There is possibly nothing worse than turning up to an invited dinner and finding Thai food being made creatively and, possibly, fused with other international cuisines. Let’s be clear, Thai food is best made in a casual manner to garner an effortless attraction because it truly is all about the taste as well as the atmosphere. Nonetheless, aesthetics will always play a contributing role in presentation of a dish and thereby offering a scope for first impression judgements by the guest; so yes, organisation of food, cutleries, plates, and table decorations are also at the forefront of expectations. Arriving hungry means that there simply needs to be food, and enough of it for that matter. Thai food speaks beauty from its colourful image, and aiming for the perfect dinner will hardly suffice a better occasion than simplicity. Thai food is good the way it is. Hosting a Thai dinner is about letting people eat enjoyably; not too full, not bored and definitely not pressured.
It is clear by now that Thai traditions have firmly anchored our perception that their food is about sharing, of a special kind where everyone enjoys an identical dining experience. Forget about starters, it will turn out to be too much of a formal dining experience. Head straight to mains. Start by choosing a stir-fry, go for Gra Pow, a chilli and basil-infused mince meat stir fried with squirts of light soya sauce and oyster sauce. Minced pork always work the magic here. No need to make too much because they will eat other dishes too. Now a good one bowl dish is always needed, throw in a Pad Thai, a sweet rice noodles stir fried in bountiful chilli sauce and beansprouts. Though different, noodles and rice are inseparable so add a Pineapple Fried Rice using fresh pineapples preferably. If the kind of pineapples you use are sour, sprinkle over some unrefined sugar before cooking. Both Pad Thai and Pineapple Fried Rice should be meatless and include minimal vege apart from a few scants here and there because other corresponding plates will play their roles too. Entering curry territory, green is king but feel free to select yellow or red. Meats are lovely with curries, especially on the bone. Green Curry using chicken thighs-a clear winner. If fish is craved, Salmon is the one. A Thai meal is unforgiven if there isn’t a showcase of vegetables stir-fry. You can actually use any spring vegetables since its the seasoning that matters most, but if uncertain opt for a classic morning glory, adding light soya sauce and some salt to it when cooking. The final touch would be a Thai omelette, whisk some eggs along with roughly chopped spring onions, season and pan-fry both sides until golden. This is really enough to satisfy all kinds of guests but if a cherry on top is required then make a Som Tum Salad using carrots or swedes if you don’t have time to grab some papaya. Steamed jasmine is obligatory. For a vegetarian option feel free to sub in vege: tofu for a Gra Pow and aubergines for the curry. A big bowl of tofu Pad Thai should dominate a vegetarian dinner. Soup isn’t included here because the curry already provides a liquid supremacy to the table but exchange should you want to, and in that case a Tom Yum soup always get the approval.
Washing down Thai food need not be accommodated with alcohol, cold water is the best combat to heat. Having said that, if the furnace needs feeding then stack some Thai beers and any other preferred wines in the fridge. Exotic iced drinks renews the palate for further eating. Make a jug of lime haven. Sprits lime juice (strength dependant on preferred style) into a jug of icy sparkling water; optional, but add a bit of unrefined sugar to balance the sour taste.
Laying the table is probably the most joyful part of preparation. Place dishes onto the centre of table and arrange serving plates as per guest. If a large guest number is envisaged, separate dishes into 2/3 portions respectively. Dotted around the table should be condiments, an essential composite would be Prik Nam Pla (spice-infused fish sauce). Do this by chopping fresh bird’s eye chillies, add some fish sauce and a gentle squeeze of fresh lime, transfer into a serving pot. Soya sauce isn’t generally an option on Thai dinner tables but include it anyway for those that aren’t comfortable with a salty fish essence. A pot of chilli sauce or Sriracha sauce marries excellently with the omelette. No need for chilli oil, the aforementioned condiments are fruitful enough. Cut some fresh lime wedges, place above small flat plates and scatter around. No need for chopsticks, forks and spoons are enough. If guests don’t know how to use a fork and spoon to eat then teach them; it’s this or no cutleries at all.
Seeing as mains honed the principles of simple cooking, so too should desserts. Serve bananas in sweet and salty coconut milk. Boil together coconut milk with some sugar and a gentle sprinkle of salt, season until satisfied before adding chopped banana pieces and serving. Don’t be put off if this wonderful sweet isn’t the choice for all, prepare so by having the option of coconut ice cream; out of the tub will do, the mains make up for any upcoming improvisation. Remember also that tonight’s occasion is more a celebratory and catching up conference than a buffet night. Cook proportions in enough quantities so that each serving seems limited and, essentially, more valuable when eating. Nobody wants to eat too much or feel that there is excessive food. People will take their time to eat and a great deal of conversation will be exchanged. A good couple of hours preparing the mains would be ideal. Running around in chaos mode when guests arrive will breed an air of tension, so prepare all except desserts. The evening started well and it should end well. What could be better than making desserts with your guests? Because; though there is always room for desserts, guests are so full at this stage that a chance to move around and create can only be rewarding. Have a break, change the music.
The night concludes when plates are all clogged up in the kitchen sink. Don’t bother cleaning up. Yes tomorrow you have a scene of mess to look forward to in the morning but don’t let this be a cost to a good night. Revel in enjoying every moment: the cooking, the eating, the speaking and above all, the laughing.