads may contain fruit, meat, shrimp and squid, making them quite unusual to those who anticipate only salad greens. The most common dressings include lemon juice, chillies, fish sauce and shallots. Oil is not used in Thai salads. From the north eastern part of the country comes SOM TAM, made with green (unripe) papaya, mixed with sliced tomatoes, chopped garlic and chillies, to which are added finely pounded dried shrimp, plus lemon juice. It is best when served with sticky rice and salted beef; the meat is prepared by seasoning it with pepper, then marinating it in garlic and soy sauce, and drying it in the sun for a few hours.

Vegetables play an important part in the Thai cuisine; they grow well in this climate and are almost always available. According to local tradition, the best way to sample them is the simplest, and it comes from the northern part of the country. Vegetables are cut into pieces or slices still raw, or only slightly cooked, and dipped into NAM PHRIK ONG, a thick sauce made of tomatoes, ground pork, garlic and chilli, plus soy sauce and a tiny dash of sugar.

In the south of Thailand, there is an entire range of curries, prepared with all sorts of green, yellow or red curry pastes. But beware! In this part of the country, hot curries can be really burning, so it's best to choose a milder curry, the type made with coconut cream. Another favourite preparation of this region is fried fish, covered with a mixture of herbs and spices, then deep-fried and served with an aromatic sauce.

THAI DESSERTS AND FRUITS

In as much as Thailand does not place much emphasis upon wheat or corn, there is little in the way of cakes or tarts, although these are always available in western-style dining rooms. A typical meal concludes with fresh fruit, beautifully carved as previously mentioned, or alternatively of desserts chiefly based upon fruits.

Peeled and seeded, fruits can also be served with ingredients that enhance their sweetness: sugar syrup or a mixture of coconut sugar, salt and chilli. A wonderfully refreshing way of serving fruits as a dessert, is LOI KAEO or cool float. Fruit is cut in pieces, served in syrup with crushed ice, scented with rose petals or jasmine flowers. Owing to the abundance of fruit harvest, many fruits are preserved in salt water or in syrup.

The mango appears to be one of the most versatile of all fruits. When under ripe and somewhat firm, slices of "green" mango, dipped in salted water, becomes an appetising sort of pickle or relish. Cooked in sugar syrup, it becomes almost candy like with a delicious flavour. Dried in the sun, it turns golden brown, and is an excellent sweet snack. When ripe, the mango reaches its peak of perfection, mellow and aromatic. It is particularly good served on glutinous rice topped with thick, rich coconut cream.

The banana, popular in all parts of the world is eaten out of hand, as the expression goes, but the sizes and varying colours of Thai bananas is sure to come as something of a surprise. While still unripe, slices are seasoned with sugar and salt, then fried crisp, to become KLUAI CHAP. When ripe, the fruit can be made into a wide assortment of desserts. KLUAI PING is grilled banana, soaked in thick syrup; KLUAI BUAT CHI is a dessert made of pieces of banana boiled in coconut milk and flavoured with sugar and a dash of salt. KLUAI KHAEK, often seen in sidewalk food stalls, is simply another version of banana fritters.

The use of bananas does not stop there. The leaves are converted into wrappings for food, and in the countryside, meals are often transported in banana leaves. The flowers are cut into some salads, and occasionally added to soup.

THAILAND'S CONTINUOUS SEASONS OF FRUIT

From January of April, grapes, jackfruit, Java apples, tangerines, watermelons and pomegranates are at their best. Next come mangoes, litchis (also spelled leeches), pineapple, mangosteens and durians. Just a thought about durians, They are a sort of large melon with the most delicious taste imaginable. Unfortunately, as the melon is cut, it emits a rather strong aroma.

From July on, longans ripen, and also langsats, jujubes, passion fruit, pomelo, rambutan, and sugar apples. During the entire year, bananas, coconuts, guavas and papayas are always available.

In some communities, particularly in rural areas, as a particular fruit comes into the height of its season, there are elaborate festivals, usually featured by local beauty queens. In early April, the Paet Riu Mango Festival is held in the small town of Chacheongsao. Then in May, Songkhla holds a special fruit bazaar, with elaborate demonstrations of fruit carving, plus a Miss Southern Thailand beauty pageant. In June, Chanthaburi shows off an assortment of fruit raised in the province; the feature is the durian, with its exquisite taste and foul smell, as mentioned before. In September, to honour the pomelo, a fruit and floral procession, consisting of elaborate floats, is held in Nakhon Pathom, near Bangkok. The pomelo is much like grapefruit, but somewhat sweet, and segments readily.

A RAINBOW OF SWEETS

Although most Thai desserts are based upon fruits, there are some interesting exceptions. One thread that holds them together is colour, and combinations of shades and hues. This may be noted quite easily by walking past sidewalk vendors specialising in sweet and desserts. There is the saffron colour of "thong yip", or the opalescent pinks, blues and greens seen in the "wun", or agar cakes, made with gelatine.

Some of the colourful desserts include flavoured crushed ice, sweetened water chestnuts, coconut meat combined with milk, gelatine strips, palm sugar cooked with egg yolks. Some sweet preparations, such as "foi thong", are like golden hairs, and are quite sugary. Others, like "ruam mit", are served in a bowl of crushed ice with thick syrup, and are very refreshing. Some are miniaturised reproductions of various fruits, and are almost works of art.

DINING OUT

Formerly, Thais used to eat mostly at home. Women were mainly involved in the household chores and cooking meals, even elaborate ones, was never a problem.

Today more and more women are working outside. Moreover, a growing number of farmers come to the big city in the hope of finding a job. They are usually single and have no way to cook. It is more practical to eat outside or buy the meal on the sidewalk. T he number of eating-places has multiplied and, at night, Bangkok has become an incredibly huge open-air restaurant.

As a matter of fact, Thais seem to eat out all the time and everywhere. A favourite pastime for them is "pai thiao", an aimless stroll from one place to another, to see what's going on. Unlike most westerners, the average Thai goes not seem to need a particular purpose. He is never happier than in a crowd where he gets a feeling of companionship and of belonging.

While drifting around, he might sample some tasty sweetmeats and will probably take some home since Thais like nothing better than a spontaneous and casual meal.

Near commercial districts and entertainment areas, you will find countless stalls and makeshift counters where charcoal burners are used for steaming and barbecuing. These kitchenettes on wheels are now and then surrounded by tables and chairs and dimly lighted by a single electric bulb or a kerosene lamp.

These places are quite cheap, surprisingly clean and absolutely worth a try. A treat in the street would not cost more than 200 Baht. A handy choice might be one of many coffee shops in town. Usually spick and span and giving forth-wonderful aromas of cakes and other sweets, they serve Thai and international meals.

Food parks are one of the most colourful of Thai food experiences. They are generally located in a large shopping mall, and can cover an entire floor. Countless restaurants offer just about every imaginable type of Asian cuisine. The procedure involves buying a coupon and then sitting at any available table. Huge colour pictures of the dishes available assist in making your choice.

Open air restaurants in gardens, or along the banks of the river, are perhaps unique to Thailand. In the evening, thousands of people dine in this delightful al fresco surroundings. The menu is large and incidentally, there is always a translation in English. Although busy and lively, the service is inevitably surprisingly prompt. It has the additional pleasure of being quite inexpensive, and the quality of food served is usually excellent.

For an offbeat evening, reserve a table on a boat cruising on the river. A soft breeze, the fragile glow of candlelight, and gentle music can induce the proper mood for a romantic dinner. Also try the seafood restaurants. You can pick up your choice, when entering, from a fantastic array of fresh seafood. They will be charcoal grilled or boiled on the spot and brought proudly to your table. These places boast a fine selection of both local and imported wine.

Some restaurants that are tourist oriented present a selection of Thai classical and folk dances. You sit in the traditional way around a low table. The restaurant might be a copy of an old Thai house, all-teak floor and panelling, with beautiful painting and precious china.

If you prefer to have some western-style meals, they are always available at all the hotels. You can find French, Italian, American, Japanese, Hungarian, Russian and especially Chinese restaurants. Some large hotels have a half a dozen different restaurants, and one has as many as ten. Or you may prefer to explore and find a small bistro, tucked away on a side street, but always charming and cosy. Look for a small "soi" (pronounced soy), which is the Thai word for street.

Most eating-places nowadays have good hygienic standards. Nevertheless, in its efforts to improve the quality of Thai restaurants, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has developed a symbol of excellence in every restaurant it recommends. Patrons of these establishments can be assured that food and services are of the highest quality. A list of these restaurants is available by the Authority.

