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Pattaya Daily News

19 September 2006 :: 11:09:11 am 21475

Eating Thai way

The ideal Thai meal is a harmonious blend of the spicy, the sweet, the sour, and the plain. Dishes are not really chosen at random, but are designed to complement and enhance each other, balancing the tastes and textures, and satisfying the eye and nose in addition to the palate. This is why all the dishes are served simultaneously, rather than course by course, as in a western meal.
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               In addition to rice, a typical meal might include a soup, at least one curry, a salad, a fried dish, a steamed dish, and vegetables. There will also be a considerable variety of sauces and condiments: fish sauce “nam pla”, the essential salt substitute made from fermented fish; nam pla phrik, which is nam pla combined with chopped chilies; and pickled garlic, slices of lime, shallots, spring onions, cucumber and tomatoes.

               There is no certain type of food for set times of the day. Many Thais will breakfast off a hearty curry with rice, or steamed chicken cooked in chicken broth and garlic. Noodles, either fried or in a soup, are eaten as a substantial snack at any time of the day, as is the spicy papaya salad known as somtam. Few streets are without food stalls serving this kind of dish. Rice, however, is taken at least twice a day, and more usually with most meals: the most commonly used Thai phrase for “eating” is kin khao, which means literally, “consume rice”.

               Most Thais eat steamed rice, which is prepared by boiling in a covered pot, although there is a strong tradition in the North and the Northeast of eating glutinous rice. The rice is kept in a large container and spooned out by the host or the server. The diner will therefore start with a plate containing white, steamed rice, onto which he or she places spoonfuls from each of the dishes spread out colorfully and aromatically on the table (or on the floor, if dining in traditional style).

               Essential to each meal is yam, a hot and tangy salad made from lime, herbs, chili, leafy vegetables such as lettuce, and a choice of seafood, roasted vegetables or meats. The variety of yam is endless: just look at the menu in a Thai restaurant. If anything can be described as an appetizer, in the western sense, it is yam.

               Similarly, a soup is not regarded as a way of beginning a meal. It is there to counterbalance dryness, and is usually spooned onto the rice to bring out the flavor of the ingredients. There are two main categories of soup: spicy and plain. The spiciest soup is tom yam, which translates literally as “boiled yam” and can be regarded as your hot and tangy salad rendered into a soup form. Tom yam is usually made with seafood, with shrimp being the most popular (tom yam kung), although chicken can also be used. Plainer soups come under the general heading kaeng cheud, a soothing broth that can include tofu, noodles, ground pork or vegetables.

               A Thai curry is very is different to an Indian curry, with generally the only shared ingredient being the chili, indigenous to neither country. Most Thai curries are made from fresh, rather than dried ingredients, and derive their character from the spices chosen, which other than chili can include galangal, lemongrass, kaffir, lime, shallots and garlic.

               Many use coconut cream as their chief ingredient, with duck, chicken, pork, beef, seafood or fishball being added after the cream has been brought to the boil. Recipes that omit coconut milk include the fiery kaeng pa or jungle curry, and the kaeng som, a sour curry using tamarind juice as the main ingredient for the soup.

               Stir-fried dishes originated in China but over the generations many have evolved that are essentially Thai in character. So while beef stir-fired in oyster sauce is very Chinese in style, chicken stir-fried with ginger, garlic and chili is most definitely Thai, especially if the cashew, native to Thailand but not china, is added

               Probably the most popular Thai stir-fry is phat bai kaphrao, in which chicken or pork is cooked with garlic, fresh sliced chilies, soy and fish sauce, and holy basil. Another is phat phet, literally “hot stir-fry”, makes a quick and tasty lunch for the busy office worker

               A fresh fish gutted and wok-fried whole in oil is not only quick and easy, it is also very satisfying, especially when served with a simple nam pla phrik. Steamed fish is somewhat more elaborate, and is topped with Chinese celery, onions, lemongrass, garlic, preserved Chinese plums, tomato, and a number of other colorful ingredients. Frequently this type of fish is place on the table in a boat-like dish bubbling over a burner. Wrapping fresh fish in banana leaf or foil and roasting it over hot charcoal preserves all the natural juices. Large shrimp are barbecued with the head still on to retain the natural moistures. Squid and cuttlefish are parboiled to retain the creamy texture

               Noodles are another item that originated in China and have been thoroughly absorbed into Thai culture. Kuay tiaw is by far the most popular. Made from rice flour and water steamed to form flat sheets, the noodles are cut either wide (sen yai) or narrow (sen lek). There is a third form, sen mee, where the strands are so small they dry almost instantly and are sold in this form. Kuay tiaw is prepared to endless recipes, stir-fried or as soup, with any number of ingredients

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Eating

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