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Thailand Food

Thai food has become in recent years one of the world's favorite cuisines. When we speak of "Thai food ", we are in fact talking of four very distinct regions in the country, each with their own culinary traditions. We are speaking too of the dishes created in the royal courts and palaces of Old Siam, that have been passed down through many generations of chefs, and finally into public domain.

Good food also comes up from the street level, and many of Thailand's most popular dishes can be found at the smallest food stalls and restaurants. And there is the influence of China, India, Malaysia and other neighbouring countries. So all these different factors come together under the label "Thai food", and you will find them in varying degrees at any Thai restaurant you care to visit, anywhere in the world.

One of the most distinctive aspects of the cuisine is its use of herbs and spices. With regard to the spices, some Thai dishes are very hot, but by no means all of them. The herbs have another function, in addition to providing flavour, in that they all have to varying degrees various medical and therapeutic benefits.

Thailand has a long history, going back to ancient times, of the use of herbs for medical purpose, and this in turn has permeated the ways of cooking and preparing food. Coupled with its low-fat qualities and its essential freshness, this helps make thai food one of the healthiest anywhere. Another important aspect about Thai food is the hospitality and friendiness, the sheer enjoyment of good companionship and of eating that is such a powerful element of the Thai personality. Sharing a meal is an important part of the day for any Thai person, and meal are very seldom taken alone. That is why all the dishes are generally served at once during Thai meal, and why there is a communal spoon placed alongside each dish for people to help themselves and to serve others.

A Thai meal ideally is a communal affair, principally because the greater the number of dinners the greater the number of dishes that can be sampled. Diners choose what ever they require from share dishes and generally add it to their own plate of rice. All the dish are serve simultaneously, or nearly so. The object is to archive a harmonious blend of the spicy, the subtle, the sweet and sour, and a meal is meant to be equally satisfying to the eye, nose and palate.

Thailand is blessed with many varieties of plants, herbs and spices which ensure s balanced diet. Today, visitors can both relish classic Thai menus and the benefits of a natural diet, and study the art of Thai cooking at several specialist schools in Bangkok and major beach resorts.

 

Varieties of Thai Food

Snacks

These savoury titbits can be eaten alone or as side dishes. Traditional favourites  include stuffed dumpling, satay, crisp-fried noodles topped with sweet-and-spicy sauce, and  spring rolls.
 
Chilli dips

Usually served with vegetables, meat or fish, chilli dips are very versatile. A dip can be a main dish or side dish, added to a  pan  of fried rice to flavour it, or drizzled on chips to liven them up. A cook will make up a bowl of dip from whatever is available, including chilies, garlic, onion, shimp paste, sour tamarind etc. 

Salads

Thai salads, called yam, are sour, sweet and salty. A simple dressing works equally well for meat, seafood, vegetable and fruit salads. This is made from fish sauce, lime juice and a dash of sugar. The heat comes from the fiery little chillies, but just how hot a salad should  be depends on the texture and flavour of the meat, vegetable or fruit used. Fresh  herbs such as marsh mint, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro are usually used as garnish. 

Soups

Thai soups are either hot and spicy or clear and bland. The soup is served not as a first course but together with the other dishes, and can be spooned onto the plate of rice the same as  the other dishes. 

Desserts

Thai desserts are sweet, but not intensely so. Sticky rice with ripen mango, banana or flour dumpling in sweetened coconut cream and seasonal fruits in sugar syrups with crushed ice are  favourites. Fresh fruit is always on hand to end a Thai meal. 

Curries

The heart of all Thai curries is the curry paste, which is made from fresh herbs and spices. The paste is cooked in coconut cream before the meat or vegetables are added. Main ingredients in most curry pastes are chilli, garlic, shallot, galangal, coriander root and krachai, the latter a small indigenous root.

 

Thai Herbs & Spices

Thai food is currently enjoying an international vogue. There are numerous Thai restaurants all over the world in big like such as Los Angeles, Tokyo , New York, Paris and many others. The following are some essential herbs and spices used in Thai cooking. The proper combination of all these ingredients is regarded as a big art in Thailand, one that requires both skill and time. The preparation of a single sauce can take hours of grinding, tasting and delicate adjustment until the exact balance of flavours is archived. Only then, can the true glory of Thai cooking be fully appreciated.

thai herbs spices

Basil (horapha, kaphrao, maenglak)

Horapha, kaphrao, maenglak are varities of sweet basil. Horapha is used here as a vegetable and for flavouring. Fresh leaves can be chewed as a breath freshener. Kaphrao leaves are narrower and often tinged with reddish purple. It releases its aroma and flavour only when cooked and is used with fish, beef and chicken. Maenglak leaves are slightly hairy and paler green than horapha. It is sometimes called lemon-scented basil but definitely has a peppery taste when chewed; it is used as a vegetable and for flavouring.

Cinnamon (ob choei)

From the bark of a tree, the type of cinnamon used in Thailand is of only one kind, that from the Cassia tree. It is used in meat dishes and particulary in massaman curry as garnish.

Chili, bird (phrik khi nu)

The smallest of the chilies, of which the kind called phrik khi nu suan is the hottest. Take care when chopping them, and do not rub your eyes. Chilies stimulate blood circulation and are reputed to help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Chili (phrik chi fa)

Phrik chi fa are finger size, growing 9-12 centimatres in length, and either yellow , red or green. Not as hot as the bird chili. There is no discernable difference between the colours.

Citron (som sa)

Citron (Citrus medica var limetta) is a round dark green fruit. Its thick , very aromatic skin is much used for flavouring. Sour orange juice and orange peel would make the best substitute.