In Bangkok alone, there are no less than five cooking schools, all available for interested visitors. Travel agencies have begun to arrange gourmet tours, which include sampling some of the best Thai dishes in different restaurants. They also take tourist s on trips to the various food markets, which are inevitably rewarding experiences.

Thai food is a many-splendored thing. It combines pleasing subtleties - the soft and crunchy, sweet and sour, bitter and mellow, spicy to sweet, and hot to cool. Unlike western cuisine, which tend towards individual portions, Thai food, like that of Chin a, is best when shared.

Eating Thai style is an experience in sharing, a part of the "sanuk" way of life, the joy of living. This determination to enjoy every facet of life requires the feeling of well being that the Thai call "sabai". You will enjoy the food and atmosphere, and be touched by the hospitality of the Thai people.

Back to Top


 

FRUIT AND VEGETABLE CARVING

 

TOMATO BASKETS

CHILLI FLOWERS

TOMATO ROSES

CUCUMBER LOTUSES

Thai cooks have developed their skills in cutting and carving to great advantage in the sculpting of vegetables and fruits into a multitude of forms. Pumpkins, turnips, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, chillies, onions and pineapples are transformed into roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, fish and animals.

King Rama II wrote a poem in which he told the story of a queen who had been banished from the palace by a rival. Disguised as a kitchen maid, she returned and managed to contact her son by carving scenes from her life on each piece of marrow for a marrow soup, which he was to eat. Of course her son recognised them immediately and she was reinstated. Thus the tradition began.

The whole art of sculpting is too complex to describe in this book, but certain easy techniques have been chosen for you to experiment with.

 

TOMATO BASKETS

 

Select smooth firm tomatoes. Cut the top off each tomato to give a flat base.

Cut the tomato vertically and horizontally.

Carefully scoop out the pulp, leaving the basket.

If liked, the cutting can be done in a zigzag design to make the baskets more decorative.

CHILLI FLOWERS

Select smooth undamaged chillies of an even colour.

Using the point of a sharp knife slit each chilli several times lengthways, cutting from the base to the point. The cuts can be made to look spiky, for extra effect.

Toss the chillies into iced water. When the "flowers" open, remove the seeds.

TOMATO ROSES

Select smooth, firm tomatoes. Cut the top off each tomato.

Cut a very thin slice across the tomato at the same end, without cutting quite all the way through.

In a spiral motion remove the skin, together with a thin layer of the flesh underneath. The slice will become part of the spiral of skin.

When all the skin has been removed in one long strip, roll it up to form a rose, with the original slice forming the base.

CUCUMBER LOTUSES

Select small cucumbers. Cut off the ends, and then cut each cucumber in half.

With a small knife, trace eight equal triangles on the surface of the cut sections. Then continue each triangle down the length of the cucumber halves, cutting right to the centre but keeping them joined at the base.

Carefully shape the top of each triangle slice to resemble a petal.

Inserting the point of the knife as far as possible into the centre of the cucumber, cut the outline of the inside of each petal, following the dotted lines in the drawing.

Holding the cucumber together firmly cut around it not more than 5 mm (1/4 inch) in from the outside. Cut down as far as where the petals are joined at the base.

Repeat this cut another 5 mm (1/4 inch) in (and a third time if the cucumber is large enough), scooping out the soft flesh in the centre.

Put the cucumber into iced water. The petals will open.

Back to Top

 


 

INGREDIENTS AND BASICS

 

INGREDIENTS

Spices, herbs and seasonings are inextricably linked with the history and food of Asia. Rhizomes, stalks, seeds or leaves, they should be used as fresh as possible to enjoy the rich flavours at their best. Some are available fresh in Asian shops around the world. Some, like basil, coriander and even chilli or lemon grass can be cultivated under shelter in a garden or on a balcony. Others - turmeric, cardamom and galangal - may have to be purchased dried or in powder form. In this case the quantities given in these recipes should be halved.

Thai cooking depends very much on individual cooks varying the proportions of the different seasonings according to personal preferences. Occasionally certain ingredients, for example basil leaves, are given in only cup measures. This means that no exact amount is required - the cup is just a flexible guideline - and although an American measuring cup would be ideal, any medium-sized teacup would do. This is rather like measuring rice by the handful - a very common habit in Asia. Where exact quantities are required, metric, Imperial and cup equivalents are given.

All the recipes serve 4-6 people although naturally this depends on how many other dishes are served at the same meal. We assume that rice and at least two other dishes will be served together.

Spicy dishes require less meat or fish than mild ones because extra rice is consumed with them to compensate for the spiciness.

BAMBOO SHOOTS (Nor mai):

The shoots of the bamboo are cut when they have grown about 15 cm (6 inches) above the ground. They need to be peeled and the inner, white part boiled for 30 minutes in water. However, the canned variety needs to be boiled for only 10 minutes and may be used immediately in soups or curries. Canned bamboo shoots, once fridge, if the water is renewed every day.

BASIL AND HOLY BASIL (Horapha):

Hindus believe that basil is sacred and they like to plant it in religious sanctuaries. The variety of basil they use is called holy basil and it has a spicy flavour. This is more difficult to find in the West than sweet basil, but pepper or finely chopped chilli can be added to the sweet variety to compensate.

Both types of basil are used a lot in Thai cooking. Basil is also used for medicinal purposes, to treat indigestion and to stimulate the appetite.

BEANCURD (Tao Hou):

This is a Soya bean extract to which a setting agent has been added. Soft bean curd is white, and is used extensively in Chinese dishes. It is available in most oriental shops, and is usually sold in pieces 7.5 cm (3 inches) square. Compressing soft bean curd makes hard, or dry, bean curd. Bean curd is available in many other forms - fried, fermented, etc.

BEANSPROUTS (Thua ngok):

The sprouts of the Soya or mung bean are crunchy and tender. They can be grown at home, but they are easy to find in most places nowadays. The canned variety is not a very good substitute but other fresh vegetables, finely sliced, if necessary can replace bean sprouts.

BERGAMOT (Makroud):

Also known as kariff lime, this plant is found everywhere in Thailand and people often grow it at home.

The leaves have a delicate flavour, slightly lemony, which goes equally well with curries and seafood dishes. The fruit has a bumpy dark green rind with a concentration of aromatic oils and the aroma of lemon. Sometimes the juice of this fruit is used in Thai dishes instead of lime, or vice versa. The skin is also used in many Thai dishes, especially curries, and can be replaced by grated lime skin if necessary.

CARDAMOM (Krawan):

The queen of spices, cardamom has been used since ancient times. Produced mostly in India and Sri Lanka, it also grows in southeastern Thailand near Cambodia. Cardamom needs a humid climate to grow, and deforestation is endangering its survival. The aromatic pods can be green, white or black and they all contain a number of small seeds. The pods and seeds are used in different types of sweet or savoury Thai dishes, especially in curries.

Europeans have known Siamese cardamom since the 17th Century. It was one of the first spices exported to England, China and Japan.

Medicinally, cardamom can be used as a laxative and to relieve flatulence. In addition, cardamom is mixed with ginger and boiled, as a health drink.

Powdered cardamom is readily available but it is better to grind your own freshly if possible.

CELERY (Khuen chai):

The celery is much smaller than the variety found in the West. It is also greener, thinner-stemmed and leafier, with a stronger celery flavour. However, either type can be used equally well for Thai soups, sautés and salads.

Young celery leaves make an attractive garnish that enhances the flavour of the food at the same time.

CHILIES (Prik):

Chauca, personal physician of Christopher Columbus, wrote that the Portuguese brought chillies from the West Indies to India and Africa in 1585.

The Thais add generous amounts of chillies to most of their dishes. No one region is known as the home of fiery food, as each province has its own "hot" dishes. Many different varieties of chillis are used in Thailand but the most common is 7.5-10 cm (3-4 inches) long and can be red, green or yellow when fresh. Dried, it is red. Another popular chilli in Thai cooking is tiny, green and extremely fiery. The seeds are the hottest part of the chilli so if you want to keep the flavour, with out the heat, slit open the chillies and discard the seeds. Dried chillies should be soaked in hot water for 10 minutes before grinding. The Thai use chillies in almost every conceivable way - fresh, dried, whole, chopped, crushed or sliced into rings. Just a few words of caution, always wash your hands carefully after handling chillies and do not touch your eyes or mouth, or they will suffer from a burning sensation.

