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Friday, 31 December 2010

The Tastes of Thailand

Written by Kelly N. Saunders
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To experience the essence of Thailand and the underlying core of its rich culture, you must sample the zesty local cuisine.  Thai cuisine is a mix of ancient Chinese stir-frying techniques, Siamese style mixed meat and vegetables, heavy Indian curry influence, and renowned customary marinades. Locally grown spices and herbs are used, including garlic, smoldering hot chilies (phrik), hot curry, lemon grass (takhrai), black pepper (phrik thai), sour makrut lime, and shallots.  These spices are infused with coconut milk, oils, coconut cream, sugar cane and vinegars for a fiery explosion of tastes.  So what is the difference between green curry, yellow curry, and red curry?  The distinction in specific pastes is the chilies used and spices added.  Green curry consists of green chilies, red curry consists of red chilies, yellow curry adds cumin and peppercorn, and Massaman curry consists of a slight twinge of cinnamon.

 

Phuket boasts hundreds of market bazaars, stalls, street vendors and night markets, which provide fresh locally grown produce, fresh fish, live game for trade, chopped meats, exotic fruits and hundreds of aromatic spices.

 

MarketsSituated on the side of a dusty road, local street merchants suggest small portions of unique treats, including fresh fried potato chips, fried bananas, seafood stir fry, dried squid, spicy fried chicken wings, spring rolls, pork and crab skewers, honey pancakes and coconut ice cream.  Most of these specialties are prepared fresh while you linger and browse around the stalls.

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh InsectsThe entertaining, vivacious night markets are abuzz with hawkers offering a larger assortment of bold flavors such as green curry chicken, chili and lemon grass pork, fried rice, noodles and rice, roasted pork butt with leafy greens, fried fish cakes with green beans, coconut soup and of course a scrumptious mixture of fried insects, if you dare.  Hawker is a term used to describe snack or small portions and hawker fare is mostly prepared in the traditional Thai manner and fresh daily for its customers with delicate palates.

 

 

Fish CakesCrispy fried fish cakes are prepared by removing all bony parts of the fish and blended with curry paste, fish sauce and egg.  After the mixture is smooth and creamy, green beans and makrut lime leaves are added for tang.  Small patties are formed and dropped into an oil filled wok or frying pan until golden brown, once cooled they are served with sweet chili sauce and cucumber relish to enhance the flavor and compliment the bold curry taste.

 

 

 

Thai pancakes are similar to crepes and are often topped with meat, cheese, onions, and egg and then wrapped for take-away but can also come with a simpler option of honey, banana or peanuts.

 


 

 

Coconut soup or tom khaa kai, is always simmering in bulky steel pots for hours and loaded with delicious ingredients.  Coconut milk is the base of this broth, hence the name, and includes lemon grass, slices of chicken, palm sugar, baby tomatoes, button mushrooms, chilies, cilantro leaves and makrut (lime) leaves for a remarkably warm blend.

 

Street Vendors

 

Noodles, noodles everywhere.  Thailand has the largest selection of noodles (guai-tiaw) in most markets.  There are wide, white flat noodles which make phat Thai, bean thread which are transparent and glasslike, the recognizable Ramen noodles and tiny rice noodles, to name a few.  Most noodles are made from rice flour, mung bean flour and wheat flour and are twisted, shaped, compressed and flattened in many different ways.  Unlike rice, noodles aren’t often eaten alone and accompany a main dish.

 

Pork BunsOne little indulgence to be on the lookout for, steamed buns, a white fluffy external shell with a filling of pork, custard and beans is a yummy delight if and when you can find them.  Often sold by one lone street cart, hidden on a random side street, this tasty bun is cheap and filling and goes great with a frosty Chang beer while you stroll along taking in the essence of Thailand.

 

 

 

 

These are just a few of many diverse fares, styles and little pleasures of visiting Phuket.  Have an open mind when experiencing the quintessential tastes of Thailand and everything this culture has to offer.

 

 

Photos and text © Kelly N. Saunders

 

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012