Clover (kanphlu)

Clover (Eugenia aromatica) are the dried flowerbuds of an evergreen tree native to the Molucca islands. They are almost as expensive as saffron because crops often fail, because they are much used in Western cooking and because the oil is antiseptic. Cloves are used in massaman curry and to chew as a relief for toothache.

Coriander (phak chee)

The leaves are often choosen for decoration, with stem and roots for seasoning. Heavily used in Asian kitchens, the Thai kitchen is the only one to use the roots as well.

Cumin (yira)

Seeds look like caraway and fennel, but taste quite different and have to be heated to release their aroma. Only cumin is used in Thai cooking, mainly in the making of curry pastes.

Galangal (kha)

Resembling an upturned claw, this member of the ginger family is a pale pink rhizome with a subtle citrus flavour. I t is usually added in large pieces to impart flavour to fish or chicken stock, or used in making curry pastes. Fresh young ginger can be substituted, but you will not end up with the same flavour.

Garlic (krathiam)

Thailand is literally overflowing with garlic plants. Whole cloves, smashed garlic and garlic oil are used in almost every Thai dish.

Ginger (Khing)

Easily grated, khing is eaten raw or cooked and is used widely in many Asian Cuisines. Young ginger pounded with a little salt, pepper and garlic is good too as a marinate for chicken or beef. Ginger is acknowledged to improve digestion and to counter-act nausea and vomiting.

Krachai

No English common name for krachai (Kaempferia pandurata). The tubers of this ginger look like a bunch of yellow brown fingers. Krachai is always added to fish curries , and peeled and served as a raw vegetable with the popular summer rice dish, khao chae.

Kaffir lime leaf (bai makrut)

From the kaffir lime, which has virtually no juice, these fleshy green and glossy leaves resemble a figure eight. Imparting a unique flavour, they can be finely shredded and added to salads, or torn and added to soups and curries.

Lime (manao)

The whole fruit is used. It is an eccellent source of vitamin C and are used to enhance the flavour of chili-hot condiments, as well as create some very special salads and desserts ,and adorn most dishes as a condiment.

Lemongrass (takhrai)

Young tender lemongrass stalks can be finely chopped and eaten, but older stalks should be cut into 3-5 centimetres lengths and bruised before being added only as a flavouring agent. It is indispensable for tom yam. Lemongrass oil will sooth an upset stomach and indigestion.

Mace (dok chan)

The orange outer covering of nutmeg, the fruit of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. Mace (Myristica fragrans) is used in the making of massaman curry.

Mint (bai saranae)

This mint (Mentha arvensis) is similar to the mint used for mint sauce in England and is used in Thai food as a vegetable and a flavouring.

Nutmeg (luk chan)

The nut is enclosed in a very hard brown shell. It is used in the making of massaman curry paste.

Pandanus leaf (bai toei)

Long narrow green leaves of a hernaceous plant used for flavouring and colour.

Pepper (prik thai)

Black , white and green peppercorn types. Black is milder and more aromatic than white. Green peppercorns have a special taste all their own and are available all year round but are best towards the end of the rainy season. Used as flavouring.

Sesame (nga)

Identical to sesame seeds the world over. In Thai cooking sesame seeds are used for oil and for flavouring. This tiny seeds are rich in protein.

Shallot (hom daeng)

These smell, zesty , Thaired onions are sweet and aromatic. An essential ingredient in many Thai dishes because of their taste and appearance, they can be substituted with European shallots, small red onions or small brown onions.

Spring onions (ton hom)

These green onions (Allium fistulosom) are used for garnishing soups and salads and as vegetables.

Turmeric (khamin)

These small, bright orange roots are used for the colouring in yellow curries. White turmeric, a different type, is used as a raw vegetable and resembles ginger. It tastes only slightly peppery and has a pleasant tang.

 

The Healing Power of Thai Food

thai herbs


Growing interest internationally in the therapeutic value of herbs and spices has also helped popularise Thai cuisine. A large number are indigenous to the country, and many more have long been cultivated here. They have a long tradition of use in medicine, and consequently cooks understand their therapeutic qualities in addition to their flavours.

Coriander, in all its forms, is probably the most widely used herb. The fresh leaf is used in countless dishes for its distinctive perfume, the roots are pounded together with garlic and black pepper to form a seasoning, while the seeds are both a seasoning and an ingredients.

Basil is another essential, with  three kinds being  commonly used : the large-leafed  sweet basil appears in soups and seafood, The smaller lemon basil in soups and as a salad ingredient, while holy basil is  added  to stir-fries.

Spearmint leaves are used in salads and often eaten raw, as is mint. Lemongrass is so closely associated with Thai food that it has become a popular restaurant name, and adds its citrus tang to tum yum,  the spicy soup that has become the country’s national dish. Lime is  squeezed into or over many dishes, while the skin and fragrant leaves of the kaffir lime are used as an ingredient and a garnish.

Ginger is fresh or powdered, while its close relative, galangal, adds its rooty texture to soups and curries. Another member of the ginger family, turmeric, adds its bright yellow-orange colour to southern Thai cooking. Cumin, cinnamon and cardamom have migrated from India, and find their way into curries. Large amounts of garlic are used, along with shallots. Spring onions are eaten raw, or as an ingredient.

Pandan leaf is used as an attractive wrapping for seasoned morsels of chicken or pork rib. Peppercorns are believed to have been the main sourceof heat before chillies arrived in Thailand, and are added whole while still on the stalk, or dried and ground as a seasoning.

Jasmine essence, lily buds, morning glory, cloves, saffron, sesame, and many other herbs and spices that add flavour, aroma and texture, all find their way into Thai cuisine in some form, adding to the healthy and nutritious quality of a meal.



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