Apart from the favour they impart, chillies are also good for the health. Followers of Thai traditional medicine believe that chillies help get rid of flatulence and stomach cramps. This is now thought to be because chillies can kill bacteria in the stomach and intestinal tract. Chilli in the stomach produces increased levels of blood circulation in the stomach lining. This helps to increase the rate of digestion. Blood pressure also rises as the heart beats faster. Thais also believe that those who sweat profusely after eating chillies are ridding themselves of toxic substances in the body.

CHILI PASTES (Nam prik phao):

These can be bought in bottles from Asina stores. A particularly popular one in Thai cooking, especially for seafood dishes, is burnt mild chilli paste.

CHINESE MUSHROOMS (Hed hom):

These dried, whole mushrooms have a distinctive flavour. They should always be soaked in warm water for 30 minutes before being added to other ingredients. The stems are seldom eaten, as they are quite tough.

Chinese mushrooms are extremely rich in calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Protein is especially high in dried mushrooms. Medicinally, Chinese mushrooms have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. Some scientific research even suggests that these mushrooms have anti-viral and anti-tumour properties.

They are sold in most oriental food stores around the world.

CINNAMON (Ob cheuy):

In southern Asia, there are many varieties of cinnamons, the dried, aromatic bark of a member of the laurel family. In Thailand the "batavia" variety is commonly used to give a pleasant aroma to beef and chicken dishes.

Thais believe that cinnamon is medicinally an anti-acid and that it can reduce any overproduction of a nursing mother's milk.

Cinnamon can be found in powder form or in bark sticks. The bark retains its flavour for longer.

CLOVES(Kan plou):

Marco Polo thought that cloves came from Java, but Conti discovered that they actually originated from the Moluccas Islands. From there the use of cloves spread to other parts of Southeast Asia and to Europe.

They are the dried flower buds of a member of the myrtle family and can be used whole or in powder form.

In Thai cuisine, cloves are added to curries and they also go very well with tomatoes, salty vegetables and ham. In Thailand, cloves have traditionally been chewed with betel leaves.

Medicinally, Thais believe that cloves kill bacteria and also act as an antispasmodic. Cloves can be chewed after meals, as some Thais do, to aid digestion.

COCONUT MILK AND CREAM (Kathi):

These two important ingredients are used in curries as well as in desserts and beverages. Coconut mild is the liquid squeezed from the grated flesh of mature coconut after the flesh has been soaked in lukewarm water. Coconut cream is a richer version. For coconut mild use 3 cups grated coconut to 5 cups water or for coconut cream use 3 cups coconut for 2 1/2 cups water. Soak the coconut in the water for 15 minutes. Mix well with your hands, then tip into a muslin-lined strainer placed over a bowl. Squeeze all the liquid out of the muslin. The operation can be repeated with the already-squeeze coconut to produce thinner coconut mild, which is acceptable in soups. All this is very time-consuming, and removing the flesh from a coconut is very difficult without the right implements. Luckily, ready-made coconut mild is available in cans in most places around the world. Stir the contents if coconut mild is required or scoop the cream off the top if you need coconut cream. Creamed coconut, frozen grated coconut and frozen coconut milk are also generally obtainable. However, if coconut is totally unavailable, then boiled milk may be used as a substitute.

Remember that coconut mild is not the liquid, which is found inside a fresh young coconut. That water is only used in mixed tropical drinks, never in cooking, and has none of the properties of coconut milk.

CORIANDER (Phakchee):

This member of the carrot family has delicate leaves and deep roots. When the plant reaches maturity, it produces abundant white flowers. The leaves and seeds are used in cuisine throughout the world, but Thai cooking makes use of the roots as well.

The round, beige seeds are added to curries and vegetables. The roots are crushed with garlic to flavour meat and are often added to soups especially beef soups. The leaves are used extensively as a garnish.

CUMMIN (Yira):

Only the seeds are used, dried and ground. In Thai cuisine, cumin is used in sauces and on grilled meats. Cumin can be purchased already ground, but the whole seeds keep their flavour better and they are easy to grind at home.

DRIED LETTUCE LEAVES (Tang chai):

These are small salted shrimp dried in the sun. They are generally sold in powder form in bottles in most Asian stores.

PERMENTED SOYA BEANS (Tao jiaw):

Whole fermented yellow or black Soya beans may be labelled "Dow See" in oriental stores. They are sold in bottles and the English label probably says "Yellow Bean Sauce". Fermented Soya beans are nutritious, strongly flavoured and salty. They replace salt completely in some Thai dishes.

FISH SAUCE (Nam pla):

Filtering off the liquid from fermenting salted fish makes this thin, salty, pale brown sauce. Rich in the B vitamins and protein, it makes an excellent salt substitute. To be a good Thai cook, always have a bottle of fish sauce ready to add to Thai food.

As well as being used in cooking, it can be served as a sauce alone or mixed with lime and chilli. You can use it and your imagination to create more elaborate sauces, as the Thais do.

Fish sauce is an exclusively Southeast Asian product. Thailand's superb sauce is well known and sold in Southeast Asian shops around the world.

GALANGAL (Kha):

Both greater and lesser galangal is related to ginger. In Thailand greater galangal is most commonly used; its aroma is subtler than that of lesser galangal and its inside is milky white. You often find it in curries and soups. It is used fresh in Asia, but elsewhere it may have to be purchased dried. In this case, soak the root in hot water for 1 hour before use and remove it before serving. Powdered galangal is also available.

Medicinally, galangal is classed as a digestive stimulant and Thais mix the grated root with limejuice to treat stomachache. Thais also believe that galangal can help respiratory ailments.

GARLIC (Krathiem):

This member of the lily family is thought to originate from Asia. The Thai garlic head is made up of smaller cloves than the Western varieties. It is used abundantly in Thai cuisine.

Garlic contains significant amounts of vitamin C, calcium and protein. It is also rich in potassium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.

Medicinally, it is believed that garlic can reduce blood pressure and cleanse the blood of excess glucose. It is also said to alleviate 'flu, sore throats and bronchial congestion.

GINGER (Khing):

Native to India and China, ginger has been used medicinally for centuries. It was taken to Rome by caravans through Asia Minor. Ginger was probably one of the first Asian spices to reach Europe and it has been in use there since the Middle Ages.

The aromatic rhizome of the ginger plant is an important ingredient of Thai main dishes and desserts. It must be peeled before it can be chopped, grated or crushed. Fresh ginger is preferable, but powdered ginger can be substituted if necessary.

LEMON GRASS (Takrai):

This is one of the most common herbs in Thai food. It has long, lemony-smelling blades but only the lower part, which is white and bulbous, is used. It gives a unique flavour to curries and soups. A stalk of lemon grass is round and close packed like that of a very small leek.

Where fresh lemon grass is unavailable, dried stems (which should be removed before serving) or powdered lemon grass may be used. Also, thinly pared lemon peel is an acceptable substitute.

In tradition Thai medicine, lemon grass has long been used to treat colds and stomachaches. Also, it can be used to treat gallstones by drinking the water in which this herb has been boiled.

MINT (Bai saranae):

Leaves of the spearmint variety are often used in Thai salads, fish dishes and soups. Sweet basil leaves can be used as a substitute if necessary.

NOODLES

Chinese noodles may confuse you slightly Basic techniques are:

Having introduced the ingredients of Thai cooking, we are now moving on to the "basics" of the cuisine. By this we mean recipes of items which are prepared in advance, to be used later in or with other dishes. The practice of having a bank of frequently used essentials is quite common in Asia - a kind of timesaving two-stage cuisine. Thai cooks would keep a constant stock of some of these basics; other items would be prepared specifically for a particular meal, but well before the rest of the dishes, ready to be incorporated or used as a garnish or accompaniment when required.

Vegetable preparation

In Thailand we prefer our ingredients prepared in as delicate a way as possible. So think small. Vegetables cut finely cook quickly and thus retain the maximum amount of their essential goodness. Garlic, shallots, ginger, chillies, etc., are very finely sliced, slivered or chopped. Hard vegetables, e.g. carrots and potatoes, are cut or sliced in small pieces; green vegetables such as broccoli are cut into small florets.

Stir-frying

If you have ever cooked a Chinese meal you will be familiar with this method of cooking. It is simple and fast, but requires your constant attention. As its name implies, ingredients are stirred while being cooked: the stirring is, in fact, more a matter of turning the ingredients in the cooking oil or liquid to ensure that they are exposed to the heated medium. It is best achieved in a long-handed work over high heat since you can manipulate the cooking vessel over the heat source. It is very fast and vegetables should be cooked in this manner only for a few seconds. They should remain crisp and bright-coloured.

