By: Kate Stoner and Tiffany Henry
Thai cuisine is a large part of Thai culture and consists of many unique and staple ingredients and flavors. Thai food is an important aspect of many religious celebrations and holidays. There are also many customs that are unique to Thai cuisine and culture. We have personally done a lot ofresearch in anticipation for this trip and have discovered some dishes that we have thoroughly enjoyed and are excited to share with you! 😀
Thailand, the only Southeast Asian country that has never been colonized by western civilization, is very unique because the cuisine has not been heavily influenced by western culture and has maintained its own unique culinary style. Thailand’s cuisine is primarily influenced by China, where many Thai people migrated from thousands of years ago. Similar to the Chinese, Thai food integrates sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and hot flavors. They also incorporate many spices and seasonings commonly associated with Indian food, such curry and cumin flavors.Thai food, like American food, varies based on the distinct region of Thailand. For example, spicier foods are found in the northeast while seafood is predominately found in the southern coastal regions.
The primary food found in most Thai cuisine is rice. The two main kinds of rice in the Thai diet are basic white rice and sticky rice. White rice is grown throughout all of Thailand but is predominately cultivated in the central plains of the country. White rice is generally characterized as a long grain milled or processed rice and is one of Thailand’s main exports. Sticky rice is a short grained rice that is popular in sushi rolls and deserts. Rice is also made into flour and used in the production of noodles and dumplings.
One of our favorite sticky rice recipes is the mango and sticky rice dessert. For this traditional dessert, sticky rice is mixed with coconut milk and sugar and topped with freshly cut mangos. The coconut and coconut milk are also staples in the Thai diet.
Thai food also uses many different combinations of spices and seasonings. Although even the mild dishes seemed extremely spicy and indistinguishable to us, Thai food incorporates many different notable spices and flavors in each dish. Curry and hot chilies are two of the main flavors accentuating the spiciness of the food. Some other common flavors include basil, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon. Often, lime juice is also added to many dishes.A few popular sauces used to accompany the food include shrimp paste and fish sauce. Also, many foods are commonly sweetened with palm and brown sugar to enhance the flavor.
One of our favorites, chicken satay, integrates many of these spices and ingredients. It is very versatile being that it is served as a snack, appetizer, and even a main course. The skewered chicken is prepared with pepper, cumin, coriander, turmeric, garlic, sugar, lemon juice and is accompanied with soy sauce and fish sauce.
Although Buddhism influences Thai culture and cuisine, the religion does not place any strict limitations on the cuisine. In fact, many religious celebrations and seasonal festivals incorporate food and banquets. Similar to turkey on thanksgiving, many Thai holidays correlate with symbolic foods. Some symbolic foods are egg rolls which are eaten on a daily basis and are a huge food item for theNew Year’s celebration. The new years celebration, or as they say Songkran, is an extremely festive day and in Thailand is celebrated in April. The egg roll is called Poa Pee and consists of an egg or noodle that is wrapped around many ingredients or varieties of food. The recipient who eats the egg roll is thought to prosper in wealth and luck.
The daily lifestyle of the Thai people incorporates their love of snacking. It is extremely common to see food stalls, stands, and carts in of public areas. Like our custom in America dinner is the main meal and is balanced with a plethora of seasonings and flavors. In Thailand it is common to add a soup to the side of the main course to help neutralize the sometimes extreme spiciness of the main course. One of our favorite soups was the traditional coconut chicken soup. The Coconut chicken soup is multifaceted in its taste and ingredients. It uses many unique ingredients such as lemon grass, ginger root, lime juice, chilies, fish sauce, coriander and of course coconut milk.
Thais are famous for their love of snacks. There are food stalls near every public place due to the Thai habit of snacking all day. These stalls sell hundreds of different snacks. Among the most popular are fish cakes, egg rolls, fried rice, and noodles served with a choice of seasonings.
Thais eat three meals daily, plus many snacks. Dinner is the main meal. Breakfast often consists of fried rice, boiled eggs, and foods left over from the previous day’s dinner. Lunch is usually a single-dish meal based on either rice or noodles. The main meal, eaten at dinnertime, consists of several different dishes chosen to balance different flavors and cooking methods. Soups are served with most main meals and are sipped throughout the meal. A typical dinner is steamed rice, a curry dish, a vegetable dish, a cold salad, and soup. Rice is the only food placed on each person’s plate. All the other dishes are brought to the table in serving bowls, and people help themselves. Fresh fruit is served at the end.
Unlike their Asian neighbors, Thais do not use chopsticks unless they are eating noodles. Most of the time they use a fork and a flat-bottomed spoon. The fork is used only to push food onto the spoon, not to bring it to one’s mouth. Food is already cut into bite-sized pieces, so a knife is not needed.