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Thai Food: Stuff That’s Awesome

The prospect of writing anything about Thai food leaves me hopelessly overwhelmed.

I’ve been staring at this draft for days months now (I literally started it on 18 July 2012) wondering what direction to go in – how could I write about Thai food in an organized, accessible way? I don’t have much confidence that I can but I’ll try anyway.

Like any cuisine, Thai food can be great, not-so-great, and so-so. The vats of greasy unitentifiable meat dishes from the canteen at school? Not so great. The Old Man’s fresh vegetable curries with a mound of steamed rice and a sunny-side-up egg? Pretty great.

Eating street food in Thailand
Street eats: a classic Thai dish, khao man gai (boiled chicken with sauce over rice and soup on the side)

What is Thai food?

As you would expect, most people mostly eat Thai food in Thailand. I know it sounds simple, but when you really think about it, it’s quite different from the pattern of eating we normally encounter in America.

Yes, there are quintessential “American” dishes like maybe pizza or hamburgers or something like that, but generally no one goes around eating only American food in the States; we eat rice and pasta and salads and Indian food and Chinese food and grilled steak and mashed potatoes. We even eat Thai food. Now take everything out except Thai food and that’s what you have in Thailand. (I know it’s an obvious point but imagine!!)

Nommin some pad thai on Khao San Road
Nommin some pad thai on Khao San Road

Yes, there is variety within the national cuisine, but if I were to be making generalizations (and it appears as though I have no choice if I’m ever going to try to write about Thai food), I would say Thai dishes tend to use the same ingredients mixed together in varying methods and intensities.

Rice. Limes. Peanuts. Coconuts. Chicken. Pork. Noodles. Chillies. Lemongrass. Kaffir leaves. Thai basil. Garlic. Fish sauce. Cabbage.

I’m going to miss the strong flavors in Thai food. Thais are very aware of balancing sweet, salty, spicy, and sour, as expertly exemplified by a popular Thai dish called som tam. It’s a cold salad made with unripe papaya (which comes out tasting like nothing except crunchiness), tomatoes, string beans, and peanuts. It is dressed with fish sauce (salty), chillis (spicy), limes (sour), and sugar (sweet). My favorite meal as of late is som tam and gai yang (grilled chicken) and sticky rice. Nom nom nom.

I don’t really take pictures of my food anymore, but here’s a TASTE of some Stuff That’s Awesome:

Coconut ice cream in Thailand
Coconut ice cream. One of the many delightful sweet treats you can find around here 🙂
Penang gai (penang curry chicken) in Thailand
Penang gai (penang curry chicken)
Traditional Thai fish dish
Traditional Thai fish dish
pad pangaree jay (yellow curry vegetables) food in Thailand
pad pangaree jay (yellow curry vegetables)
Gai yang (grilled chicken) and sticky rice eating in Thailand
Gai yang (grilled chicken) and sticky rice

Next post in this series will be on Thai food that’s not so awesome.

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