Steaming

Many dishes are steamed and a large steamer is a good investment. Steaming is timed from the moment the dish is placed over water already boiling in the lower section of the steamer and producing steam.

Back to Top

 


 

SAUCES AND CURRY PASTES

 

"Nam" is the Thai word for water and "menam" means river. "Nam manao" is lemon juice and "nam som" is vinegar. "Nam oy" is sugar cane juice, "nam man" is oil and "nam man oy" is oyster sauce or curry paste and "nam wan" a syrup. But the most popular sauce in cooking, the queen of sauces, is "nam pla" or fish sauce. Made by fermenting salted fish in huge stone jars, then filtering off the liquid, it is often used instead of salt. A newcomer's nose may find it a little overpowering at first, but it would be sacrilege to substitute common-or-garden salt. The particular flavour of Thai cooking depends a lot on "nam pla" and the novice should adopt good "nam pla" habits from the start.

As well as being a key ingredient in many dishes, "nam pla" provides the base for most of the sauces served with them. When mixed with other ingredients, its aroma mingles with theirs and it ceases to stand out so strongly. Spicy, sweet and sour, savoury and sweet sauces can be made from it according to the other elements used. The commonest of these other ingredients are shrimp paste, tamarind, shallots, garlic, chillies and sugar. If certain items are difficult to find, substitute something more readily available which will achieve the same effect. For example lemon juice, green mangoes, cooking apples or grapefruit can be used to replace the sharp flavour imparted by tamarind.

It is best to make sauces at the last minute as the ingredients spoil if they marinate for too long. A blender can be used for mashing and mixing the soft ingredients, but the dry spices are much better ground with a pestle in a mortar. Sauces and pastes are served cold in bowls or saucers. For special occasions, tiny, individual sauce bowls are used, but at everyday family meals people dip their pieces of meat, fish or vegetable into a communal bowl. Alternatively, you can spoon a little sauce onto your own plate.

At a typical meal Thais have two or three different sauces. "Nam pla" mixed with lemon juice, shallots and chillies goes well with fish and seafood; "nam prik" - based on chilli usually mixed with shrimp paste - is excellent with all vegetables whether they are raw, steamed, boiled or fried, and even when served with coconut cream. These "nam prik" curry pastes are also called for as an ingredient in many Thai dishes.

Following Chinese custom, Soya sauce is served with certain snacks and with red pork. Marinating Soya beans in salted water in the sun and then filtering the liquid makes Soya sauce. Although not as aromatic as 'nam pla', its saltiness means that it can serve the same purpose, and when mixed with anchovy paste, it makes an acceptable substitute.

The following recipes will introduce you to the idea of Thai sauces and curry pastes but from this basic selection you will be able to invent your own. The number of variations achieved by combining the different flavours in varying proportions is infinite, and this flexibility and creativity is one of the essential characteristics of Thai cooking.

NAM PHRIK KAENG DAENG

(Red Curry Paste)

INGREDIENTS

13 small dried chillies, soaked in hot

water for 15 minutes and de-seeded

3 tbsp. chopped shallot

4 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 tbsp. chopped galangal

2 tbsp. chopped lemon grass

2 tsp. chopped kariff lime rind

1 tbsp. chopped coriander root

20 pepper corns

1 tsp. shrimp paste

1 tbsp. coriander seed

1 tsp. cumin seed

PREPARATION

1. In a wok over low heat, put the coriander seeds and cumin seeds and dry fry for about 5 minutes, then grind into a powder.

2. Into a blender, put the rest of the ingredients except the shrimp paste and blend to mix well. The add the coriander seed-cumin seed mixture and the shrimp paste and blend again to obtain about 3/4 cup of a fine-textured paste.

3. This can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for about 3-4 months.

NAM PHRIK KAENG KHUA

Kaeng Khua Curry Paste

INGREDIENTS

5 dried chillies, soaked in hot

water for 15 minutes and de-seeded

3 tbsp. chopped shallots

2 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 tsp. chopped galangal

1 tbsp. chopped lemon grass

1 tsp. chopped kariff lime rind

1 tsp. chopped coriander root

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. shrimp paste

PREPARATION

1. Into a blender, put all ingredients except the shrimp paste and blend until well mixed. Then, add the shrimp paste and blend once more to obtain about 3/4 cup of a fine-textured paste.

2. This can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for about 3-4 months.

NAM PHRIK PHAO

(Roasted Chilli Sauce)

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup small dried chillies

3 tbsp. fish sauce

2 cups vegetable oil

1/3 tsp. salt

8 shallots, sliced

6 garlic cloves, sliced

1 cup dried shrimp

1 tbsp. palm sugar

1 1/2 tbsp. tamarind juice

PREPARATION

1. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the shallots and garlic until golden brown; remove from oil and drain. Add the dried shrimp and dried chillies; fry until golden brown; remove from oil and drain.

2. In a mortar or blender, grind the shrimp, garlic, chillies, shallots and sugar until the mixture is blended well. Add the fish sauce, tamarind juice, salt and cooled oil from the wok into the blender; blend until you have a finely textured sauce.

3. This can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for about 3-4 months.

NAM PHRIK KAENG KHIAO WAN

(Green Curry Paste)

INGREDIENTS

15 green hot chillies

3 tbsp. chopped shallots

1 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 tsp. chopped galangal

1 tbsp. chopped lemon grass

1/2 tsp. chopped kariff lime rind

1 tsp. chopped coriander root

5 pepper corns

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. shrimp paste

PREPARATION

1. In a wok over low heat, put the coriander seeds, and cumin seeds and dry fry for about 5 minutes, then grind into a powder.

2. Into a blender, put the rest of the ingredients except the shrimp paste and blend to mix well. Add the coriander-cumin seed miniature and the shrimp paste and blend to obtain 1/2 cup of a fine-textured paste.

3. This can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for about 3-4 months.

NAM PHRIK KAENG KA-RI

(Yellow Curry Paste)

INGREDIENTS

3 dried chillies, soaked in hot water

For 15 minutes and de-seeded

3 tbsp. chopped shallots

1 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 tsp. chopped ginger

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tbsp. chopped lemon grass

1 tsp. shrimp paste

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. curry powder

PREPARATION

1. In a wok over low heat, put the shallots, garlic, ginger, coriander seeds and cumin seeds and dry fry for about 5 minutes, the grind into a powder.

2. Into a blender, put the rest of the ingredients and blend to mix well. Add the shallot, garlic, ginger, coriander, seed-cumin, seed mixture and blend again to obtain about 1/2 cup of a fine-textured paste.

3. This can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for about 3-4 months.

NAM PHRIK KAENG MATSAMAN

(Massaman Curry Paste)

INGREDIENTS

3 dried chillies, soaked in hot

water for 15 minutes and de-seeded

3 tbsp. chopped shallots

2 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 tsp. chopped galangal

1 1/4 tbsp. chopped lemon grass

2 cloves

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

5 pepper corns

1 tsp. shrimp paste

1 tsp. salt

PREPARATION

1. In a wok over low heat put the shallots, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and dry fry for about 5 minutes, then grind into a powder.

2. Into a blender, put the rest of the ingredients except the shrimp paste and blend to mix well. Add the shallot, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, clove, coriander seed, cumin seed mixture and the shrimp paste and blend again to obtain 1/2 cup of a fine-textured paste.

3. This can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for about 3-4 months.

Back to Top

 


 

RICE AND NOODLES

 

The Thais have cultivated rice since the earliest days of their history and although Thailand contains many Jews, to the Thais no gem can rival the pearly white rice which is produced in abundance and which has staved off famine throughout Thai history. It is their staff of life, their yardstick by which well being is measured. A Thai will not ask "Have you had lunch?" but "Have you eaten rice?"

In May they go to the fields to weed and clean in preparation for the ploughing. As soon as the first rains fall, usually in May, they sow the rice. The shoots grow quickly in the monsoon, and then the young plants are removed from the nursery to be replanted in the fields. Harvesting is in January. The government has now set up an efficient irrigation network that gives a second harvest in some areas. The rice is threshed on the spot in the fields, the straw and roots being burned to improve the soil.

