Guest Editor: Liyin Soh
I have to admit that there is an inherent bias in thinking that Thai food is one of the world’s best cuisines. I was brought up on it. Thai food was my sustenance during my most important years of growth and it continues to nourish me on a daily basis.
Thai food is extremely diverse and represents the ethnicities and culture of a large population that is equally diverse. North, Central and South are the main area categories which can be identified easily. Each area has very distinct flavours and have their own popular dishes. Tom Yum Goong and Pad Thai for example are more ‘Central dishes’ that are commonly found in Central Thailand.
Northern-style or Isaan food tends to be very spicy. The North is the land of the wonderful Isaan sausage and the all-time favourite of mine – Kao Soi – or curry noodles. People in the North also eat sticky rice with barbecued meat and minced meat (pork) with Thai herbs and spices. They also eat larb, which is a minced pork dish with roasted pounded rice and other Thai herbs herbs and spices. It’s very spicy. The Northern Thais also love their deep-fried pork rinds. They eat it with a mashed green chilli paste called ‘num prik noom’.
Southern style food is strongly influenced by Malay culture. One can count ‘massaman curry’ and ‘roti with gang kiew waan or green curry’ as typical Southern Thai food. The food uses many Thai spices but also, coconut milk aplenty, and spices like turmeric, which one tends not to see in Central or Northern food dishes.
One of my favourite things to do when at a restaurant is to scour the menu in search of an interesting flavour combination or dish. The best restaurants in Thailand, for me, tend to be those which are slightly obscure. As a true local would tell you, it’s the ‘road-side stalls’ which sell the best food. My firm belief is also that it’s not at a 5-star hotel’s restaurant where you can find the best Thai food. The best Thai food lives on the streets and in the hearts of the local people. (Footnote: Although the term ‘road-side stall’ does not really apply to my favourite restaurants – they being restaurants – and the term implies only a certain level of hygiene, or lack thereof, I use the term generally to mean an eatery that is casual and unpretentious. These are certainly not simply road-side stalls. Also, I find the term quite derogatory. Undoubtedly, the proprietors of these eateries would hardly be pleased to know that that is how I have termed their eateries. But I know of no other English equivalent to describe these eateries. Okay, we’ll just call them eateries then.)
Living in an area which is quite known for food is one of my current blessings. Muang Thong Thani is in Nonthaburi province, a part of the Greater Bangkok Metropolitan Area. However, it is not exactly convenient for the short-staying tourist. But I would argue that the food there is just what’s needed to get a real taste of Thailand.
One of my favourite local restaurants is a place called ‘Gae Giew’ which serves wonderful local cuisine with influences from the South at very decent prices. Some of its popular dishes include a mouthwateringly delicious fried fish dish called ‘pla tord kamin‘. Topped with crispy fried garlic, the fish underneath the huge pile of garlic is seasoned with turmeric, giving the dish a very yellow hue. But do not be deceived, for what lies underneath is far, far more appetizing than what may first appear. It’s a typical Southern-style dish that you can find in Bangkok. The crispiness of the generous toppings of garlic, along with the deep-fried fish skin with turmeric and a dash of salt really make this one a winner.
Another highly recommended dish is a healthy and wonderful flavour combination dish. Roasted eggplant salad is my favourite Thai fish of all time. Topped with onions, herbs such as coriander and seasoned in a fish sauce, sugar and lime dressing, the roasted eggplants, which have had their skins peeled off after the charcoal roast, are a necessary treat for any wandering foodie in love with this country’s food. The richness of the burnt charcoal taste blends perfectly with the tart sauce, spicy chili, and the pungent onions and garlic. They also serve it with peeled, cooked prawns. It’s truly delightful.
The adventurous foodie can hardly go wrong by venturing into a different part of town to try something new. With its reasonable prices and authentic Thai dishes (not to mention the crowd that goes there), Kae Kaew is a restaurant I would highly recommend. And for those who are travelling in Thailand but who may not have the time to venture this far out, there are many good restaurants in town which do serve the same or similar mouthwatering dishes. Till the next post then!
Guest Editor: Liyin Soh