Editor: Bank Inngern
Thai food is a chapter in global cuisine that is respected for its deliverance of spot-on remarkable flavour, alongside a catalogue of other international cuisines. What one often confers to when fantasising about eating Thai food in particular are Pad Thai, Green curry and Tom Yum Soup. And that is usually their continuing statement to “I Love Thai Food!” Of course this is great and Thailand is lucky to have that encoding in everyone’s divine perception of Thai cuisine; but what about close neighbouring countries that share similar concepts? Namely Malaysia & Indonesia in particular. This week’s issue aims to highlight the fine line drawn between Thai food and South East Asian cuisines as well as the King of global cuisine, Chinese; also the differences in each of these countries respect for their food and how this has influenced our presumptions in enjoying “oriental cuisine.”
We start off by taking a look at the stark differences held between Thai and Chinese culinary. In the latter, they herald great focus on spurting dishes with a particular sauce, e.g. sweet and sour or soya sauce. Specifically speaking, each and every individual dish promises a narrow flavour that is congruently identified as soon as the plate arrives. That is to say, a dish consisting of black bean sauce will surely provide a clear statement to those tastes. Thai cuisine on the other hand engenders a more concocting at a deeper level. They allow each ingredient to have a voice, for example when eating a Tom Yum Soup you can extract a range of flavours; sweet, spicy and sour, and this is reflective in the importance of using many ingredients, whether that’s trivial or not is another question. Spice-wise, the Chinese chose to enlighten their dish through fresh chillies, spurs in particular, and they don’t seem to make a fuss in accumulating tonnes of spices to culminate heat as the Thais do. Nonetheless, it isn’t fair to categorise Chinese food as ‘greasy, oily and cheap.’ This generalised affair roots from our often confrontation of oriental buffets, Chinese takeaways and the unhealthy image associated with their presentation of food. But in actual fact, this establishment stems from the ease in cooking Chinese food-just a few preparation of ingredients and you have the ability to serve up a storm very quickly, and this uniqueness is something you can only find in Chinese cookery. Indeed our underestimations of Chinese cuisine need be put away, for when they are cooked on point and ingredients are precisely coordinated, China offers one of the tastiest dishes on earth, as well as displaying an aesthetically approved presentation-a glimpse offered into the so often forgotten beauty of Chinese art.
Malaysian cuisine…where to start? In order to decipher Malay food, we should think of their entire culinary as a layered cake, with each level being a contributor to the entire piece. This is because there appears a trio cult of Malay, Chinese and Indian, in which a blend of these pays courtesy in incorporating flavours from their land into Malaysia. Added to this confusion, Malay restaurants often serve, alongside their national dishes, Thai and Chinese, which makes it altogether unclear as to how one can distinguish Malaysian food from its neighbouring cuisines. However, Malaysian cuisine’s uniqueness shouldn’t go unnoticed. They emanate spices through a span of chillies, not just large red spurs, but a varietal of colours. This is to be the provoked primary flavour once eaten, and other flavours tend to arrive secondary to that: a Laksa (traditional noodles in hot and sour soup) is a clear example of this. Origins have thus given way to cooking of authentic Malay dishes: Beef Rendang and Nasi Lemak. Malaysia’s influences of Chinese and India have played key roles in their galore of plates (Char Kwey Teow and Roti Prata to name some) that not only holds huge appraisal for their cuisine, but some has unsurprisingly passed on to Thai aswell, namely Gang Panang and Gang Massaman. There is also heavy use of coconut milk used in a large proportion of cooking that can be easily observed from a tint colouration in their dishes. Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines both have a tenant to mélange spices from its muslim cult and incorporate this into their dishes, for example the yellow rice and chicken-a popular choice there. Although Indonesian is spicy like those of Malaysian, the former tends to position its rightful flavours against the backdrop of spices; a Nasi Goreng (traditional fried rice) for example is a bit sweet and accommodated with gentle touches of spice. Due to Indonesia having a lower proportion of Chinese and Indians in their country than Malaysia, their cuisines have been less interrupted by other cultures. Not forgetting, Indonesian food also composes of fewer ingredients than Thai and activate flavours more bold and tantalising. Indeed there are recipes that are allocated between these Southeastern counterparts, which is the well-known Satay Peanut Sauce, and there doesn’t appear to be disagreements as to whom invented this gem of a dish, but rather a mutual embracement of sharing clasped by all three countries.
In all, these cuisines have definitely endured great discussions from foodies as to how they are different from one another, and it seems that from their image they all seem to represent each other similarly, but zooming into each of their kitchen, it is clear to see that utilisation of ingredients and cultural heritage have played a major role in processing a divine technique that strikes a chord in our understanding of Southeastern food. But above all, they heartily offer applaudable tastes and every bite seems as worthy as the next.