The Rice-Planting Festival or Ploughing Ceremony takes place in May on an auspicious day designated by the Royal Astrologer. A court official, selected by the King, presides over the ceremony in which a symbolic furrow is made by a golden plough pulled by oxen on the green expanse of the Sanam Luang (Royal Field) in Bangkok. Specially blessed rice seeds are thrown into the furrow. Then, different foods are offered to the oxen. According to the food they choose, the Brahman priests, who still have an important place in Thai religious and ceremonial life, are able to predict the coming year's harvest.

Among the many varieties of rice, Thailand boasts a particularly fine, long-grain type which is generally destined for export. In Thailand, people eat white rice, without the husk. They cook it in water without salt to balance the spiciness of the accompanying dishes. A charcoal burner and aluminium pan is all the equipment they need. The secret of perfect rice cooking lies in the quantity of water used; the level of water in the pan should be at one knuckle above the rice. All the water should be absorbed during cooking, leaving the rice firm and fluffy. Glutinous rice is a speciality of the hill people, and of the Issans who live in the north-east, but otherwise is generally used in desserts.

Thais usually cook more rice than is necessary for one meal. The remainder is used in a wide variety of "khao phad" (fried rice) dishes, mixing it with chicken, ham, prawns (shrimp), eggs, etc and flavouring it with garlic, onion and basil. The ingredients can be chopped, sliced, ground or crushed before being mixed with the rice and then fried. The best utensil for frying rice is a wok (a deep, conical pan) which can easily be obtained in oriental shops. Strong heat is needed and the rice must be stirred vigorously. This can lead to splashes and penetrating smells. In Thailand, the kitchen would be a suitable alternative. "Khao phad" makes a meal on its own, whilst plain rice is served with a selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes.

Thailand, like other Asian countries similarly influenced by the Chinese, has many noodle dishes using a wide variety of types of noodles. Mung bean noodles, rice noodles and wheat flour noodles, with or without egg, all find their way into delicious recipes cooked in various ways and combined with different ingredients.

Back to Top

 


 

SOUPS

 

In Thai markets, the china stalls display far fewer plates than bowls. This is not surprising, as bowls are much more appropriate for the two most popular dishes, rice and soup. Soup is eaten from dawn to dusk, on land and water. Pavements are crowded with soup stalls, soup-vending boats paddle up and down the "klongs" (canals) and bicycles adapted for easy with Soya sauce to gourmet extravaganzas with bergamot, lemon grass, lime juice and chillies, the aromas of soups contribute a special part of everyday Thai life.

There are three main types of soups. The first is that royal soup, the "tom yam", the most famous version of which, "tom yam kung", is made with prawns. It usually arrives in a charcoal-heated steamboat, which takes pride of place on the table. This is a copper pot with a chimney, and underneath there is a place for red-hot charcoal. If you happen to possess one, now is the time to impress your guests with it. The soup continues to cook in the bowl surrounding the chimney during the meal. As the large pink prawns are fished out and savoured, the soup reduces, producing a delicious liquid redolent of lemon grass and fresh chillies. Tom yams can also be made with pork, chicken or mixed seafood. This gastronomic masterpiece relies on a combination of lemon juice, galnagal, lemon grass, gergamot and chilli to produce its inimitable flavour. The quantity of chilli can be modified according to taste, but it does not take long to get used to that mixture of fire and freshness. It is a pity to do without it altogether; some marriages are indissoluble!

In contrast, "kaeng jued" is a mild Chinese soup, rather like a consume, with meat and vegetables. As it is gentle on the palate, it makes a pleasant accompaniment to spicier dishes. The Thais sometimes add their own flavour to it by using coriander root.

"Khao tom", a clear rice soup, is a sort of universal healer. It is a favourite "morning after" remedy following an alcoholic evening, and also soothes stomach upsets, fevers, colds and anything else that entails feeling out-of-sorts. The rice is well cooked in a large quantity of water. Before serving, it can be seasoned with "nam pla", vinegar or chillies according to taste, and augmented with some meat or poultry.

It seems strange that hot soups should be so satisfying in such a hot country but a great deal of pleasure is gained from sitting around a steaming bowl from which each person serves him or herself, sharing togetherness with the soup. Soups are often served throughout a meal but they can, of course, constitute a meal in themselves, containing meat or fish and vegetables, and eaten with rice or noodles.

The base of most Thai soups is a chicken or pork stock, made in advance and put to one side. In the West, the variety of packaged stocks makes soup a very easy dish to prepare.

It is said that the original Chinese immigrants to Thailand had scarcely more than a little rice to put in their soup. In order to give some flavour to their meal they sucked pebbles dipped in fish sauce.

Back to Top

 


 

FISH AND SEAFOOD

 

The love the Thais have for fish and seafood is born from nature's bounty. Their coastline along the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand is long, wide rivers full of fish traverse the country from north to south, and the plains are criss-crossed with a maze of canals. Amateur and professional fishermen can be seen everywhere, as they cast, haul in and lift their nets.

The Thais eat far more fish than meat, and in the Thai diet the produce of the sea and rivers is second only to rice in importance. An old Thai saying, "There is rice in the fields, and fish in the water", sums up how the Thais measure happiness and illustrates how they appreciate their natural good fortune. Inland, freshwater fish is available throughout the country. Sea fish is often preserved by smoking, salting or drying, and in the markets, highly aromatic dried fish and cuttlefish are displayed in bamboo boxes or hanging from wires.

Fresh fish can be fried, steamed or wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked over a charcoal fire. It is not salted before being cooked in these ways; instead each piece is dipped in a sauce served as an accompaniment to the meal. The sauces are made from different combinations of hot, salty, sour and sweet ingredients such as chillies, fish sauce, shrimp paste, tamarind or lemon juice, and sugar. The Thais also eat a great quantity of seafood - prawns, shrimp, crabs, squid, mussels, cockles etc. - in salads or grilled. Practically every day Thais partake of seafood feasts as normal meals. Thailand has made the most of this abundance by developing one of the best shrimp and prawn industries in the region, and relies on this as one of its principal exports.

Both fish and seafood are made into delicious curries and wonderful soups. In addition, they are the main ingredients of those two basic Thai condiments, "nam pla" (fish sauce) and "kapi" (shrimp paste).

Back to Top

 


 

VEGETABLES AND SALADS

 

Vegetables play an important part in Thai nutrition. Although Thais do not fully practise the vegetarianism preached by Buddhism, and they do eat meat (as long as non-Buddhists sacrifice the animals), they do so in small quantities.

Nature produces vegetables in plenty and in a temptingly wide variety of colours and shapes - tomatoes, cucumbers, shallots, crispy lettuce, pure white cauliflower, green beans, peppers, courgettes (zucchini), pumpkins and so on. New species are regularly introduced. They grow on the fertile watered lands around Bangkok as well as on the hill slopes of the north. As well as these familiar ones, Thais also consume many vegetables, which are unknown in the West, and translations might not always be available for some of them. They include aquatic plants such as "phak bung", creeping plants like "tam lung", rhizomes like the white turmeric, bamboo shoots and lotus stems.

Fruit is often used in salads - a particular favourite is papaya - and a great number of salads and vegetable dishes include fish, seafood or meat. Salads are refreshing in the hot, humid climate of Thailand and in one form or another - from a simple dish of raw beans to a complicated restaurant showpiece - appear at most meal times. They are not served at any particular moment during the meal. They come with all of the other dishes and people nibble at them while eating curries or other hot courses. Sometimes they can be meals in themselves.

Oil and vinegar are rarely used to prepare dressings for salads. The most common dressing recipes include lemon juice, chillies, fish sauce and shallots. Papaya salad is served with a dressing of pounded peanuts, fish sauce, garlic and chopped chillies with dried prawns (shrimp). Another popular salad dressing is made with lard-boiled egg yolks mashed in tepid water together with sugar and lemon juice. As with their other sauces, the Thais create a wide range of salad dressings from different combinations of all the available ingredients.

Vegetables, raw or lightly cooked, are also eaten with "nam prik". Sometimes they are steamed the Chinese way, or sometimes fried, but however they are prepared they should never be overcooked. They must remain crunchy and full of flavour.

Raw vegetables and fruit are often skilfully carved into baskets, flowers and other exquisite shapes for special occasions.

