Editor: Bank Inngern
Thailand, a popular destination for backpackers and adventurers with high optimism in discovering the ancient, the change and of course the new. As much as there are a plethora of activities and invaluable experiences that come by, most often than anything else is the remembrance of Southeast Asian’s food scene that seems to have been profoundly captivated within the memories of traveller’s and alike. This very notion invites the question of how and why Thai cuisine has become a popularised food option and what exactly distinguishes their cuisine from that of others. Thai food partners well with our tastebuds, but even more exciting is understanding the driving force behind its charisma. Let’s dive into the realms and charms behind the sheer brightness radiated from Thai culinary.
The utensils and ingredients employed in a Thai kitchen gives strong visual record of the simplicity and modest displayings behind the serving of Thai dishes. There are a diverse range of herbs and plants inert in their naturalistic form, but once unlocked and released, deliver a divine flavour that was never initially thought to be present. Most commonly observed is the regular crushing and pounding from the workings of a pestle and mortar in extracting flavours deep within the skeletons of the ingredients, whereby chopping and crushing are, though essential, not quite the rituals powerful enough in releasing a bespoke depth of flavour. Aside from engaging in a simple approach to cooking, there is also a need to collect a range of ingredients from all corners of the spectrum to cultivate a final outcome that showcases a remarkable unified taste, ticking all the requirements from the tastebuds. Sour, sweet, salty and sometimes bitter are main domains in genuine coordination of Thai flavours, with each being added slowly to a dish, resulting in a final balanced taste verified by the cook. It is common practise therefore to find dishes that are either balanced by a range of flavours or focused on a singular one such as salty. It also isn’t surprising that Thai food has an attractive trait purely because each and every dish provide a range of tantalising flavours for the palate. For example, Pad Thai-sweet and slightly tangy, Panang Curry-earthy and nutty, Tom Tum-hot and sour. From the huge offerings of Thai cuisine, there is bound to be a winning flavour for each of us.
Despite its connotations of rapid cooking and usage of plentiful oil, there is a deeper definition to Thai cuisine than the street food that we are often confronted with at touristic locations. A lot of Thai people don’t have a fridge (especially in the countryside) and rely on short daily visits to the market in the guaranteed procurement of the freshest ingredients. Time consuming it may be, but it is true: home cooked food using the freshest of ingredients can only lead to good things. Aside from just utilising fresh produce, collecting a great deal of herbs and plants in the store cupboard are rewarding for their abundance of vitamins and minerals. Kaffir lime leaves (aids digestion), Lemongrass (abundant in iron and potassium), Lime (bursting with vitamin c) and Garlic (potent in antioxidants) are just a few to mention. Bone broths (stock) are used in stir fries-an elixir of collagen, keratin and other essential proteins invaluable to the human body. Nonetheless, seasoning needn’t be attached with guilt because fish sauce (a salty presence) is copious in omega-3 and proteins, whilst palm sugar acts as a natural sweetener extracted from the sap of sugar palm trees. A preferential treatment for coconut milk as opposed to full-fat milk make dishes respectful to those that are lactose intolerant or find difficulty in digesting dairy produce. In all, each and every ingredient contributes as a healthy stance, and in that way proposes a universal appeal for all dietary requirements.
Thai eating habits has seen a slight modification over the decades. The olden days initiated natural living through the scope of consumption with barehands, and though some areas of Thailand continued this tradition, an increasing awareness cleanliness and hygiene paved way for habitual use of fork and spoon on the dinner table. Both a fork and spoon are used simultaneously in order to better prepare each mouthful of food to be eaten. Why a knife hasn’t a position on the cutlery scene is due to the assembly of Thai food consisting of pre-chopped ingredients ready for biting. Even steaks of all kind arrive sliced, acquiring little effort from the eater in enjoying the dish. To obtain a place on our plate, Thai ingredients have travelled far and wide. With relations to climate, close proximity with trading countries and urbanisation, something has got to give, and it is therefore forgiving in foraging Thai flavours in foreign countries that are dissimilar to those of Thailand. Considering the aforementioned circumstances pertinent to exhibition of Thai flavours internationally, Thai cuisine abroad have managed to reflect its true identity and its direction in not only pleasing the tastebuds, but offering positive eating that becomes celebratory to the heart.
How to eat Thai food is a lesson of paramount significance at the table. When eating with other people, a dish is not simply ordered in the hope of devouring it to ourselves, but rather a selection is preferred in the maxim that all of us are sharing, food in this case, an identical experience at that very moment. Once dinner’s ready, a course of slow eating is a virtue. Time is taken to enjoy each dish by clamouring small spoonfuls of each selection onto our plate and going for more rounds as necessary. Taking food bit by bit from the middle of the table and having a taste of all that is on offer gives diners a glimpse of the diversity within the world of Thai cuisine. A somewhat unconventional experience when foreigners have dinner at the table is the unexpected offerings of food from the host. Specifically, spoonfuls of each dish will be given to the guest and it is this cultural mannerism that serves as a welcoming gesture on the table. This behaviour prolongs until the end of the meal where acceptance of food is an admirable response expected by the host. Offering food this way illustrates a culture paying homage to the values of sustenance and the relevance in placing heavy importance in feeding ourselves, an activity that appears as priority before anything else. A declaration that one has finished eating is by the pairing of fork and spoon tidily together along one side of the plate. As is clear, eating Thai food concerns valuable etiquettes that are indispensable to its dining experience.
Today Thai cuisine has placed a strong foothold within the confinements of global cuisine. Practicality, healthiness, simplicity and cultural embeddedness are underlying values in scoring Thai food as a respectful gastronomy of our time. Methods used in compiling together flavours adheres to techniques that are not so influenced by modern gastronomical art; remaining effortless in stipulating a natural flavour, hence the emphasis on taste and accidental beauty. Extracting wholesome herbs and plants from the soil permeates ample rewards in the form of vitality for our very cells making us feel more uplifting so to say. Getting a dosage of Thai culinary at a Thai table also commands a courtesy of polite mannerisms that play a quintessential role in honing the joys of Thai eating. But beneath the beautiful exterior and the bright buzz of energy lies a cuisine portraying a kaleidoscopic view of South East Asian cookery that reserves its precious identity through retaining traditional cooking techniques and heralding honesty in its flavours. As we appreciate the many offerings held by the current food scene let’s hope that Thai cuisine remains an inspirational food for the future and beyond!