Thai food has been influenced over time by
its Chinese, Malaysian and Indian neighbors and has evolved into a very
distinctive style of its own.
The contrasting flavors of hot, sweet, salty and sour and the unusual combinations of fruit, chicken, meat and fish or seafood make this a truly fascinating cuisine.
A normal meal for a family of reasonable income will consist of rice, which is the country's staple food, together with a soup or similar, a stir-fried dish and a salad, all served at the same time. In the north of Thailand, pork and strong curries are popular, with the meat cooked in large pieces, whereas gentler coconut milk flavors the southern curries and the meat is chopped quite small.
In curries, traditional Indian ingredients such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are used in very small quantities but many of the flavorings and spices differ considerably from those found in Indian and Chinese cuisine. The most commonly used of these are:
Galangal - A root or rhizome which looks similar to ginger, but with a flavor all of its own. It can be bought fresh, powdered or dried in slices but fresh is best.
Lemon grass - As its name suggests, this has a lemony flavor but it looks somewhat like a fresh bamboo shoot. The outer leaves are very tough and should be peeled away, but even the inner core is fairly hard and needs to be sliced very finely for cooking or even grinding.
Kaffir lime leaves - These are the leaves of a Far Eastern lime, similar to a Western one but with a knobbly skin. The rind is also used in Thai cookery.
Fish sauce - This is called Nam Pla in Thailand and is made from salted fish or prawns. It is a pale brown liquid used much as soy sauce is in Chinese cooking.
Shrimp paste - Made from fermented shrimp, this can be bought in small pots. Use sparingly as it has a very strong flavour.
Chili paste - A combination of chilies and fried shallots mixed with sugar and tamarind, it can be bought in jars and may be hot, medium or mild in flavor. Other, more well known, flavorings commonly used in Thai cooking are fresh mint, basil and coriander, unsalted peanuts, fresh chilies, both green and red as well as chili powder, lime and lemon juice and garlic.
Noodles of differing types are often added to flavored broths with vegetables such as bean sprouts or green beans and chicken or prawns, making a flavorsome soup for lunch.
Dipping sauces are a popular condiment to accompany a Thai meal, particularly a deep-fried dish, and usually contain any combination of tamarind, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, finely chopped chili, garlic and spring onion.
Thai cooking will usually end with an array of prepared fresh fruit such as mango, pineapple and papaya. Desserts are only served on very special occasions or at banquets.
About the Author:
As well as a love of Asian cooking as you can see in her Asian Food and Cookery website, Liz seeks to help newcomers to the world of internet marketing with tools, tips and training from her Liz-e-Biz website