Back to Top

 


 

MEAT AND POULTRY

 

Until the middle of the 19th century, the Thais ate with their hands, like the Indians and Burmese. For soup, they used spoons made of porcelain or mother-of-pearl. Later, forks were introduced, but knives have always remained in the kitchen. That is one of the reasons why meat, fish and vegetables are usually served in small pieces. Learning how to cut food up properly is therefore essential. Every Thai kitchen contains a solid chopping board, a chopper, a sharp butcher's knife and a small pointed knife. The dexterity with which Thai cooks use these implements reveals a true art, as they shred, slice, carve and chop with nonchalant ease. For some curries, the meat is cut into larger pieces than for other dishes. Poultry is cut up in much the same way as in the West; the legs and wings are removed first, then the breast is sliced lengthways, before being cut into bite-sized morsels. For sautéed dishes, both meat and poultry are reduced to pieces which, when combined with a little rice, are the size of one mouthful. Sometimes, a bird is cooked whole; for example Peking duck or roast chicken, and cut up before being served.

In any case, the quantity of meat eaten is fairly small. Killing animals does not lie easily on a Buddhist conscience, and the sight of a Thai butcher is rare. This job is left to the Chinese, who specialise in pork, and to the Muslims, who deal with beef, mutton and chicken. These days, poultry are often sold in pieces. Meat is set out on stalls in the open-air. Thais distrust frozen meat, which is not widely available anyway, and do not mind going to market twice a day.

Chicken is the most popular sort of poultry as it is relatively cheap, its bland flavour goes well with a variety of spices and sauces, it is useful in making a stock base for soups and, as the song says, "everything's good in a chicken". The poor and rich alike eat chicken. Thailand has a modern poultry industry alongside family farm production; country roads are full of chickens scratching for grain. Chicken can be skewered and grilled over charcoal, or sautéed with spices and vegetables. Street vendors sell it grilled, and a choice leg makes and excellent snack to eat whilst going "pai thiaw" (strolling around).

Duck breeding is an increasingly common sight along rivers and canals. The Chinese are particularly keen on this bird, and Peking duck is a gastronomic delicacy. The whole bird is eaten, from the delicately roasted skin cut into strips, to the stock make from the carcass.

In the north, people enjoy sparrows and pigeons, especially when fried with spices.

The choice of meat varies according to religious beliefs and habits; Muslims refuse to touch the pork that the Chinese like so muck; the Indians cannot bear the idea of eating beef; the Thais generally hate the smell of mutton. Buffalo is popular in country areas, and can be tenderised by suitable cooking. Veal is rarely found in Thailand. Meat is usually well done and, except when dried, is accompanied by vegetables and spices. Certain restaurants specialise in game, such as venison and wild boar.

Back to Top


 

VEGETARIAN DISHES

 

Now fashionable in the West, there is, however, nothing new about vegetarian cooking. It has been a traditional element of Asian religions for over two thousand years. It is also linked to the age-old virtues of herbal remedies, which are the basis of traditional medicine.

Doing without meat is both a way of respecting the Creator and a means of increasing the vital energy in each individual. Since time immemorial philosophers, yogis, Zen Buddhists and the Buddha himself have taught that killing or destroying life is an insult to the Creation.

The concept of vegetarianism is thus natural and normal in a country as profoundly Buddhist as Thailand, even if it is not always strictly adhered to. One of the fundamental principles of Buddhism is to spare animal life. The killing of living creatures can only have negative consequences. The Thais clear their consciences by getting the Chinese or the Muslims to perform this impure act, but eating meat still involves the taking of life, and our bodies thereby lose some of their vital force.

The last episode of the Buddha's life teaches this lesson very clearly. He generally abstained from meat, and only accepted it to avoid insulting the alms-giver. One day, as he was about to eat what was to be his last meal, his host offered him some pork. The Buddha at first refused, but when the host insisted, he realised that the man was acting with good intentions and accepted. He fell ill after this meal and died.

Each week, on a day determined by the lunar calendar, the faithful go to the temple to gain merit. They offer gifts and food to the monks. The most pious of them imitate the monks that day by eating nothing after noon. Many also abstain from meat. Some Thais follow this diet of rice and vegetables everyday.

The current governor of Bangkok has recently been actively encouraging the development of vegetarianism by supporting a Buddhist community called Santi Asoke, which calls for the return to a simple life and for less superstition.

Similarly, a Buddhist monk, the Bhikku Buddhasa, has just published a book on vegetarian cooking in which he suggests that readers try a vegetables-only diet for three months to see if this improves their intellectual and spiritual life. Vegetarianism is, indeed, reputed to preserve sensory perception and quick-wittiness, and we are frequently advised these days of the benefits to the health of eating more vegetables and less animal products. However there is no question of accepting these ideas blindly. The Buddha himself taught that the validity of any doctrine should be tested through personal experience.

Back to Top

 


 

STREET COOKING

 

Some of the most varied street life in the world can be found along Bangkok's crowded, busting pavements. It can be difficult for the pedestrian to find walking space between the stalls and vendors, but navigating among these obstacles is a feast for the senses. In particular, one's taste buds are constantly tempted by the "fast food" Thai-style, served at open-air stands which flourish all over the city. There are makeshift counters, pots balanced precariously on shoulder poles, noodle barrows submerged beneath myriad utensils and ingredients. Charcoal burners are used for steaming and barbecuing. Glass cabinets, display a multitude of different kinds of noodles; chickens and spiced ducks suspended at eye-level; as well as bowls of sliced pork, diced fish, prawns and mussels. These kitchenettes on wheels and poles offer mouth-watering arrays of sweet and savoury snacks. On the waterways, little boats manoeuvre from dwelling to dwelling, similarly transformed into mobile kitchens.

Everything is carefully prepared in advance so that in most cases the food only needs re-heating. If you order "kuoy tiaw", in a matter of minutes the noodles are tossed into the hot stock, retrieved with a special long-handled sieve, poured into a bowl with pork or prawns, and seasoned with sauce and fresh coriander. "Khao phad", or fried rice, is wrapped in that perfect natural packaging, the banana leaf, which is sold cut to all sizes at markets. The street chefs are a joy to watch, as they skilfully concoct a range of subtle dishes - folding rice pancakes as fine as gauze, carving pineapples into stars.

When a vendor arrives in a soi, or lane, he calls out his wares. The fruit seller is one of the first to appear, crying "som o", "som kheo wan", "maprao phao" or "sapparod", according to the season. Next comes the flower and garland merchant shouting "puang malai" to householders, who hurry forth to purchase offerings for their spirit houses.

The ice cream vendor has no need to call out as his cart is hung with little glass bells, which tinkle his arrival to the children. The most impressive of all is the noodle seller, with his barrow sagging beneath the weight of its contents. He slowly makes his way along the soi, tapping "tok tok, tok tok" on a bamboo pole. Cries of "khanom cha" announce the last of the vendors to make an appearance, the sweet seller. She displays confections of mild and coconut cream, and tropical pastel-coloured jellies called "agar-agar". And thus, throughout the day, people can satisfy their hunger without leaving home, and without lighting their own stoves.

Back to Top

 


SELECTED THAI DISHES

Khao Suay

(Rice)

A Thai cook will know from experience whether rice is young or old; young rice needs to be cooked in less water than old, as it still contains some natural moisture. In Thailand we use what we call 'fragrant' rice, a good quality long-grain rice. But it is probable that all rice available in Europe and North America is 'old', and therefore completely dry, and will need slightly more water to cook in.

An electric rice-cooker is a wise investment for regular rice eaters; otherwise a little technique is needed to get your rice light and fluffy, with each grain separate. Succeed in this and you have got your Thai meal off to a flying start.

1 lb/450g rice

1 pt/500ml water

Rinse the rice thoroughly at least three times in cold water until the water runs clear. Put the rice in a heavy saucepan and add the water. Cover and quickly bring to the boil. Uncover, and while it is cooking stir vigorously until all the water has evaporated. Turn the heat down as low as possible, re-cover (put a layer of foil under the lid if necessary to make sure of a tight fit) and steam for 20 minutes.

Khao Nah Gai

Fried Chicken with Bamboo Shoots on Rice

This dish is a meal in itself, served on rice rather than as one of several dishes making up a full meal. Most of its ingredients can be found in cans so it makes a useful emergency meal.

1 lb/450g/2cups cooked rice

2 tbs/30ml oil

2 garlic clovers, finely chopped

4oz/120g boneless chicken, finely sliced

2oz/60g bamboo shoots, sliced

2oz/60g straw mushrooms, halved

1 tbs/15ml light soy sauce

2 tbs/30ml fish sauce

1 tsp/5ml sugar

1 tbs/15ml dark soy sauce

3 tbs/45ml stock/broth or water (or more if necessary)

1 tbs/15ml flour mixed with 2 tbs/30ml water (this is probably more than you will need)

a shaking of ground white pepper

1 spring onion/scallion, coarsely chopped

Put the cooked rice on a serving dish and keep warm. In a wok or frying pan heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the chicken and stir-fry for a few seconds. Add the bamboo shoots and straw mushrooms and stir. Stirring quickly after each addition, add the light soy, fish sauce, sugar, dark soy and stock (or water). Add more stock if the mixture becomes dry. Add 1 tbs/15ml of the flour and water mixture and stir until thoroughly blended to make a lightly thickened sauce, adding a little more stock or flour/water mixture if necessary. Add the pepper and chopped spring onions, stir quickly and serve immediately over the cooked rice.

