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About Thai Food

Learn About Thai Food

Thai food is internationally famous. Whether hot or mild, harmony is the guiding principle behind each dish. Thai cuisine is essentially a marriage of centuries-old Eastern and Western influence, harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai. Characteristics of Thai food depend on who cooks it, for whom it is cooked, for what occasion, and where it is cooked. Dishes can be refined and adjusted to suit all palates.

Originally, Thai cooking reflected the characteristics of a waterborne lifestyle. Aquatic animals, plants, and herbs were major ingredients.

With their Buddhist background, Thais shunned the use of large animals in big chunks. Big cuts of meat were shredded and laced with herbs and spices. Traditional Thai cooking methods include stewing and baking, and grilling. Chinese influences saw the introduction of frying, stir-frying, and deep-frying. Culinary influences from the 17th century onwards included Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Japanese cuisines. Chilies were introduced to Thai cooking during the late 1600s by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America.

A World of Flavors

Thais were very adept at "Siamese-ising" foreign cooking methods, and substituting ingredients. The ghee used in Indian cooking was replaced by coconut oil, and coconut milk substituted for other dairy products. Overpowering pure spices were toned down and enhanced by fresh herbs such as lemongrass and galanga. Eventually, fewer and less intense spices were used in Thai curries, while the use of fresh herbs increased. It is generally acknowledged that Thai curries burn intensely, but briefly, whereas other curries, with strong spices, burn for longer periods. Instead of serving dishes in courses, a Thai meal is served all at once, permitting dinners to enjoy complementary combinations of different tastes.

A proper Thai meal should consist of a soup, a curry dish with condiments, and a dip with accompanying fish and vegetables. A spiced salad may replace the curry dish. The soup can also be spicy, but the curry should be replaced by non-spiced items. There must be a harmony of tastes and textures within individual dishes and the entire meal.

Eating & Ordering Thai Food

Ideally, eating Thai food is a communal affair involving two or more people, principally because the greater the number of diners the greater the number of dishes ordered. Generally speaking, two diners order three dishes in addition to their own individual plates of steamed rice; three diners order four dishes, and so on. Diners choose whatever they require from shared dishes and generally add it to their own rice. Soups are enjoyed concurrently with rice and other dishes, not independently. Spicy dishes are "balanced" by mild dishes to avoid discomfort.

The ideal Thai meal is a harmonious blend of the spicy, the subtle, the sweet, and the sour, and is meant to be equally satisfying to eye, nose, and palate. A typical meal might include a clear soup, a steamed dish, a fish dish, a hot salad, and a variety of sauces into which food is dipped.

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