Food in Thailand
If you need one reason to go to Thailand, then it’s the food. Amazing flavours, fresh produce, creamy Curries, fruity shakes, stir fries, seafood… the list is as expansive as your waistband could be, especially considering how cheap it is. As a backpacker on a budget, Thailand is one of the few places you don’t have to be too suspicious of street restaurants. The only danger could be over-eating, so pass me that pad thai!
Thai cuisine’s distinctive taste comes from the combination of flavours, be it spicy, sweet or salty you sure to taste some lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander. If you aren’’t good with spice be sure to answer “no” when asked if you like your food hot (phet), or you could be in for a treat.
Rice and noodles
The Thai staple food is rice (khao), so much so that in Thai eating a meal, kin khao, literally means “eat rice”. There are hundreds of variations: For breakfast try Khao tom, a salty and watery rice porridge; at any time of day, Khao suai is the plain white steamed rice that serves as the base of almost every meal where-as Khao niao a dry rice eaten with grilled/fried beef or pork or chicken.
If you aren’t a fan of rice, go for noodles. The most common kind is rice noodles, served angel-hair (sen mii), but egg noodles (ba mii) and glass noodles made from mung beans (wun sen) are also popular. Perhaps the most famous Thai dish Phat thai (ผัดไทย), consists of thin rice noodles fried in a tamarind-based sauce and will sold everywhere. Often chili-free, it’s also good for those with a tame pallet.
Soups and curries
The line between soups (tom, literally just “boiled”) and curries (kaeng) is blurred to say the least; many a Thai curry is often an Indian soup. Tom kha kai is the Thai version of chicken soup in a rich galangal-flavored coconut stock, with mushrooms and not a few chillies.For those desiring a spicier meal, Kaeng daeng (“red curry”) and kaeng phet (“hot curry”) are the same coconut-based dish. For more on Thailand’s sumptuous curries check out Ben’s take on finding food in Thailand (http://www.gapyear.com/features/196259/finding-food-in-thailand)
Thai salads can only deserve the western definition on account of their raw vegetable base, the rest is very different. All are drenched in fish sauce, lime juice and chillies and the some-what spicy result may not be to everyone’s taste. Although many associate Som tam, a salad made from shredded and pounded raw papaya, with Thailand, it actually originates from Laos. For a really different and variable salad, try Yam som-o made from pomelo (a mutant version of grapefruit) and anything to hand, often including dried shrimp.
If you’re a vegetarian who eats fish then Thailand won’t be a problem, however for strict vegetarians that fish sauce (naam plaa) and its constant presence in Thai cuisine what might be difficult.
However, an extremely understanding people living in a Buddhist nation, vegetarianism is easily explained and catered for. As dishes are usually made to order in Thailand, it isn’t a problem easy to ask to substitute meat or fish for Tofu, a traditional Thai ingredient.
Some key phrases for vegetarians:
- phom kin je (m) / di-chan kin je (f) “I eat only vegetarian food”
- karunaa mai sai naam plaa “Please don’t use fish sauce”
It’s not really a Thai thing, but you can’t find a few things to satisfy that sweet tooth. Khao niao ma-muang means “sticky rice with mango”, and does exactly what it says on the tin- sweetened sticky rice and ripe mango plus coconut milk drizzled on top. Alternatively, for the more adventurous type, an equally popular dish is Khao niao tu-rean in which you get durian instead of mango with your sticky rice.
Unlike other Asian countries, chopsticks aren’t used in every meal in Thailand, only in noodle and East Asian style dishes. Otherwise use a fork and spoon.
Thai food is meant for sharing; on European terms think of it a bit like Spanish tapas. Whilst, each person gets a plate of rice and tiny soup bowl, other main dishes are placed in the middle for sharing. Food is brought as soon as it’s ready, and you don’t have to sit there starving, salivating at the delicious smells and sights, dig in!
Should you panic, feel Street vendors aren’t your thing and seek solace in a restaurant chain; Thailand has a few establishments that will suffice. Brew your own soup chains, such a MK and Coca where you buy ingredients (10-30 baht) to put in your table’s pot are a great group activity. Kuaytiew Ruea Siam does ridiculously-cheap noodles from 25 baht. Granted, portions aren’t overly generous, but there are no rules against getting two plates.
If you’re really missing the Maccy D’s, then don’t sweat, Thailand has some, along with KFC and Pizza Hut. Check out the McSomTam (green papaya salad).