Traditional Thai Food – What is it?
You can get many answers to this one, depending on what part of Thailand you are in or the person answering has been to. There are some classic well known dishes that most westerners have heard of such as Pad Thai and Tom Yam Goong and then there are the many stir fry’s, fish dishes and of course barbecue styles to name but a few.
One thing everyone is agreed upon it is often quite spicy! Westerners would say hot, so remember if you’re in a Thai restaurant and they ask, “do you like spicy” they mean do you like it (chillies) hot!
The truth is, (in my ‘umble opinion) traditional Thai food is made up from whatever you can lay your hands on readily and cheaply. We have to remember the standard of living is low compared to the western world. This is not to say they have a LOW standard of living, in fact, in many parts of Thailand it will match the western world, what I am saying is, they are very adept at making a little go a long way and for very low cost. But they will eat food that we would only give to animals.
Take the average tourist, they will have eaten Thai food in their home town and enjoyed the experience, but when they visit Thailand they tend to go to restaurants they feel comfortable with the look and feel of, and get something similar to what they might expect at home. Few are brave enough to enter the “locals” eateries for 2 reasons, they don’t look too hygenic and their menus are in Thai and/or they only speak Thai, so it’s a daunting prospect for the 2 week tourist. What the heck will we get? Probably very spicy!
For those that have lived/stayed there for any length of time, it’s quite a different story, we know that, in a chicken soup we are likely to get bones, feet and head complete with beak and eyes. Not a pleasant surprise for a foreigner not used to such fayre! Some of the fish look like it’s off another world and why do they cook it whole?
We will try some of the more traditional Thai foods that are not seen in westernised restaurants, including fried locusts, water beetles, scorpions and the like. Ignoring the gory side of Thai cuisine (you’ll be pleased to hear) what we also get is some of the more exquisite flavour sensations that traditional Thai food can serve up.
There are some amazing Thai recipes that offer a delicate balance of light and subtle flavours of say cucumber and lettuce with the more pungent and strong, spicy flavours of say, chillies and garlic. Then there are the aromatics of lemon grass and galangal, combined with the sweet of tamarind or pineapple and who could forget coconut?
So my answer to what is traditional Thai food? It’s a balance of all that is good and flavoursome and whilst you might not want to eat all of the actual content, it is used in the cooking to enhance the flavour.
The other thing I suppose I should mention is that Thai food is the original fast food, it is pretty much, always cooked hot and fast which keeps the freshness of the flavours, the crunchiness of the veggies, and the succulence and tenderness of the meat.
If you can balance “that lot” without ruining one or the other then you will be a fine Thai food chef.
OK. So the though of making chicken soup using heads and feet doesn’t appeal. All our recipes at Thai Cooking School whilst using traditional methods but using western preparation practices, because we can afford to give the yucky bits to the hounds, so fear not.
Just remember what I said when I first tried Khwanjai’s cooking after living in Thailand for a long time, she is without doubt the best Thai cook I have ever met and an expert at balancing “that lot” to produce delicious Traditional Thai food every time.
Gorgeous!! So’s the food….