Monday, 27 February 2012

Thai - The sensory high !

Exotic Thailand conjures up enigmatic visuals according to taste and temperament. To some the country is a fantasy of royalty in spirituality of gilded temples and palaces, to others a palm-fringed beach of snowy white sand, an exotic tribal village high in misty mountains or the brassy, cosmopolitan lure of Bangkok or even the exotic nightlife. All are valid enough as individual impressions, yet misleading in terms of the whole for Thailand, like the nation's food, is a complex mixture of flavors and the product of a unique history.

Thailand is not a very big nor a very rich country, but it is unique. It has a way of life that mixes ancient ritual with the ways of the modern world. Thailand is most fortunate, with both the land and surrounding seas yielding rich harvests. The staple, rice, is grown in abundance, as do the numerous varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices that enliven the Thai palate. Despite all the problems of the modern world Thailand still has much of old Siam.

The Thais are great eaters, not necessarily in quantity but in the way they relish their food, appreciating individual tastes and subtle combinations of dishes.

Thai cuisine as we know it today traces its history back into the far past and has undergone numerous changes and adaptations. It nevertheless retains its distinctiveness which makes Thai food highly popular among connoisseurs of fine dining the world over. Thai food will certainly bring an even wider appreciation of its many delights.

Welcome to one of the worlds great cuisines. This is food you can enjoy cooking as much as eating. Like the word 'Thai', which means 'free', Thai cooks are never rigid in their approach. So be flexible in your interpretation of the recipes, particularly when you are not always able to find every ingredient. Thai food combines the best of several eastern cuisines: the oriental bite of Sichuan Chinese, the tropical flavor of Malaysia, the creamy coconut sauces of southern Indian and the aromatic spices of Arabian food.

As Thai food is delicious, nutritious and easy to cook, it has become exponentially popular all over the world. The national style of cooking finds a well deserved place in global culinary culture due to its unique combination of spicy-salty-sweet-sour taste of this very special Asian cuisine. The present day cities throughout the world have more new Thai restaurants which skillfully combine and refine the available ingredients along with traditional ones resulting in dishes with exciting character.

The people of Thailand do not use knives and forks but forks and spoons, holding the fork in their left hand to help get the food onto the right-hand-held spoon. Each spoonful should be moderately filled to conform with accepted custom. Eating by stuffing the mouth full is considered impolite. There shouldn't be any sound of scraping the utensils on the plate nor should there be grains of rice on the lips. The Thais do not scoop portions onto their plates as home style serving in the west tends to do. They share from a common dish, taking only enough for a bite or two at a time. This way one avoids seeming too greedy and everyone has an ample share of each dish.

The ideal Thai meal aims at being a harmonious blend of the spicy, the sweet, and the sour and is meant to be satisfying to the eye, nose, and palate. Mouth-watering, different, Thai food is basically 'chilli hot' at times blended with subtle additions of locally grown roots, grasses, and aromatic herbs to lessen the 'bite'. The use of spices and aromatic plants such as sweet basil, mint and galangal which enhances the flavor of Thai dishes. Thai food appeals to more than taste alone, it is infact a sensory high !

A dish should appeal equally well to the eye and most as well as the taste buds. Thai food is an original and rich amalgamation of evocative aromas, subtle blends of herbs and spices and contrast in textures and tastes. A single-word summation of Thai food would not be 'heat' but 'harmony', a harmony of tastes, colors, and textures designed to appeal to both the eye and palate. Besides the qualities of pleasant appearance and excellent taste, Thai food is recognized as one of the most outstanding culinary creations in the world.

A few ingredients that cannot be substituted are: coriander root which is used both as an ingredient in the cooking and part of many marinades; coriander leaves which are used for cooking and garnishing. The 'Nam Pla', a fish sauce which adds saltiness and bring out the finer flavors of other ingredients. Coriander is an acquired taste and although parsley is sometimes suggested in recipes as an acceptable substitute, its use will certainly result in a great loss of 'Thai-ness' in the cooking.

The Thai prefer to eat polished rice, tending to look down on untreated rice as inferior. Long grain rice is cooked, usually steamed to a light and fluffy texture with out the use of additives such as salt, the seasonings and spicy sauces being served seperately and added according to individual taste.

A large container of rice is always the centerpiece. Surrounding the large central bowl of rice there will be several dishes offering a balanced selection of flavors and textures. In addition to the rice, a typical meal might include a soup; tom yum, a curry; gaeng, fresh vegetables; yam, a fried dish; phad, a spicy hot dipping sauce; nam prig and a steamed one. The soup is served together with the other dishes whereas western customs is to serve the soup to start.

A full composition of a typical Thai meal would be rice, curry, soup, fried dish, salad, dipping sauce with fresh vegetables, steamed or grilled dish, solid dessert, liquid dessert and mixed fruits.

                          Koong phad kraphaw; shell lobster with chilli and holy basil

                                                         Tom yum soup

                                        Phad phak ruam mit; stir fried vegetables

                                    Kaenu khieuwan kai, chicken in thai green curry

                                               Mee krob; crispy thai glass noodles

                       Phad thai; aromatic thai rice-stick noodles with roasted peanuts

         Sang khaya fak thong; fresh pumpkin and coconut custard in lemon grass cannoli

By : Devraj Halder

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