Gung Kratiem

Prawns with Garlic

Lettuce, parsley sprigs and cucumber slices, to garnish

2 tbs/30ml oil

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

6-9 large raw king prawns, shelled and

de-veined

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

1 tbs/15ml light soy sauce

4 tbs/60ml stock/broth or water

a shaking of ground white pepper

Line a serving dish with lettuce, parsley sprigs and a few slices of cucumber. Reserve.

In a work or frying pan, heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the prawns and cook briefly, stirring all the time, until they start to become opaque. Stirring briskly after each addition, add the fish sauce, light soy, dark soy, stock and white pepper. By now the prawns should be cooked through. Turn the heat up to maximum for a few seconds quickly to reduce the liquid to about 3 tbs/45ml. Turn onto the prepared serving dish and serve.

Moo Pad Pak

Fried vegetables with Pork

4oz/120g lean pork, finely diced

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

grinding of black pepper

2 tbs/30ml oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 lb/450g prepared raw vegetables (any combination of mangetout/snow peas, cauliflower and broccoli trimmed into small florets, sliced courgettes/zucchini)

3 tbs/45ml fish sauce

2 tbs/30ml light soy sauce

1/2 tsp/2-3ml sugar

1/4 pt/120ml water, as necessary

Put the first three ingredients in a small bowl, mix thoroughly and set aside.

In a wok or frying pan, heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the pork mixture and stir-fry briefly until the meat is opaque. Add the prepared vegetables and stir. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, a grinding of black pepper and a little water. Stirring constantly, and adding a little more water if the mixture is becoming too dry (you should have about 1/4 pt/ 120ml total liquid), continue to stir until the mangetout are bright green and the other vegetables are still crisp. This should take no more than 3-4 minutes - less is best, as the vegetables must not be overcooked and must retain their crispness.

Moo Pad King

Pork Fried with Ginger

This recipe can be also made equally successfully with chicken or beef.

3 tbs/45ml oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4oz/120g boneless pork, finely sliced

6 pieces dried mushroom, soaked in water for 10 minutes to soften and then coarsely chopped

2in/5cm piece ginger, peeled and finely slivered

1 tbs/15ml light soy source

1 tbs/15ml dark soy source

1/4 tsp/1-2ml sugar

2 tsb/30ml stock /broth or water

1 tsb/15ml fish sauce

1/2 small onion, slivered

1 long red chilli, trimmed and cut into slivers (de-seed if you wish to reduce the heat)

1 spring onion, scallion, green part only, cut into 1in/2.5 cm long pieces

ground white pepper

In a work or frying pan, heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the pork, stir and cook for a minute or two until the meat is opaque. Add the mushrooms and ginger and stir thoroughly. Stirring briskly after each addition, add the soy sauces, sugar, stock or water, fish sauce, onion and chilli. Cook for a few seconds more; transfer to a serving dish, garnish with the spring onion pieces and sprinkle lightly with ground white paper.

Gai Pad Prik Haeng

Chicken fried with Chilli and Nuts

This and the next recipe is chilli hot, but you can reduce the heat by removing the seed from the chillies before cooking. The pleasure of this dish is the contrast between the soft meat and the crunchy nuts.

2 tbs/30ml oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

5-6 dried long chillies, with or without seeds, chopped

4oz/120g chicken breast, finely sliced

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

1 heaped tbs/20g roasted peanuts

6-8 small thin French/snap beans, cuts in 1in/2.5cm pieces

3 tbs/45ml stock/broth

1 tbs/15ml light soy sauce

1 tbs/15ml dark soy sauce

1/4 tsp/1-2ml sugar

In a work or frying pan heat the oil until a light haze appears. Fry the garlic until golden brown. Add the chillies and stir. Add the chicken meat, stir and cook until the meat is slightly opaque. Stirring after each addition, and the remaining ingredient s, one by one. Cook for a minute or two, making sure the meat is cooked through, and serve.

Gai Pad Pung Kari

Chicken with Curry Power

We like to include at least one curry in a full meal and in the next chapter I'll show how to make up the different pastes that are the basis of the four main curries. However, before we start the business of pounding spices, we have easier dishes like this which use ready-made curry powder-a medium Indian curry powder will do.

2 tbs/30ml oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbs/15ml curry powder

4 oz/120g chicken breast, coarsely chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 medium potato, diced small about tbs/120ml stock/broth or water

2 tbs/30ml fish sauce pinch of sugar

4 tbs/60ml coconut milk

In a work or frying pan, heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the curry powder, stir to mix thoroughly and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken, stir and mix until the meat is coated with the curry mixture. Add the onion, potato and 4tbs/60ml stock, and cook, stirring constantly until the potato is al dente. If the mixture becomes, dry, add a little more stock. Add the fish sauce, sugar, and coconut milk, stirring after each is slightly thickened.

Gaeng Jued Tao Hou

Bean Curd Soup

Everything about a Thai meal aims at a balance of flavours, and to offset the chilli level in the last two dishes you should give each dinner a small bowl of lightly-flavoured clear soup which can be sipped to relax the palate.

1 tbs/500ml chicken stock/broth

2 tbs/30ml fish sauce

1 tbs/5ml preserved radish (tang chi, p.39) 1/2 tsp/2ml ground white pepper

4-oz/120g bean curd cut into 16*1/2in/1in/1cm cubes

2 spring onions/scallions, green part only, cut in 1in/2.5cm slivers

Serves up to 4

In a medium saucepan, heat together the chicken stock, fish sauce soy sauce, preserved radish and white pepper. When simmering, and the cubes of bean curd, cook for a half a minute and then add the pieces of spring onion. Simmer for a few a seconds, ladle into small bowls and serve.

Gaeng Judes Wunn Sen

Vermicelli Soup

2 tbs. oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 pt/500ml chicken stock/broth

1 tsp/5ml preserved radish

4 oz/120g minced/ground pork, roughly shaped into 10-12 small balls

2 oz/60g, dry weight, clear vermicelli soaked for 10 minutes in cold water to soften, and drained

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

1 tbs/15ml light soy sauce

1/4 tsp/1-2ml sugar

4-5 pieces of dried mushroom, soaked for 10 minutes in cold water to soften, drained and coarsely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 tsp/2ml ground white pepper

1 spring onion/scallion, green part only, slivered lengthways

In a small frying pan, heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and fry until golden brown. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, quickly heat the stock with the preserved radish. When the liquid is simmering, add the balls of minced park and cook for a few seconds. Add the drained noodles and stir thoroughly. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar mushrooms, onion and white pepper, stirring thoroughly after each addition. By this time the meat should be quite cooked through. Remove from heat and pour into bowl. Pour a little of the fried garlic and oil into each bowl and garnish with the spring onion.

Grat Dook Moo Tod

Deep Fried spare-ribs

As well as the substantial 'main' dishes and the balancing soups, an ideal meal should also offer at least one tasty side dish. This one, and the next three recipes, all have very distinctive flavours. Spare-ribs are, of course, now part of 'international ' cuisine, but these are happily quite different from the usual barbecue-sauce offerings found elsewhere.

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 large coriander roots, chopped

2 tbs/30ml flour

1 egg

2 tbs/30ml fish sauce

2 tbs/3ml light soy sauce

1 lb/450g pork spare-ribs, chopped into 1.5-2in/4-5cm pieces (ask your butcher to do this for you)

oil for deep-frying

Using a pestle and mortar or a blender, pound or blend the garlic and coriander roots together, In a large bowl, mix the flour with garlic and coriander mixture. Mix thoroughly. Add the pork rib pieces and turn them until each piece is covered with the mixture. Leave for at least half an hour.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer until a light haze appears. Fry the pieces of rib for about 6-8 minutes until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and serve.

