Teaching Thai Cooking

Thai cuisine is known for balance, detail, and variety are of paramount significance to Thai chefs. Thai cooking places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and a spicy edge. Thai chef McDang characterises Thai food as demonstrating "intricacy; attention to detail; texture; color; taste; and the use of ingredients with medicinal benefits, as well as good flavor", as well as care being given to the food's appearance, smell and context.

Australian chef David Thompson, an expert on Thai food, observes that unlike many other cuisines, Thai cooking rejects simplicity and is about "the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish".

In 2017, seven of Thailand's popular dishes appeared on the list of the "World's 50 Most Delicious Foods (Readers' Pick)"— a worldwide online poll of 35,000 people by CNN Travel.[unreliable source?] Thailand had more dishes on the list than any other country. They were: tom yam goong (4th), pad Thai (5th), som tam (6th), massaman curry (10th), green curry (19th), Thai fried rice (24th) and moo nam tok (36th).

Regional cuisines and historical influences

Thai cuisine is more accurately described as five regional cuisines, corresponding to the five main regions of the country:
Bangkok cuisine of Bangkok and Metropolitan area, most of all cuisine base on Teochew and Portuguese influence. Central Thai cuisine of the flat and wet central rice-growing plains, site of the former Thai kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and the Dvaravati culture of the Mon people from before the arrival of Siamese in the area. Isan or northeastern Thai cuisine of the more arid Khorat Plateau, similar in culture to Laos and also influenced by Khmer cuisine to its south, as evidenced by the temple ruins from the time of the Khmer Empire.Northern Thai cuisine of the verdant valleys and cool, forested mountains of the Thai highlands, once ruled by the former Lanna Kingdom and home of Lannaese, the majority of the Northern Thailand.Southern Thai cuisine of the Kra Isthmus which is bordered on two sides by tropical seas, with its many islands and including the ethnic Malay, former Sultanate of Pattani in the deep south. Some food base on Hainanese and Cantonese influence.

 

Thai cuisine and the culinary traditions and cuisines of Thailand's neighbors have mutually influenced one another over the course of many centuries. Northern Thai cuisine shares dishes with Shan State in Burma, northern Laos, and also with Yunnan Province in China, whereas the cuisine of Isan (northeastern Thailand) is similar to that of southern Laos, and is also influenced by Khmer cuisine from Cambodia to its south, and by Vietnamese cuisine to its east. Southern Thailand, with many dishes that contain liberal amounts of coconut milk and fresh turmeric, has that in common with Indian, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisine. In addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also the Thai royal cuisine which can trace its history back to the cosmopolitan palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1351–1767 CE). Its refinement, cooking techniques, presentation, and use of ingredients were of great influence to the cuisine of the central Thai plains.

Chili peppers, originally from the Americas, were introduced to Thailand by the Portuguese and Spanish

Many dishes that are now popular in Thailand were originally Chinese dishes. They were introduced to Thailand by the Hokkien people starting in the 15th century, and by the Teochew people who started settling in larger numbers from the late 18th century CE onward, mainly in the towns and cities, and now form the majority of the Thai Chinese. Such dishes include chok Thai: โจ๊ก (rice porridge), salapao (steamed buns), kuaitiao rat na (fried rice-noodles) and khao kha mu (stewed pork with rice). The Chinese also introduced the use of a wok for cooking, the technique of deep-frying and stir frying dishes, several types of noodles, taochiao (fermented bean paste), soy sauces, and tofu.[15] The cuisines of India and Persia, brought first by traders, and later settlers from these regions, with their use of dried spices, gave rise to Thai adaptations and dishes such as kaeng kari (yellow curry) and kaeng matsaman (massaman curry).


Western influences, starting in 1511 CE when the first diplomatic mission from the Portuguese arrived at the court of Ayutthaya, have created dishes such as foi thong, the Thai adaptation of the Portuguese fios de ovos, and sangkhaya, where coconut milk replaces unavailable cow's milk in making a custard. These dishes were said to have been brought to Thailand in the 17th century by Maria Guyomar de Pinha, a woman of mixed Japanese-Portuguese-Bengali ancestry who was born in Ayutthaya, and became the wife of Constantine Phaulkon, the Greek adviser of King Narai. The most notable influence from the West must be the introduction of the chili pepper from the Americas in the 16th or 17th century. It, and rice, are now two of the most important ingredients in Thai cuisine.[20] During the Columbian Exchange, Portuguese and Spanish ships brought new crops from the Americas including tomatoes, corn, papaya, pea eggplants, pineapple, pumpkins, coriander, cashews, and peanuts.

