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The Philosophy of Thai Food

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Cook with your tongue

Thai cooking is very different than modern western cooking. Where in western cooking (particularly baking) ingredients are measured exactly, Thai cooking is much more lenient. While this flexibility makes recipes more forgiving, internalizing “the system” can be challenging. This site provides measurements, but you should look at these recipes as the starting point for your exploration.

4 Flavors + Heat – In Thai cooking there are four flavors: sour, sweet, creamy and salty. Heat sits on top of the four flavors. The secret of a good dish is the right balance of the flavors — you will find that there are “sweet spots” where the flavor just tastes right.

No Measuring – I remember that I had such a hard time learning to make a cake. Following the Thai tradition, I refused to kneel to Betty Crocker’s specifications. Nobody uses measuring cups in Thailand. You learn to cook by watching and helping in the kitchen. After throwing away 8 cakes, I broke down and used measuring cups. It worked.

Personal Taste – You don’t need add exactly what the recipe calls for. Rather, the recipe is a guideline – once you develop your personal taste, do not be afraid to deviate. Because the intensity of an ingredient’s flavor can vary from one time to the next and everyone prefers a different point along the flavor spectrums, only your tongue can tell you how much more of something you need to add. Also, if you don’t like something, omit it. Simple as that!How to EatThe basic food is meat and vegetable over rice. Just like the five food groups with carbohydrate is on the bottom of the pyramid, you consume more rice than meat. You take a little bit of meat or vegetable and more of the rice and scoop them on your spoon. In the old days, people ate with their fingers. It is kind of funny that scooping rice with your fingers takes practice. With the western influence, Thais started eating with forks and spoons. Now, you use your fork to push food onto your spoon and eat off the spoon. When you are done, put your fork and spoon together on the plate.

Types of Dishes

Many aspects of a Thai meal differ significantly from western meals.

Appetizers: similar to western appetizers

Main Courses: Dishes eaten with rice. Unlike with western food, there is actually no 1 “main course” in a meal. You will frequently have 1-3 different dishes per person that everyone shares.  The main course can be subdivided into types of cooking:

Yum: literally means to mix. Meat with herbs and spices, vegetable with spices, meat and vegetables with spices mix with sauce. Some sauces are sour and spicy, some are spicy and sweet.

Gang Jeude: clear broth soup with vegetable or meat or both.

Gang Ped or Gang: spicy broth with or without coconut milk. The majority of gangs use curry paste and coconut milk.

Pud: vegetable or meat stir fried.

Tod: pan fried or deep fried, (i.e. Tod Mun is fried fish cakes).

Yang: grilled (i.e. Gai Yang is grilled chicken)

Dessert: Majority of desserts are made of coconut milk, flour and sugar. There are three parts in making dessert. The first is the flavor of the dessert which could range from different types of flour to fruits. The second is the syrup which is sugar and water. The third part is coconut milk and a pinch of salt. Now, you can assemble you dessert. Some are served with crush ice and made a wonderful summertime dessert.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Breakfast: Breakfast is usually rice soup. There are two ways that you can have rice soup. However, in my parents’ house, breakfast is what we have for dinner in every way. It is the only meal that we see one another. The menu resembles other houses’ dinner. We are usually elsewhere for dinner. – Plain rice soup eaten with other dishes. The dishes that accompany rice soup are usually salty or pickled.– Rice soup that is cooked in chicken broth with seasonings.

Lunch – One Dish Deal: Served as lunch. For busy people, lunch is usually a bowl of noodles or a rice plate topped with meat and vegetables.

Snack: Thais snack all day. If you ever get a chance to walk around the streets of Bangkok; judging from the food carts along the streets, you’ll realize that the Thais love food.

Dinner – Appetizers, Main Courses and Desserts