Nua Cheh Nam Pla

Fried Marinated Beef

2 tbs/30ml fish sauce

1 tsp/5ml salt

1 tsp/5ml sugar

1 tbs/15ml oil, plus 6 tbs/90 ml oil for frying

1 lb/450g skrit or flank beef, sliced diagonally

across the grain into about 8-10 pieces

In a medium bowl mix the fish sauce, salt, sugar and 1 tbs/15ml oil. Add the pieces of beef and turn them thoroughly in the mixture. Leave to marinate for at least an hour. Remove the meat and drain on a rack. In Thailand, after marinating we would put the meat in the sun to dry: this can be simulated simply by leaving it overnight. If you wish to eat straight away put the pieces of meat under a low grill or in a warm oven for about 10-15 minutes until dry. To finish, heat the oil in a frying pan until a very light haze appears and fry the meat on both sides until it is dark brown - about 5 minutes.

Kai Toom

Steamed Egg

If you don't have a steamer, use a large lidded pan instead. Upturn a bowl in the bottom of the pan, add water to come about halfway up the upturned bowl and place the dish of eggs on top. Cover the pan and steam. Make sure the pan is large enough for you to remove the dish of cooked eggs easily.

3 large eggs

2oz/60 minced/ground pork

1 spring onion/scallion, trimmed and

finely chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped

3 tbs/45ml fish sauce

1 tsp/5ml ground white pepper

1 tsp/15ml water

1 tsp/5ml finely chopped coriander leaf

Break the eggs into a deep bowl which can be easily removed from your steamer or pan. Add the pork, chopped spring onion and shallot, fish sauce, white pepper and water. Lightly beat together. Add the chopped coriander and stir. Place the bowl in the steamer or pan and steam for 12-15 minutes until the egg is set- test it with the tines of a fork; they should come out clean with no liquid on them.

Kai Look Koei

Son-In-Law Eggs

This dish is famous in Thailand as much for its name as its taste. 'Eggs', needless to say, is a euphemism!

6 eggs

oil for deep-frying, plus 2 tbs/30ml

1 small onion, finely sliced

4 tbs/60ml fish sauce

2 tbs/30ml sugar

1/2 tsp/2-3ml crushed dried chilli or chilli

powder

Hard-boil/cook the eggs for 6-8 minutes. Rinse in cold water and shell. Heat the oil in the deep fryer or work until a light haze appears. Using a slotted spoon, lower the eggs into the oil and fry gently, turning carefully, until they are a light golden brown. Remove from the oil, drain, halve lengthways and arrange on a serving dish. Set aside.

In a small frying pan, heat the remaining oil until a light haze appears. Fry the sliced onion until crisp and deep brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain and set aside. There should be a film of oil left in the pan. Turn the heat down low and add the fish sauce, sugar and chilli. Cook slowly, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook for about a minute until the mixture thickens, then add the reserved onions and stir for a few seconds to mix. Remove immediately from the heat, pour over the eggs and serve.

Prik Pak Dong

Picked Cabbage

This pickle is easy to make and goes well with simple dishes. The 'pickling' is achieved by the action of the garlic, sugar and salt on the cabbage, forming a liquid. It will keep in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, but no longer.

1 Chinese cabbage (Chinese leaves),

about 2lbs/1kg

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 large red chillies, finely chopped

1 tbs/15ml sugar

2 tbs/30ml salt

Cut the leafy top (about 1.5-2in/4-5cm) from the cabbage and use it in another dish, or as a salad.

Trim away the base of the cabbage and cut the remainder into 2in/5cm slices. Put into a large bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spoon into a preserving or similar jar, seal the jar and leave for 3 days in a cool place (larder, pantry or refrigerator).

You now have enough recipes to create a full meal. Here are two suggested menus, which you can shuffle around as you and which will adequately feed 3-4 people.

A

Rice

Chicken-fried with chilli and nuts

Bean curd soup

Deep-fried spare-ribs

Son-in-law eggs

Pickled cabbage

B

Rice

Pork fried with ginger

Vermicelli soup

Fried marinated beef

Steamed egg

KHAO PAD KAREE GAI

Fried Rice with Chicken and Curry Power

Separate from full meal dishes are those 'mopping-up' recipes that can provide lunch or a quick snack. Fried rice is the classic 'day-after' method of using up the extra rice from the night before. It is always a separate meal in Thailand; it would be rather eccentric to serve it in place of plain boiled rice as the staple for a dinner.

I suggest three recipes here but you can make up your own various when you've mastered the technique. In all fried rice dishes, use less rather than more oil. The result should be dry, with the rice grains separate.

2 tbs/30ml oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tsp/10ml medium-hot curry powder

3 oz/90g boneless chicken, chopped or finely sliced

1 lb/450g/2.5cups cooked rice

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

1/4 tsp/1-2ml sugar

1 spring onion/scallion, trimmed and slivered in to 1in/2.5cm lengths

1/2 small onion. finely slivered a shaking of ground white pepper

In a work or frying pan, heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and try until golden brown. Add the curry powder, stir and cook for a few seconds; add the chicken and cook for a minute or two until the meat is opaque. Add the rice and stir thoroughly Add after each addition. Cook together for a few cooked and the rice thoroughly reheated. Turn onto serving dish, garnish with the spring onion, and onion, and lightly sprinkle with pepper.

KHAO PAD SUPPAROT

PINEAPPLE-FRIED RICE

Using the whole, fresh pineapple as the serving dish looks marvellous and is really very easy. It is important to choose the pineapple carefully; it should be ripe, sweet and juicy.

1 pineapple

3 shallots, coarsely chopped

1 large red chilli, finely slivered

1 spring onion/scallion green part only, coarsely chopped

1 spring of coriander, coarsely chopped

2 tbs/30ml oil

2 tbs/30ml dried shrimp

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 lb/450g/2cups cooked rice

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

1 tbs/15ml light soy sauce

1 tsp/5ml sugar

coriander leaves, to garnish

Cut the pineapple in half lengthways. If the fruit is large set one half aside to eat as dessert. Hollow the flesh out or both halves, chopping it into 1/2in/1cm cubes. Put the pineapple flesh in a bowl, and add the shallots chilli scallion and coriander; mix and set aside.

In a work or frying pan/skillet, heat 1tbs/15ml oil, add the dried shrimp and fry until crispy. With a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp, drain and set aside. Add the remaining 1tbs/15ml oil heat, add the garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the cooked rice and stir thoroughly. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Stir and mix thoroughly. Make sure the rice is heated through, and then add the pineapple mixture and the crispy shrimp. Mix all thoroughly and heat through. Fill the pineapple shell(s) with the mixture, garnish with a little more coriander and serve.

KHAO PAD PRIK GUNG

Fried Rice with Prawn and Chillies

2 tbs/30ml oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

4 oz/120g peeled prawns

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

1/4 tsp/1-2ml sugar

1 tbs/15ml light soy sauce

1 lb/450g/2.5 cups cooked rice

1/2 small onion, slivered

1/2 red or green sweet pepper, slivered

1/2 tsp/2.5ml ground white pepper

1 spring onion/scallion, green part only, slivered into 1in/1.5cm lengths

coriander leaves, to garnish

In a work or frying pan, heat the oil until a light haze appears. Add the garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the chillies and the prawns and stir quickly. Add the fish sauce, sugar and soy sauce; stir and cook for a few seconds until the prawns are cooked through. Add the cooked rice and stir thoroughly. Add the onion, sweet pepper, white pepper and spring onion and stir quickly to mix. Turn onto a serving dish and garnish with the coriander leaves.

KHAO TOM MOO

Rice Soup

This is a standard Thai breakfast - soup made from the previous evening's rice. It is very filling so it cannot really be served as part of a full meal. The taste is pleasantly savoury, but as it lacks the punch of much Thai food we think of it as rather bland and often use it as invalid food.

2 tbs/30ml oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

16 fl oz/475ml chicken stock/broth

1 tsp/5ml preserved radish

1 tbs/15ml fish sauce

2 oz/60g minced/ground pork

8 oz/240g/1cup cooked rice

coriander leaves, to garnish

In a frying pan/skillet heat the oil; fry the garlic until golden brown and set aside. In a saucepan, heat the stock with the preserved radish. Add the soy sauce, pepper and fish sauce. Bring to simmering point. Holding the minced pork loosely in one hand, pull off small pieces with the other hand and drop into the stock. When all is added, cook for a minute. Add the cooked rice and stir thoroughly; cook for 4-5 minutes until the rice is heated through and soft. The soup should be quite thick. Ladle into individual bowls, add one teaspoon each of the garlic and oil mixture, and garnish with coriander leaves.

Back to Top