Burn baby burn: Thai food 101
I spent last week in Thailand for work doing nothing but working and eating. And since my work would be terribly boring to everyone lets talk about food! I forget sometimes that foreign food can be really intimidating if you have no idea what to order. I am very adventurous when it comes to trying something new but I am also extremely cautious and actually a really picky eater. But I will try anything at least once. Except insects (A girl has to draw the line somewhere). Here are some tips for some of you Thai food newbies who want to know what to order either in a stateside restaurant or on the side of the road in Bangkok. Some of you might be well versed in this area already but lets consider this Thai food 101 for the starters and we’ll move to some advanced dishes later. For instance we wont get into how I had eaten half of this fish dish and soup I was served this trip only to find out that the head of the delicious fish I had just consumed was in fact in my soup! Probably a good thing I didn’t know that in advance.
Other than whether or not my food still has a face when it arrives at my table my main concern when ordering is usually the spice factor. Here are some options in the light, medium, and on fire ranges and my Favorite dishes too I might add. Most restaurants in the states will adjust to your liking based on your order. However, when eating in the local Thai places you don’t necessarily have that luxury.
Light spice: Pad Thai Gai (with Chicken) or Pad Thai Goong (shrimp)
A common thai noodle dish that has become quite popular in this hemisphere and can be ordered from a cart for about $1 all over Thailand. This tends to start off as rather bland and then you add in ingredients to your own flavor taste. I like to add a bit of chili, all the beansprouts, a little lime, and the peanuts on the top. But that’s just me. If you are ordering in a restaurant stateside sometimes it comes premixed but cart side in Bangkok I usually just point to what I want or they have a little serve yourself set up. This is beginner Thai Food so if you have no idea where to start this is a good place.
Medium: Gaeng Keow Wan Gai (Green Curry with Chicken)
Curries can be scary for most people. Personally I believe that Curry should be allotted it’s own food group. Each culture seems to have it’s own and often times the thick base covers up any scary animal parts that might be floating around. I’m not trying to scare you, in fact quite the opposite. I find Thai curry to be the easiest to navigate and the best tasting. I like Green Curry because it is always distinguishable among the many varieties of red and yellow curries. I always know what to expect. It always seems to be medium heat and I can order with Gai (chicken) and know I am fairly safe. It can also be ordered with Shrimp/prawn (Goong) and other seafood options. I pour over rice but often times people eat straight from the bowl. If you like eggplant, peas, and a thick soup base this is AMAZING!
HOT!: Pad Krapow Gai (stir fried chicken with chili and holy basil) Can also be served as Pad Krapow Moo (pork)
This is by far my favorite dish. When I took a cooking class in Bangkok the instructor actually told me this is basically the Thai national lunch and a pretty staple food there. It is SO GOOD! But the majority of the time I order this, at least in Thailand, it is VERY spicy. Which is part of the appeal to me. It is a fairly simple dish, just a stir fry with minced chicken or pork, basil, onions, and green beans. I have seen other additions to it here and there and not always with the beans but the flavor is incredible. Always keep plenty of white rice on hand to accompany this dish and kill some of the spice and stay away from biting down on those little green or red chilis. No matter how many jalapenos you can stuff in your mouth in the states I promise you these will get ya!
While this doesn’t really have anything to do with Spice you will want to end your meal with something sweet and all the fruit in Thailand is the best in the world in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with a simple safe fruit plate. However, if you want to be a little more exotic you MUST and I repeat MUST eat Mango with sticky rice. Even if you absolutely hate mango in the US you have to try it in Thailand. It is totally different and once again you can usually find this on the street of a night market for about $1. it sounds strande but you put the mango on top of the sweet sticky rice and pour sweetened condensed milk over the dish and enjoy. I promise your taste buds will thank me.
Spice Killing Tip: If you happen to order something that is just too much heat for you do NOT try to get it out with water or soda. It does no good. I always order a Thai Iced Coffee (Cafe Yin) and it will kill it in an instant! And coffee with sweetened condensed milk is delicious and I sometimes just have this as my dessert also.
So be adventurous and be hungry whether you are on the back roads of thailand or just at your local thai place down the street. These are just a few safe foods you can start with and we can take baby steps from there. Eventually you will be eating and ordering like a local! Now I am going to pass out in hopes that I can get over this jet lag before I have to go back into the office tomorrow.