Thai food is one of the world’s most exciting cuisines and is the result of an eclectic mix of Eastern influences. Below is a general guide to tempt your taste buds.
Thai food has been influenced by soups and noodles from China, curries from India and satays from Indonesia. Contrary to popular belief, not all food is fiery hot and there are plenty of tasty dishes suited to the western palate.
A meal usually consists of many complementary dishes served concurrently instead of a single main course with side dishes. It is known for its balance of five fundamental flavours in each dish or overall mean which are, hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty and sometimes bitter. Thai food is meant to be equally satisfying to eye, nose and palate.
Thai food is usually eaten with a fork and spoon rather than with chopsticks: the fork is held in the left hand and is used to shovel the food onto the spoon. It is common however for Thais and hillside people to eat sticky rice with their right hands by making it into balls which are dipped into side dishes and then eaten.
Thai cuisine varies in different regions of the country. Meals in the north are somewhat milder than in the central plains while north eastern food is fiery hot. Seafoods are most common in the south and the Muslim communities of the deep south are very partial to all kinds of curries.
In the villages large Thai families often live together and work the land, as the majority of Thailand 's people make a living in one way or another from the land. Seafood, coconuts, tropical fruits, rice, tapioca, cane sugar, mushrooms, bananas and shrimp are plentiful foods.
Thai food contains many spices and herbs such as hot peppers, garlic, coriander, ginger, onions and curries. These hot tastes are often offset by steamed rice (eaten at almost every meal), mild noodle dishes, sweet Thai teas and coffees, sweet desserts and fruits.
Meat is very expensive, and beef or pork based recipes would contain far less meat than most Europeans would expect.
Thai food is mainly stir fried or steamed, usually in a wok, and a typical meal might include a clear soup, perhaps bitter melons stuffed with minced pork, a steamed dish (mussels in curry sauce), a fried dish (fish with ginger), a hot salad (beef slices on a bed of lettuce, onions, chillies, mint and lemon juice) and a variety of sauces into which food is dipped. This would be followed by sweet desserts and/or fresh fruits such as mangoes, durian, jackfruit, papaya, grapes or melon.
Most non-Thai curries consist of powdered or ground dried spices, whereas the major ingredients of Thai curry are fresh herbs. A simple Thai curry paste consists of dried chilies, shallots and shrimp paste. More complex curries include garlic, galanga, coriander roots, lemon grass, kaffir lime peel and peppercorns.
For centuries good health came with the right variety of food as it was the only dependable cure offered by local healers. These medicines have mostly derived from plants found in the wild. Though modern practice has changed medical thinking, belief in natural medicines is still strong.
With this in mind most of the ingredients used in Thai cooking carry medicinal benefits. In the past, the effects of natural conditions was studied which brought on various physical ailments. They counteracted them with natural products that offered the opposite effect: cooling herbs or fruits for an imbalance of heat, for instance.
In Thailand the summer heat is relentless and it activates the fire element in our bodies, causing headaches, thirst and sometimes constipation. The conventional antidote is simple - anything sweet or bitter! Tamarinds, oranges, acacia, gourd, pineapples, and water melons are all effective.
Greasy or spicy foods are advised against, as they will only heat up the body. Durian, jangfruit, and longans may be tempting, but they have similar consequences.
During the wet season the element of wind blows blustery inside the body so it is easy to catch a cold or suffer flatulence. The cure is to add some spices hence the fiery vegetables such as chillies, sweet basil, fennel and ginger can warm up the body and soothe these conditions.
In winter, the commonest complaints are dry skin, headaches, running nose, and indigestion. Hot, bitter, and sour foods are recommended so dishes containing peppers, chillies, turmeric, galingale, or other spicy ingredients are served.
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