 

Serving

Thai food was traditionally eaten with the hand while seated on mats or carpets on the floor or coffee table in upper middle class family, customs still found in the more traditional households. Today, however, most Thais eat with a fork and spoon. Tables and chairs were introduced as part of a broader Westernisation drive during the reign of King Mongkut, Rama IV. The fork and spoon were introduced by King Chulalongkorn after his return from a tour of Europe in 1897. Chopsticks were foreign utensils to most ethnic groups in Thailand with the exception of the Thai Chinese, and a few other cultures such as the Akha people, who are recent arrivals from Yunnan Province, China.

 

Ingredients

 

Thai food is known for its enthusiastic use of fresh (rather than dried) herbs and spices. Common flavours in Thai food come from garlic, galangal, coriander, lemon grass, shallots, pepper, kaffir lime leaves, shrimp paste, fish sauce, and chilies. Palm sugar, made from the sap of certain Borassus palms, is used to sweeten dishes while lime and tamarind contribute sour notes. Meats used in Thai cuisine are usually pork and chicken, and also duck, beef, and water buffalo. Goat and mutton are rarely eaten except by Muslim Thais. Game, such as wild boar, deer and wild birds, are now less common due to loss of habitat, the introduction of modern methods of intensive animal farming in the 1960s, and the rise of agribusinesses, such as Thai Charoen Pokphand Foods, in the 1980s. Traditionally, fish, crustaceans, and shellfish play an important role in the diet of Thai people. Anna Leonowens (of The King and I fame) observed in her book The English Governess at the Siamese Court 1870.

Like most other Asian cuisines, rice is the staple grain of Thai cuisine. According to Thai food expert McDang, rice is the first and most important part of any meal, and the words for rice and food are the same: khao. Other varieties of rice eaten in Thailand include: sticky rice (khao niao), a unique variety of rice which contains an unusual balance of the starches present in all rice, causing it to cook up to a sticky texture. 

Noodles are usually made from either rice flour, wheat flour or mung bean flour. Khanom chin is fresh rice vermicelli made from fermented rice, and eaten with spicy curries such as green chicken curry (khanom chin kaeng khiao wan kai) or with salads such as som tam. Other rice noodles, adapted from Chinese cuisine to suit Thai taste, are called kuaitiao in Thailand and come in three varieties: sen yai are wide flat noodles, sen lek are thin flat rice noodles, and sen mi (also known as rice vermicelli in the West) are round and thin.

Bami is made from egg and wheat flour and usually sold fresh. They are similar to the Teochew mee pok. Wun sen, called cellophane noodles in English, are extremely thin noodles made from mung bean flour which are sold dried. Thai noodle dishes, whether stir fried like phat Thai or in the form of a noodle soup, usually come as an individual serving and are not meant to be shared and eaten communally.

Rice flour (paeng khao chao) and tapioca flour (paeng man sampalang) are often used in desserts or as thickening agents.

Pastes and sauces


Nam pla phrik, a table sauce most often eaten with rice dishes, is made from fish sauce and sliced chilies, and often also includes garlic and lime

An ingredient found in many Thai dishes and used in every region of the country is nam pla, a clear fish sauce that is very aromatic. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine and imparts a unique character to Thai food. Fish sauce is prepared with fermented fish that is made into a fragrant condiment and provides a salty flavour. There are many varieties of fish sauce and many variations in the way it is prepared. Some fish may be fermented with shrimp or spices. Another type of sauce made from fermented fish is pla ra. It is more pungent than nam pla, and, in contrast to nam pla, which is a clear liquid, pla ra is opaque and often contains pieces of fish. To add this sauce to a som tam (spicy papaya salad) is a matter of choice. Kapi, Thai shrimp paste, is a combination of fermented ground shrimp and salt. It is used in the famous chili paste called nam phrik kapi, in rice dishes such as khao khluk kapi and it is indispensable for making Thai curry pastes. Tai pla is a pungent sauce used in the southern Thai cuisine, that is made from the fermented innards of the shortbodied mackerel (pla thu). It is one of the main condiments of kaeng tai pla curry and is also used to make nam phrik tai pla. Far removed from the nearest sea, from northern Thailand comes nam pu, a thick, black paste made by boiling mashed rice-paddy crabs for hours. It is used as an ingredient for certain northern Thai salads, curries, and chili pastes. It too has a strong and pungent flavor.[36]

