If you’ve ever been to Thailand’s capital then you know the hustle and bustle, sights, tastes and sounds that are as much a part of the city’s identity as the Grand Palace or the Wat Phra Kaew temple. As soon as you enter the city you’re struck by the pervasive and sweetly fishy scent wafting from the city’s legendary street food vendors and restaurants. Whatever your tastes and whatever your tolerance for spice, Thai food offers something for everyone from sumptuous and creamy curries to tasty morsels designed for snacking on the go. Thai food is not only an exciting and vibrant food to sample, it’s also a whole lot of fun to prepare and cook.
Like many Asian cuisines, Thai food is generally fairly quick and easy to prepare while offering an enormous wealth and diversity of texture and flavour. Here we’ll take a virtual tour through Bangkok’s fragrant and steaming streets in order to sample some of her many gifts to intrepid foodies so that even if you can’t join us in Bangkok to sample them first hand, you can at least authentically recreate them from the comfort of your own kitchen…
This popular rice noodle dish is a great entry point not only because it is a tasty yet subtle taste experience for those unfamiliar with Thai food, it’s relatively easy to prepare. Because of its ubiquitous status on menus in Bangkok and all over Thailand, it’s the perfect place to start. What’s more, Pad Thai is a great yardstick that professionals use to judge the quality of a restaurant or vendor.
This popular noodle dish has its roots in China, making its way to Thai (or, at the time Siamese) plates in the late 1930s. Indeed, Pad Thai was one of the earliest dishes in the fledgling state’s repertoire and an important statement piece in separating Thailand’s cultural roots from those if its Chinese ancestors.
For all its fascinating history, the beauty of Pad Thai is in its simplicity. It can be a vegetarian, meat or fish dish. The primary ingredients are rice noodles which are tossed in a searing hot wok with bean sprouts, onions and scrambled egg along with the fish sauce, sugar, chilli powder and finely ground peanuts that give it its distinctively Thai flavour.
When you’re in the (to Westerners) oppressively damp heat of the bangkok streets, this refreshing and delicious salad of shredded papaya, bean sprouts and green beans is a real tonic and a beloved light meal among locals and tourists alike. Beware though, while crisp and refreshing it has a sting in its tail, courtesy of the green chillies.
Hailing from the Northeast state of Isaan, this vibrant mixture of hot and sour flavours was adapted for Thai palates from an ethnic Lao dish. The distinctive taste comes from a mixture of garlic, chilies, green beans, cherry tomatoes and shredded papaya which are ground to a pulp in a pestle and mortar, releasing a veritable party of sweetness, sourness and spice. Regional variations also throw in chopped peanuts, dry shrimp or even salted crab.
Gaeng Daeng (or Thai red curry to you and me) is a signature Thai dish that’s generally considered more appropriate to novices than its sharper, spicier and more esoteric green cousin. Unlike their Indian counterparts, Thai curries tend to have thin sauces and sparing tender slivers of meat amidst red curry paste mixed with coconut milk and topped off with thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves. It all makes for a rich and aromatic flavour that’s warming and sweetly spicy.
While its origins are hard to trace, there are few flavours that speak so eloquently of the Thai palate, with the signature use of coconut milk combined with a moist red paste made from ground red spur chillies, cumin, garlic, shrimp paste, shallots, salt, kaffir lime leaves, coriander root and seers, lemongrass and peppercorns all ground together in a pestle and mortar.
As with many Thai dishes, its preparation is simplicity itself, yet the bold flavours of its ingredients offer a veritable holiday for your taste buds. Meat and shrimp paste can be eschewed for tofu to make this dish vegetarian / vegan.
The Thai green curry is a more complex and esoteric taste than the red curry but for those whose palates are attuned to Thai taste it offers that tiny bit more authenticity in its sharp and spicy yet subtly sweet flavour.
Traditionally, this curry is eaten with small, tender slices of chicken or fish balls along with generous chunks of aubergine and topped with sprigs of Coriander and a handful or two of sweet basil. Just as its red hued kinsman gets its colour and aroma from the red chillies in its curry paste, the green curry uses green chillies for a sharper and hotter flavour. These are combined with shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, coriander, cumin seeds, salt and white peppercorns. This paste is then fried in split coconut cream until all of the oil is expressed to release the distinctive aromas within the paste. The simple sauce is finished with a touch of fish sauce and a sprinkling of palm sugar.
Whoever said salads have to be boring? This spicy and aromatic beef salad offers a zesty kick that makes it uniquely refreshing and delicious. Moreover, its flavour embodies the essential taste components of Thai cooking; spice, sweetness, sourness and saltiness.
While its origins are hard to trace, dedicated carnivores will be hard pressed to find a more rewarding dish that so amply demonstrates the quintessence of Thai cuisine. According to Thai tradition, the beef (tenderloin is the cut most commonly used) must always be chargrilled yet tender to counteract the light and crispy crunch of the accompanying vegetables. The meat is accompanied by fresh sprigs of coriander, finely sliced shallots, slivers of spring onion, lime leaves, spearmint, black pepper and (of course) fish sauce and dried chillies.
Hopefully your mouth is watering at the prospect of these tasty Thai treats. We can’t wait for you to join us in Bangkok for a trip your tastebuds will never forget!