When someone talks about Asia, one of the things that inevitably creep into the conversation is food. Thai food is one of the best among Asian cuisines. It’s exotic, it’s flavourful and aromatic, and teases your palate like no other, with its subtle blends of underlying flavours topped with the stronger salty, hot, sour or sweet taste. Eating Thai food in Thailand is one of the things visitors want or should try to experience, whether you are dining in a restaurant or just sampling what the ubiquitous food hawkers along the streets of Bangkok are selling.
You do not have to go far to eat Thai food. You can have everything in Bangkok, which is not called the “food capital” for nothing. When you’re in Bangkok, your dilemma might be on what to eat first, rather than where to eat. As you have to start somewhere, here are some suggestions. Just be sure that your taste buds are ready, for most Thai food could be extremely fiery.
Tom Yam Goong
Beware: this could be spicy and hot. But you should not miss this. This is Thailand’s national soup and has the flavours that define the country’s cuisine. First thing that will hit you is the exotic smell, then the sourness of the soup before you are bombarded by the other flavours, that come from the chilies, lemongrass, lime leaves, shallots, galangal, jumbo shrimps or goong, mushrooms and the fish sauce. It’s a good meal starter or have it with rice and you’ve got one very good meal that fully satisfies.
This is a dish where you have a choice on the other ingredients you want to put in. Pad Thai is rice noodles stir-fried with egg, mixed with a variety of basic ingredients including crisp bean sprouts, onion, tofu, tamarind pulp and a hearty sprinkling of finely ground peanuts. Some have shrimps, chicken or crab meat, together with onion chives, coriander leaves, pickled turnip and radish. It’s your choice if you want to add in chili powder, sugar, fish sauce, and crushed peanuts as well. It is served with a wedge of lime.
Forget about green salad when you’re in Thailand. Instead get a taste of spicy green papaya salad. It’s a regional dish, coming from northeast Thailand originally but is now almost a staple around the country. The preparation varies on the degree of sourness or sweetness and the level of heat. It’s a very good companion for chicken barbecue and sticky rice, or just about anything.
Geng Kheaw Wan Gai
What curry colour do you know? Thai curry comes in green, yellow or red. And each one has its own distinct taste and level of heat. Geng Kheaw Wan Gai means Green Curry Chicken. This is the spiciest among the curries. The base is the curry paste made of young and fresh green chilies. It’s chicken curry cooked in coconut milk, with eggplants and bamboo shoots, underlined with the flavours coming from kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lime juice, sweet basil, coriander and grated palm sugar.
You may think that this is just your ordinary and very basic fried rice. But wait until you’ve have a spoonful of it. It bursts with a cacophony of flavours you can’t believe that it is just fried rice. Kao Phad is cooked with, of course, jasmine rice. Here’s the kicker: egg, onions, garlic, tomatoes, chili sauce, shrimp, chicken and seasonal vegetables are added to the rice and stir-fried. Sprinkle it with some lime juice and eat it with sliced fresh cucumbers and you’re in for a wonderful treat that satisfies by itself!
Other Thai food you should not miss includes Gai Med Ma Moung or Chicken with Cashew Nuts. The cashew nuts are locally grown and roasted to perfection. Tom Ka Gai is a refreshing soup made with chicken and coconut milk flavoured with lemon grass, chili, shallots and galangal, topped with fresh kaffir lime leaves. The list is almost endless, but you should also try Massaman Curry, the noodle soup called Kuay Thiew, red curry or Gaeng Daeng and the spicy beef salad called Yam Nua.
After that burst of exotic tastes, what could be a welcome drink, either to quench your thirst or balance out the spiciness from all the dishes you’ve tasted so far?
This is what the locals usually call Thai Iced Tea. It’s Thailand’s most traditional drink. This is a thick sweet drink, made with strong tea, sugar, and half-and-half mix of evaporated and condensed milk and coconut milk. Additional flavors come from cinnamon, orange blossom water, tamarind or star anise. The taste is strong but you could easily get hooked on this drink. Don’t forget to stir it with the straw before drinking this dessert-like drink.
Just like Cha Yen which is made from strong tea, Thai Coffee is also strong, as well as sweet and rich. The drink is mixed not only with cream but with sweetened condensed milk! Coriander and cardamom are sometimes added.
This type of tea, made by steeping dried chrysanthemum flowers not only is refreshing hot or cold, but is also healthy tea. It’s said to be good for cleansing the liver and also effective for people with varicose veins and those suffering from fever or has sore throat. In Thailand the bright yellow-colored tea is poured over ice and sweetened before serving.
The juice of the coconut has long been found to be very a health drink. And the juice is now processed, bottled or canned. In Thailand, the presentation is different. Here you drink the juice from young green coconuts that have been stripped of most of their husk and roasted over coals. The locals call this Ma Praw Paow. The sweetness of the coconut juice is heightened due to the roasting and you can eat the young flesh as well later. It’s best to drink the juice while it is warm.
Like most of the traditional drinks in Thailand, this one is also sweetened. Sweetened soy milk is available from almost every store in the country.
In Thailand, you can enjoy several types of drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. There are several fruit juices, just like you can have pandan juice or lemongrass juice, as well as a refreshing cold drink with basil seeds. Thailand is where Red Bull was born so you can find it anywhere, as well as Thai whisky and Thai beer.
Once you’ve tasted Thai food, it’s difficult to not crave for more. Thai cuisine is so flavourful and exquisite; it’s something that can fully satisfy your epicurean pleasures.