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Eating the Thai Way
George Fu, The Epoch Times
4/1/2010

In Thai culture, food and gracious hospitality are indispensable ingredients of life. Welcoming others to share a meal and the pleasure of good company are part of the charming Thai personality. Shared mealtimes, which are usually sprinkled with glee and delight, are considered an important part of the day, and meals are seldom taken alone.

While business ventures and year-end sales dominate the dialogues of pragmatic Singaporeans, food, on the other hand, is the favorite conversation topic for the contented Thais, even during meals. “We love food and we love to discuss different kinds of dishes—how do they taste, the texture, the sweetness, how to prepare, or what ingredients they use,” says tour guide Rak Sayam. As most social occasions involve eating, enjoying food is a communal and a relatively major affair.

When in groups, typical Thais would discuss where to head for their second round of snacks and desserts, right after leaving the restaurant. For most Thais, there is also a common understanding: the greater the number of diners, the greater the variety of dishes to be shared.

Unknown to foreigners, and particularly finicky ones, Thai dishes are served and eaten together. This makes Thai meals different from Western meals, which require dishes to be served in an orderly sequence, says Thai restaurant owner Jim Haranpruck. According to Jim, Thai dishes are typically designed to complement and enhance each another. “They taste spicy, sweet, and sour, and some dishes can bring out a good balance of flavor of individual dishes that taste bland.”

Tom Yum Goong and Pad Thai
Frequent vacationers would agree that however late at night, they would be greeted with the lingering fragrance of Tom Yum Goong should they walk past traditional restaurants or makeshift food carts.

Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup), characterized by its piquant and sour flavors, is widely considered to be Thailand’s national cuisine. It is typically categorized as ‘Thai-styled spicy,’ ‘medium spicy,’ and ‘mild spicy.’ The soup is made of stock and fresh ingredients, such as lemon grass, shallots, lime juice, tamarind, and ginger slices.

An equal favorite among tourists is Pad Thai (Thai-style fried noodles), the quintessential must-try cuisine for travelers. Pad Thai contains ingredients like crunchy bean sprouts, fresh shrimp, and eggs. Though it doesn’t require much preparation, this famous dish can be wonderfully scrumptious if one can master the cooking techniques.

Fruit
Blessed with a fertile terrain and tropical climate, a great variety of fruit are grown in Thailand. These exotic fruit are found in almost every corner of the streets. From rowdy open markets to alleyway stalls, fruit like Rose apples, durians, and Gao Mung Gorn (dragon fruits) are readily available at cut-rate prices.

Bottled fruit juices are also reasonably priced. A bottle of freshly squeezed passion fruit juice (insert) in a mid-end wet market cost 30 Baht or about S$1.30. Back in Singapore, it may fetch as much as S$5 for half its volume.

Wet Market
Visit any wet market the next time you visit Bangkok and you would be amazed to find almost as many fresh items than you could in our typical supermarkets.

From grilled cuttlefish to live lobsters to jasmine garland to colorful straw baskets, it took more than an hour for an atypical Singaporean shopper like me to conclude my rounds of bargaining, Singapore-style.

Pad Thai Recipe
Ingredients:
2 ounces (dry) Thai rice noodles
1 ounce bean sprouts
1/2 ounce green Chinese chives cut into 1-inch long pieces
1/2 ounce chopped preserved turnip
1 ounce dried shrimp
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons tamarind juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon ground peanuts
1 ounce tofu, extra-firm cut into 1-inch long matchsticks
1 egg
3 tablespoons stock
1 lime cut in wedges
1/2 tablespoon ground dried chili pepper

Method:
Soak the dry noodles in lukewarm water while preparing the other ingredients for 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside a few fresh chives for a garnish. Rinse the bean sprouts and save half for serving fresh.

Use a wok (or saute pan) to heat it on high heat and pour oil in the wok. Add shallot, preserved turnip, tofu, and shrimp and stir them until they start to brown. Drain the noodles and add to the wok. Stir quickly to keep from sticking. Add the egg. Season with tamarind juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir well. The heat should remain high.

Add bean sprouts, Chinese chives, peanuts, and dried chili. Stir a few more times. The noodles should be soft and very tangled. Pour onto a serving plate.

Serve hot with a wedge of lime on the side and raw Chinese chives and raw bean sprouts on top.

Tips and Substitutions

By far, the trickiest part is soaking the noodles. Noodles should be somewhat flexible and solid, not completely expanded and soft. When in doubt, under-soak. You can always add more water in the pan, but you cant take it out.

In this recipe, pre-ground pepper, particularly pre-ground white pepper is better than fresh ground pepper. For kids, omit the ground dried chili pepper. Tamarind adds some flavor and acidity, but you can substitute white vinegar. The type of extra-firm tofu called for this recipe can be found at most Asian groceries in a plastic bag, not in water. Some might be brown from soy sauce, but some white ones are also available. Pick whichever kind you like.

If you decided to include a banana flower, cut lengthwise into sections (like orange sections). Rub any open cut with lime or lemon juice to prevent it from turning dark.

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