Nam phrik pla chi (a chili paste from northern Thailand made with grilled fish) is served here with raw and steamed vegetables as one of the dishes in a communal meal

Nam phrik are Thai chili pastes, similar to the Indonesian and Malaysian sambals. Each region has its own special versions. The words "nam phrik" are used by Thais to describe many pastes containing chilies used for dipping, although the more watery versions tend to be called nam chim. Thai curry pastes are normally called phrik kaeng or khrueang kaeng (lit. curry ingredients), but some people also use the word nam phrik to designate a curry paste.

Red curry paste, for instance, could be called phrik kaeng phet or khrueang kaeng phet in Thai, but also nam phrik kaeng phet. Both nam phrik and phrik kaeng are prepared by crushing together chilies with various ingredients such as garlic and shrimp paste using a mortar and pestle. Some nam phrik are served as a dip with vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw or blanched. One such paste is nam phrik num, a paste of pounded fresh green chilies, shallots, garlic and coriander leaves. The sweet roasted chili paste called nam phrik phao is often used as an ingredient in tom yam or when frying meat or seafood, and it is also popular as a spicy "jam" on bread, or served as a dip with prawn crackers. The dry nam phrik kung, made with pounded dried shrimp (kung haeng), is often eaten plain with rice and a few slices of cucumber.

French diplomat Simon de la Loubère observed that chili pastes were vital for the way Thai people eat. He provides us with a recipe for nam phrik with pla ra and onions in Du Royaume de Siam, an account of his mission to Thailand published in 1691.[

The soy sauces which are used in Thai cuisine are of Chinese origin, and the Thai names for them are (wholly or partially) loanwords from the Teochew dialect: si-io dam (dark soy sauce), si-io khao (light soy sauce), si-io wan (sweet soy sauce), and taochiao (fermented whole soy beans). Namman hoi (oyster sauce) is also of Chinese origin. It is used extensively in vegetable and meat stir fries.

Thai dishes use a wide variety of herbs, spices and leaves rarely found in the West. The characteristic flavour of kaffir lime leaves (bai makrut) appears in many Thai soups (e.g., the hot and sour tom yam) or curry from the southern and central areas of Thailand.

The Thai lime (manao) is smaller, darker and sweeter than the kaffir lime, which has a rough looking skin with a stronger lime flavour.

Kaffir lime leaves or rind is frequently combined with galangal (kha) and lemongrass (takhrai), either kept whole in simmered dishes or blended together with liberal amounts of chilies and other aromatics to make curry paste.

Fresh Thai basil, distintively redolent of cloves, and with stems which are often tinged with a purple color, are used to add fragrance in certain dishes such as green curry. Other commonly used herbs in Thai cuisine include phak chi, (coriander or cilantro leaves), rak phak chi (cilantro/coriander roots), spearmint (saranae), holy basil (kraphao), ginger (khing), turmeric (khamin), fingerroot (krachai), culantro (phak chi farang), pandanus leaves (bai toei), and Thai lemon basil (maenglak). Spices and spice mixtures used in Thai cuisine include phong phalo (five-spice powder), phong kari (curry powder), and fresh and dried peppercorns (phrik thai).

