Editor: Bank Inngern
Thai food-a dialogue of long respected traditions, a mishap of fusion in its DNA and most notably, a diffusion of desirability one cannot seem to forget about. Thailand, though, is a destination where travellers seem to remember more about its banquet than the atypical, obligatory photo snaps taken. Perhaps it’s also important to remember that Thai cuisine offers an array of tastes that are deemed favourable to each and every individual: sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter are clear examples here. Whether its the balance of the augmented flavours or a corner of a particular one, Thais approachability into their cuisine seems to have created an elusive, somewhat imaginative, pathway for eaters around the world. It isn’t a struggle therefore in placing Thai food as one of the top culinary choice in the world. This week’s issue explores how Thai cuisine has an attractive outlook on our dinner table by exploring all major cornerstones: how the ingredients are utilised, how Thais eat and, of course, how it tastes.
A sensible method in Thai cuisine has always been its effective use of local produce in culminating freshful flavours. This was perhaps because local markets offered what was available at a price that residents had respected, and imported choice didn’t seem to belong to this category. The local market offers fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruits where an energy of fragrance surrounds the entire marketplace. The importance of using fresh flavours triggers from a desire to develop a spot-on flavour by incorporating a combination of fresh ingredients, whereby tinned or so-to-say preserved forms of ingredients impart a weaker, if not undesired, flavour onto a dish. It was, and still is, crucial in purging together fresh plants and herbs to explore flavours that are not only exotic, but genuine and tantalising for our palates in the most naturalistic form.
A profound concept within Thai eating is a constant urge in wanting to feed others. This behaviour may stem from a cultural norm where hospitality is a golden priority in socialising with others. Indeed the first question begged when seeing someone is “have you ate?” as opposed to “how are you?’ Whatever the occasion, eating often emanates from a surrounding of a table where in the middle we find a diverse array of dishes, unidentical in flavours. In front of each diner lies a plate of warm steamed jasmine rice, an essential compliment in all forms of Thai eating. A fork and a spoon are used simultaneously to arrange an ideal format before taking a bite. A knife is rarely ever used on the dining table. If we think of Thai dishes, most of the time they are composed of small pieces that do not require huge effort in cutting, and this favours the use of such utensils in gathering together food. And if bigger pieces of food became prominent on the table, for example grilled meats, this would be prime time to ditch all silverware and munch with bare hands.
Another enticing event during eating is the spoonful serving of differing dishes from the center of the table onto your plate, usually carried out by the host. There are no rules in who gives food to who but as a courtesy accepting an offering is a righteous attitude, whist rejecting can be considered rude even if one cannot eat anymore. The etiquette of Thai eating continues to this day no matter where in the world they eat and whatever kind of food is served.
In the most simple statement: the mannerisms in Thai cooking can be fastidious and prompt. However, reaching those flavours on point boasts another question. Certainly, there is a list of ingredients to be used in Thai cuisine, and misjudging an estimate on quantity, especially seasoning, can terminate a fruitful end to a dish. Perhaps this is what distinguishes Thai food from other cuisines because so much flavours are compacted into one dish that the eater is constantly held on to a haven of surprises. A key in converging a bountiful of essences is to target flavours that are bold, sharp and fierce. As for the concern of beauty, it goes without saying that presenting a dish harmonious with a pleasing aesthetic is alluring for the eater. Nevertheless, pleasing the taste bud is of equal importance when serving. It is uncommon to be adding seasonings of soya sauce, fish sauce or salt to a served dish unless of course the food is deemed plain. Thai food eaters, though not directly requested, expect their dish to be wholly flavoursome without the need to adjust it and this ultimately depends upon the techniques employed by the chef.
There are definitely commandments from Thai cuisine that echoes the very nature of how Thai food is enjoyed. It seems that the story unfolds from the moment one seeks fresh ingredients in local markets all the way to receiving rewarding compliments when dining ends. Eaters are just as important as the cooks purely because food intertwines them together by permeating opinions across one another and therefore unfolding a memorable story to the cooking of this very dish. A hint of mysteriousness also belies under every plate as cooks have their own preconceptions of how a dish should be, through which this judgement is based on influences and admirations absorbed by a cook’s upbringing and venturing into new food. How will Thai food be affected by foreign influence boasts another interesting thought; but today it embodies a respectful magnificence in a contemporary society.
Editor: Bank Inngern