How did Thai cuisine evolve?

How did Thai cuisine evolve?


How did Thai cuisine evolveEarly Thai cooking methods practiced baking, grilling and stewing and it wasn’t until pre-16th Century that western, Chinese and Indian influences were married into the mix.

The Thai’s first adopted some of the methods of the Chinese introducing frying, stir frying and deep frying in the late 1600’s along with Portuguese culinary variations and then moved onto to take elements from French, Dutch and Japanese cuisine in the 17 Century.

However, when the Portuguese missionaries first arrived late 16th century, they brought with them “chilies!” which were a staple ingredient included in South American food from where they had previously worked.

One of the Thai’s great attributes is their ability to adopt and interweave outside practices which may compliment their own and from this marriage of western and closer to home influences – 5 Centuries later they have been harmoniously combined to produce a diet that is both light, incredibly sumptuous and extremely healthy.

Indian Ghee was replaced with either coconut milk or freshly squeezed coconut oil and the heavy duty spices were toned down with local fresh herbs such as lemon grass, mint and galanga – a member of the ginger family.

Powerful spices were thus softened to make way for a lighter, airier and more layered flavor.

IMG_20150108_163230If you’ve ever tried a spicy Indian Madras or Vindaloo, you’ll have noticed that the spiciness can be quite brutal and linger on indefinitely, where as a Thai curry, while mildly to fiercely intense (depending on your choice) in the first few seconds – will soon take a back seat allowing for the herbs to replace this strong aromatic-kick with a fresher, lighter airiness on the senses.

What also helps compliment the experience of tastes is the Thai way of eating.

Not too dissimilar from the occasional meal in the west whereby we may share a Sunday lunch or a Christmas dinner, due to the structure of their social behavior and perhaps economic constraints, Thai’s are by their very nature incredibly courteous people, where the emphasis on doing things together is never more apparent than sitting down and eating in large groups of a night.

IMG_20141223_133241This allows for a meal where all the dishes will come out at once (excluding dessert), meaning there is always a combination of favors on the palette from the various dishes which are scooped and shared upon.

What’s in-it for the Palette?

The culinary flavors and aroma of some Thai cuisines can at the best of times be described as simply scintillating.

But (and these are my Thai taste interpretations) can range from robust (the Burmese influenced curry-and-coconut double noodled soup – khao soi), to tantalizing  and twangy (steamed fish with ginger and lemon grass –  nam pla manow), pungent (papaya salad with salted crab –  som tum pu pla raa), exhilaratingly light and refreshing (north-eastern spicy pork salad – laab moo), zesty (spicy seafood salad – yum talay), moreish (marinated streaky pork in turmeric curry – kao rad kang hung-lay), healing (classic spicy lemon grass and shrimp soup – tom yum kung) to downright bloody incredible (deep fried sea bass – pla grapong tod nam pla).

And real Thai food is equally satisfying to the nose, eye and palette.

But don’t be put off if you’re not a fan of spicy dishes as spiciness comes in degrees according to choice, meat textures and occasions.

Thai Dips, Pasta’s, Curries & Salad Dressings

Dips entail a level of complexity.

They can represent the major dish of the meal or simply be an accompanying complimentary flavor which may include some or all of the following ingredients: chili, dried shrimp, fish sauce, shrimp paste, sugar, lime juice and garlic.

narm prik paoA simple dip however may just include fresh chilies, a dash of lime and fish sauce.

Nam Prik for example would include these 3 ingredients along with crushed garlic, a minuscule amount of roasted or raw shrimp paste.

Whereas a more complete flavor would include julienned egg plant, pulverized dried shrimp and to round out the flavor – some sugar.

A simple Thai paste will include dried chilies, shallots and shrimp paste.

To make it more complex, galangal (ginger), garlic, coriander roots, lemon grass, kefir lime peel and pepper corns are added.

Thai curries differ to non-Thai curries in that they use fresh herbs and aromatic leaves as opposed to powdered or ground dry spices.

They are essentially a mixture of pastes derived from water, coconut milk, vegetables, fruit, seafood, meats and herbs.

IMG_20141209_141939Salad dressings which you can add to any boiled, grilled or fried meat may combine some or all of the following: sliced cucumber, cut spring onions, coriander leaves, kefir lime, lemons grass and galangal.

The 5 Base ingredients for Thai flavor:

As with any countries culinary cuisines, flavors are derived from the local staple ingredients, so:

Salt – come from fish sauce
Sweet– comes from sugar
Sour – comes from lime juice
Spice – comes from crushed chilies
Herbal flavors – come from garlic and shallots

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