Northern Thai larb uses a very elaborate spice mix, called phrik lap, which includes ingredients such as cumin, cloves, long pepper, star anise, prickly ash seeds and cinnamon.Snakehead fish packed with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves ready for steaming

Besides kaffir lime leaves, several other tree leaves are used in Thai cuisine such as cha-om, the young feathery leaves of the Acacia pennata tree. These leaves can be cooked in omelettes, soups and curries or eaten raw in northern Thai salads. Banana leaves are often used as packaging for ready-made food or as steamer cups such as in ho mok pla, a spicy steamed pâté or soufflé made with fish and coconut milk. Banana flowers are also used in Thai salads or as a vegetable ingredient for certain curries. The leaves and flowers of the neem tree (sadao) are also eaten blanched. Phak lueat (leaves from the Ficus virens) are cooked in curries, and bai makok (from the Spondias mombin) can be eaten raw with a chili paste.


Five main chilies are generally used as ingredients in Thai food. One chili is very small (about 1.25 centimetres (0.49 in)) and is known as the hottest chili: phrik khi nu suan ("garden mouse-dropping chili"). The slightly larger chili phrik khi nu ("mouse-dropping chili") is the next hottest. The green or red phrik chi fa ("sky pointing chili") is slightly less spicy than the smaller chilies. The very large phrik yuak, which is pale green in color, is the least spicy and used more as a vegetable. Lastly, the dried chilies: phrik haeng are spicier than the two largest chilies and dried to a dark red color.

The elaborate spice mix needed for northern Thai larbOther typical ingredients are the several types of eggplant (makhuea) used in Thai cuisine, such as the pea-sized makhuea phuang and the egg-sized makhuea suai, often also eaten raw. Although broccoli is often used in Asian restaurants in the west in phat phak ruam (stir fried mixed vegetables) and rat na (rice noodles served in gravy), it was never used in any traditional Thai food in Thailand and is still rarely seen in Thailand. Usually in Thailand, khana is used, for which broccoli is a substitute. Other vegetables which are often eaten in Thailand are thua fak yao (yardlong beans), thua ngok (bean sprouts), no mai (bamboo shoots), tomatoes, cucumbers, phak tam lueng (Coccinia grandis), phak kha na (Chinese kale), phak kwangtung (choy sum), sweet potatoes (both the tuber and leaves), a few types of squash, phak krathin (Leucaena leucocephala), sato (Parkia speciosa), tua phū (winged beans) and khaophot (corn).


Among the green, leafy vegetables and herbs that are usually eaten raw in a meal or as a side dish in Thailand, the most important are: phak bung (morning glory), horapha (Thai basil), bai bua bok (Asian pennywort), phak kachet (water mimosa), phak kat khao (Chinese cabbage), phak phai (praew leaves), phak kayang (rice paddy herb), phak chi farang (culantro), phak tiu (Cratoxylum formosum), phak "phaai" (yellow burr head) and kalamplī (cabbage). Some of these leaves are highly perishable and must be used within a couple of days.
Several types of mushroom (het) also feature in Thai cuisine such as straw mushrooms (het fang), shiitake (het hom), and white jelly fungus (het hu nu khao).[40]
Flowers are also commonly used ingredients in many Thai dishes, either as a vegetable, such as dok khae (Sesbania grandiflora) and huapli (the flower bud of the banana), or as a food coloring, such as with the blue-colored dok anchan (the flowers of the Clitoria ternatea, which can also be eaten raw or fried).

 

Insects

 

Certain insects are also eaten in Thailand, especially in Isan and in the north. Many markets in Thailand feature stalls which sell deep-fried grasshoppers, crickets (ching rit), bee larvae, silkworm (non mai), ant eggs (khai mot) and termites. The culinary creativity even extends to naming: one tasty larva, which is also known under the name "bamboo worm" (non mai phai, Omphisa fuscidentalis), is colloquially called "express train" (rot duan) due to its appearance.


Most of the insects taste fairly bland when deep-fried, somewhat like popcorn and prawns. But when deep-fried together with kaffir lime leaves, chilies and garlic, the insects become an excellent snack to go with a drink. In contrast to the bland taste of most of these insects, the maeng da or maelong da na (Lethocerus indicus) has been described as having a very penetrating taste, similar to that of a very ripe gorgonzola cheese. This giant water bug is famously used in a chili dip called nam phrik maeng da. Some insects, such as tadpoles, ant eggs and silk worms, are also eaten boiled in a soup in Isan, or used in egg dishes in northern Thailand.

