Thai food blends the best of Asian flavors into a whole that will impress even the most jaded palette.
It is sweet, sour and a mix of fresh vegetables, fruit, spices and herbs that tantalize the taste buds – and the best thing about Thai cooking is that it’s easy to prepare and generally very healthy.
However, there is a major difference between the Thai food that one experiences in the western world and that which is found in Bangkok and other areas of Thailand.
The difference is due to the freshness of the ingredients that go into Thai meals and the simple matter that it may not be possible to find authentic Thai ingredients without having to sacrifice that exceptional Thai flavor. The trick is of course to find a supplier that will be able to deliver fresh herbs and other ingredients – but even without this, it is possible to cook a great Thai meal, even if you’re many thousands of miles removed from Thailand.
The key is to aim for simplicity. Most Thai meals rely on a flavor balance between sweet, spicy and that absolutely essential citrus hint – and don’t forget fresh coriander. As a garnish, it’s absolutely essential. If you can get your hands on fresh kaffir lime leaves and cilantro, as well as fresh ginger then you can probably busk your way to a great Thai meal. If you can’t – no biggie, use dried ingredients. Where possible, for instance with Galangal, hydrate for 24 hours then uses.
With those elements in place, you can go for the fish sauce in a bottle and get hold those famous red ‘mouse dropping chilies’ (tiny but powerful) in dried form – and still enjoy a fabulous Thai meal.
Of course, fresh coconut milk will help with authenticity, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Canned coconut milk is more than good enough. If you want to get that thick and hearty consistency then add half a can of coconut cream.
So once you have all these cheats (and where possible fresh ingredients) in hand, what’s on the menu?
Possibly the best meal to start with if you are unfamiliar with Thai cuisine must be the classic Pad Thai.
Many people who love Thai food (even in Thailand) believe that the restaurant that can serve Pad Thai correctly is one that should do the rest absolutely perfectly.
Pad Thai is so simple. It stirs fried rice noodles with a dash of fresh fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar. If you want a perfect dish, don’t get fancy. Adding all these ingredients separately is a recipe (literally) for a disaster. Buy ready-made Pad Thai sauce.
Get great quality rice noodles and ask your supplier (if you’re lucky enough to find an authentic Thai supplier) to give you some hints on how to cook those all-important noodles. Also, get yourself a good quality wok.
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Now – and this is important, use the right protein. Small dried Thai shrimp are great and if you feel adventurous some tofu. You can also add chicken or other protein. It’s really up to you. Stay away from heavier meats such as beef. Although there are variants that use that, stick to the classic execution.
Thai food is fun, great tasting and a feel-good experience for everyone from the cook to those who eventually sit down at the table. Experiment and enjoy – but stick to those tried and proven ingredients.