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Food and Wine: Thailand Cuisine

Food and Wine: Thailand Cuisine

Internationally famous for its unique cuisine, Thai food is known for its use of fresh (rather than dried) herbs and spices as well as an aromatic and strong tasting fish sauce, called nahm pla. Thai cuisine originates from four distinct regions of Thailand and each dish or meal typically consists of a delicate balance of five flavours: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty and bitter.

Highlights

Because of the cooler mountain climate, a greater variety of vegetables are used in the north than in other regional Thai cuisines. North-eastern dishes often include lime juice, and curries are thinner in this region. Dishes in the Central and Southern regions use a wide variety of leaves, such as kaffir lime leaves, frequently combined with garlic, galangal, lemon grass, turmeric and/or fingerroot (krachai), blended together with various chillies to make curry paste; fresh Thai basil is used to add fragrance; and other typical ingredients include Thai eggplants, tamarind, palm and coconut sugars and coconut milk.

Try these famous Thai dishes:

The North

Khao soi - Crispy wheat noodles in sweet chicken, pork or beef curry soup.
Kaeng yuak - A curry made with banana palm hearts.
Kaeng khanoon - A curry made from the aromatic jackfruit.
Kaeng hang lay - A pork curry seasoned with ginger, tamarind and turmeric.

The North-East

Som tam plara - Grated papaya salad with salted gourami fish, white eggplants, fish sauce and long beans. Variations include: som tam poo with salted black crab and som tam Thai with peanuts, dried shrimp and palm sugar.
Kai yang - Marinated grilled chicken - normally eaten with sticky rice and som tam.
Larb - Sour salads containing meat, onions, chillies and roasted rice powder and garnished with mint.
Namtok - Similiar to larb, except the beef is cut into thin strips rather than minced.
Pla beuk - Taste the giant Mekong catfish, caught only in May.

The Central region

Tom yam - Thailand's famous hot and sour soup originates from this region. With shrimp it is called tom yam goong or tom yam kung, with seafood (typically shrimp, squid, fish) tom yam talae and with chicken tom yam gai.
Gai pad khing - Chicken stir fried with sliced ginger.
Kha kai - A delicious creamy coconut milk soup made with chicken.
Kaeng khieo wan - A green curry made with fresh green chillies and flavoured with Thai basil and chicken or fish meatballs.
Kaeng phet - A very hot red curry with chicken, beef, pork or shrimp.
Kaeng phanaeng - A milder dry curry with beef, chicken or pork. It includes some roasted dried spices similar to Massaman curry.
Tod man - Deep fried fishcake made from knife fish or shrimp.
Boo jah - Crab cakes with pork, garlic and pepper served with a simple spicy sauce such as Sri Rachaa sauce, sweet-hot garlic sauce, nahm prik pao (roasted chili paste) or red curry paste and chopped green onions.
Choo-chee plah ga-pong - Snapper in choo-chee curry sauce (thick red curry sauce).

The South

Kaeng tai pla - A very hot yellow curry made with fish stomach, green beans, pickled bamboo shoots and potato.
Kai betong - A steamed chicken seasoned with soy sauce and then stir fried with green vegetables.
Khanom chin - Thin rice noodles in a spicy Malay-style fish curry sauce, served with dishes of cucumber, pineapple, pickled cabbage with other fruits and vegetables.

Rice - The sweet-smelling jasmine rice is indigenous to Thailand and is a staple of Thai cuisine. Sticky rice, khao neow, is a unique variety of rice that contains an unusual balance of the starches present in all rice, causing it to cook up to a sticky texture - great for dessert with mango.

Noodles - Known by the Chinese name kwaytiow and usually served as a single dish. If you love noodles try these dishes:
Pad Thai - Rice noodles pan fried with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice or tamarind pulp, chopped peanuts and egg with chicken, seafood or tofu.
Rad na - Wide rice noodles in gravy, with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or seafood.
Pad see ew - Noodles stir fried with see ew dum (thick soy sauce) and nahm plah (fish sauce) and pork or chicken.
Pad kee mao - Noodles stir fried with Thai basil.

Nahm prik - A uniquely Thai dish of chilli sauce or paste served with vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw or blanched. The vegetables are dipped into the sauce and eaten with rice.

Desserts

Kao niao ma muang - Sticky rice and ripe mango.
Kao niao durian - Sticky rice and durian in coconut milk.
Gluay buad chee - Banana in coconut milk.
Kanome maw gaeng - Sweet potato pudding.
Cha yen - Thai iced tea.
Kah-feh yen - Thai iced coffee.

Wine

While Thais generally prefer Mekong, a locally produced whiskey more reasonably priced than either local or imported beer (all of which are quite expensive), Thailand is slowly developing a taste for wine. There are still less than a dozen wine producers in Thailand since production first began in the early 1960s, with much experimentation continuing.

Taste a Chateau des Brumes from a winery located near Nakhorn Ratchasima, which means 'a place in the morning mist', as the winery is often covered by fog or mist in the morning. Or savour a premium cuvee called Monsoon Valley, a blend of Thai varietal, especially created to complement spicy Thai food. Try either a dry red, a blend of Pok Dum, Syrah and Muscat grapes or a fresh dry white wine made from Malaga Blanc and Colombard grapes.

For a tour of a vineyard, head out to the Khao Yai National Park, about 100km north of Bangkok. Several vineyards welcome visitors. Or visit the Siam Winery, south of Bangkok near the coast on the Gulf of Thailand, where the vineyards are planted in rows separated by canals and harvesting is done using boats.

Best time to go

Thailand is best visited between November and February. However, the south is best between March and May and the north from mid-November to early December. Thailand is warm all year round with three seasons: hot - March to May, average 35°C; rainy - June to October, average 32°C; and cool - November to February, average 30°C. Monsoon rains cause Bangkok to flood in October.

Best buys

Thai silk in lengths or ready made clothes, imitation designer fashion, silver, bronze, nielloware, jewellery, plates, bowls, ornaments, temple bells, wood carvings and antiques (but beware of exquisitely-made fakes).

Did you know?

You too can discover the art of Thai cooking - just choose your favourite region and ask your Flight Centre consultant to recommend the best schools. You can choose to spend an afternoon or a week learning to cook some of Thailand's tastiest dishes.

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