 

Street food, food courts and market food

The quality and choice of street food in Thailand is world-renowned. Bangkok is often mentioned as one of the best street food cities in the world, and even called the street food capital of the world.[74][75] The website VirtualTourist says:"Few places in the world, if any, are as synonymous with street food as Thailand. For the variety of locations and abundance of options, we selected Bangkok, Thailand, as our number one spot for street food. Bangkok is notable for both its variety of offerings and the city's abundance of street hawkers."[76]
There is scarcely a Thai dish that is not sold by a street vendor or at a market somewhere in Thailand. Some specialize in only one or two dishes, others offer a complete menu that rival that of restaurants. Some sell only pre-cooked foods, others make food to order. The foods that are made to order, tend to be dishes that can be quickly prepared: quick stir fries with rice, such as kaphrao mu (spicy basil-fried minced pork)[77] or phat khana (stir fried gailan), and quick curries such as pladuk phat phet (catfish fried with red curry paste).

Street food during the Yasothon Rocket FestivalNoodles are a popular street food item as they are mainly eaten as a single dish. Chinese-style noodle soups, fried noodles, and fermented Thai rice noodles (khanom chin), served with a choice of different Thai curries, are popular. Nearly everywhere in Thailand you will see som tam (green papaya salad) and sticky rice sold at stalls and roadside shops. This is popularly eaten together with grilled chicken; but if the shop doesn't sell any themselves, someone else nearby will. In most cities and towns there will be stalls selling sweet roti, a thin, flat fried dough envelop, with fillings such as banana, egg, and chocolate. The roti is similar to the Malay roti canai and Singaporean roti prata, and the stalls are often operated by Thai Muslims. Sweets snacks, collectively called khanom, such as tako (coconut cream jelly), khanom man (coconut cassava cake), and khanom wun (flavored jellies), can be seen displayed on large trays in glass covered push-carts. Other sweets, such as khanom bueang and khanom khrok (somewhat similar to Dutch poffertjes), are made to order.
In the evenings, mobile street stalls, often only a scooter with a side car, drive by and temporarily set up shop outside bars in Thailand, selling kap klaem ("drinking food"). Popular kap klaem dishes sold by mobile vendors are grilled items such as sun-dried squid, meats on skewers, or grilled sour sausages, and deep-fried snacks such as fried insects or fried sausages. Peeled and sliced fruits are also sold from street carts, laid out on a bed of crushed ice to preserve their freshness. Salapao, steamed buns filled with meat or sweet beans and the Thai version of the Chinese steamed baozi, are also commonly sold by mobile vendors.

A motorcycle with a side car selling grilled fast food snacksFood markets in Thailand, large open air halls with permanent stalls, tend to operate as a collection of street stalls, each vendor with their own set of tables and providing (limited) service, although some resemble the regular food courts at shopping malls and large supermarkets, with service counters and the communal use of tables. Food courts and food markets offer many of the same foods as street stalls, both pre-cooked as well as made to order. Night food markets, in the form of a collection of street stalls and mobile vendors, spring up in parking lots, along busy streets, and at temple fairs and local festivals in the evenings, when the temperatures are more agreeable and people have finished work.


The dishes sold at wet markets in Thailand tend to be offered pre-cooked. Many people go there, and also to street vendors, to buy food for at work, or to take back home. It is a common sight to see Thais carrying whole communal meals consisting of several dishes, cooked rice, sweets, and fruit, all neatly packaged in plastic bags and foam food containers, to be shared with colleagues at work or at home with friends and family. Due to the fact that many dishes are similar to those that people would cook at home, it is a good place to find regional, and seasonal, foods.

 

International recognition

Thai cuisine only became well-known worldwide from the 1960s onwards, when Thailand became a destination for international tourism and American troops arrived in large numbers during the Vietnam War period. The number of Thai restaurants went up from four in 1970s London to between two and three hundred in less than 25 years.[85] The earliest attested Thai restaurant in the United States, "Chada Thai", opened their doors in 1959 Denver, Colorado. It was run by the former newspaper publisher Lai-iad (Lily) Chittivej. The oldest Thai restaurant in London, "The Bangkok Restaurant", was opened in 1967 by Mr and Mrs Bunnag, a former Thai diplomat and his wife, in South Kensington.


The global popularity of Thai cuisine is seen as an important factor in promoting tourism to Thailand, and also increase exports of Thailand's agricultural sector. In June 2009, the Tourism Authority of Thailand organised a conference to discuss these matters at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre in Bangkok. TAT Governor Seree Wangpaichitr: "This conference was long overdue. The promotion of Thai cuisine is one of our major niche-market targets. Our figures show that visitors spent 38.8 billion baht on eating and drinking last year, up 16% over 1997."


The Thaksin administration of Thailand (2001-2006) launched the "Kitchen of the World" campaign in 2003 to promote Thai cuisine internationally, with a yearly budget of 500 million baht. It provided loans and training for restaurateurs seeking to establish Thai restaurants overseas; established the "Thai Select" certification program which encouraged the use of ingredients imported from Thailand; and promoted integration between Thai investors, Thai Airways, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand with Thai restaurants overseas.[88]
One survey held in 2003 by the Kellogg School of Management and Sasin Institute showed that Thai cuisine ranked fourth when people were asked to name an ethnic cuisine, after Italian, French, and Chinese cuisine. When asked "what is your favourite cuisine?", Thailand's cuisine came in at sixth place, behind the three aforementioned cuisines, and Indian and Japanese cuisine.


In the list of the "World's 50 most delicious foods", compiled by CNN in 2011, som tam stands at place 46, nam tok mu at 19, tom yam kung at 8, and massaman curry stands on first place as most delicious food in the world.[89] In a reader's poll held a few months later by CNN, mu nam tok came in at 36, Thai fried rice at 24, green curry at 19, massaman curry at 10, and Thai som tam, pad Thai, and tom yam kung at six, five, and four.


In 2012, the British Restaurant Magazine, included "Nahm Bangkok" of chef David Thompson in its yearly list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants

Thai Delicious project

Thailand's National Innovation Agency (NIA), a public organization under the Thai Ministry of Science and Technology, is spearheading a 30 million baht (US$1 million),[98] effort by the government to:

Develop Thai recipes with "authentic taste" and establish them as standard recipesDevelop biosensor equipment to analyze and evaluate taste and flavorsDevelop institutional food (ready-to-cook products) based on the standardized recipes to meet the demand for Thai food in foreign countriesProvide a food certification service as well as training for local and foreign chefs working in Thai restaurants worldwide[99]The agency has posted 11 "authentic" recipes for tom yum gung (nam sai), tom yum gung (nam khon), pad Thai, Massaman curry, kaeng kiew wan (green curry), kaeng lueng (southern Thai sour curry), Golek chicken sauce, khao soi, sai oui (northern Thai sausage), nam prik noom (green pepper chili paste), and nam prik aong (northern Thai chili paste).[100] These recipes were featured at a gala dinner promoting "Authentic Thai Food for the World", held at the Plaza Athénée Hotel Bangkok on 24 August 2016 at which Thailand's minister of industry was the honored guest.[101] By 2020, Thai Delicious plans to post over 300 Thai food recipes.


To determine authenticity, Thai researchers developed the "e-delicious machine", described as "...an intelligent robot that measures smell and taste in food ingredients through sensor technology in order to measure taste like a food critic."[103] The machine evaluates food by measuring its conductivity at different voltages. Readings from 10 sensors are combined to produce a chemical signature. Because the machine cannot judge taste, the food is compared with a standard derived from a database of popular preferences for each dish.

For tom yam, the spicy soup flavored with Kaffir lime leaves and coriander, researchers posted notices at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, requesting 120 tasters. The tasters—students, university staff, and area workers—were paid a few baht for their opinions. They were served 10 differently prepared soups and rated each one. The winning soup was declared the standard, and its chemical characteristics were programmed into the machine. When testing food, the machine returns a numerical score from one to 100. A score lower than 80 is deemed "not up to standard". The machine cost about US$100,000 to develop.[98] Restaurants that follow officially sanctioned recipes can affix a "Thai Delicious" logo to their menus.


The Thai Delicious project has been criticized, the main rationale being that, "Standardisation is the enemy of Thai food.

 

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