Wednesday, July 28
Some of my favorite Thai dishes...
Tom Kha Gai - Very common soup featuring coconut milk, lemongrass, chicken, and cilantro. Throw some sticky rice in to make it heartier. We used to make it at home every few weeks, it's a real comfort food. Just order 'Tom Kha' to get it without the chicken, really it's just as good.
Glass Noodle Soup - I don't get this one too often, just because I LOVE Tom Kha, but it's very good too. The namesake noodles are in a clear chicken broth usually with mushrooms, tofu, and sometimes bean sprouts or lemon grass. Think Chinese soups and you're in the right neighborhood.
Satay (chicken, beef, or pork) - strips of lean meat skewed with a bamboo stake like a shish kabob, then grilled and served with peanut sauce. Yum! I sometimes get beef if I order this, though I love chicken satay, just because it's easy to overdose on chicken since it's great in soups, curries, and so on.
Thai Spring Rolls - very much like Chinese spring rolls, vegetarian with some thai ingredients like galang and glass noodles. Vietnamese cuisine has something quite similar; in fact I'm pretty sure the Thais borrowed these from Vietnamese menus.
Thai Cucumber Salad - very simple, with cucumbers and sweet tomatoes on baby butter-leaf lettuce topped with a great creamy basil dressing. Dunno how authentic, but most places seem to have it and it's nice and refreshingly cool and mild as a contrast to some of the spicier main dishes.
Pad Thai - everyone's favorite noodle dish. Choice of meats or of no meat. It doesn't really need it in my opinion. Thick rice noodles, fried egg, bean curd, garlic, shallots, chili, palm sugar, fish sauce, and bean sprouts topped with chopped peanuts, lime wedges, and cilantro. The flavors all balance out to create the signature sweet-sour-savory-spicy taste complex that Thai cuisine is know for.
Curries - Could list them separately but basically you can almost get any combination of a) a meat, b) a starch (rice or noodles), c) a curry (red/brown, green, or yellow), and more soupy served in a true bowl or thicker and served in a wider pasta-type dish. I like them all, but it's hard to beat simple yellow curry with chicken and potatoes (Gang-garee gai; "gai" means "chicken" if you haven't figured it out by now). Two others which are very good if you don't mind kicking up the temperature a bit (yellow curry tends to be mild) is green curry and Massaman (a brownish curry popular in the south, near the border with Malaysia). Oh, and I almost forgot, pumpkin curry, if done well, is fantastic. They don't actually use pumpkin but a type of orange squash. Sticks to your ribs and isn't as spicy as the green or brown curries.
Seafood - Thais are big on seafood, and you'll find probably more than you were looking for on the menu. I love the deep fried crispy fish in tamarind sauce (beware if you're squeamish, they leve the head on), garlic bbq prawns, fish cakes (a truly authentic dish - you see Thai people order them like Italians have a side of pasta), and calamari with a lime-chili dipping sauce. But then, I like seafood. Your tastes may vary. Just a precaution - if you do get adventurous, beware, the more authentic the place the more likely they are to have eel or some other thing I'm not real keen on trying. Though most likely, it'd taste great. I just hate to waste a trip to a Thai joint without getting someting I KNOW I'll like. Oh, many of the seafood soups are great too, with a broth/coconut milk combo and scallops, prawns, and who knows what else bobbing around in there. I just don't think about it and eat it, it's usually delicious.
Unlike Chinese cuisine, Thai places will almost always serve you a ball of sweet, sticky rice as a side to any entree. Most do have "normal" white rice as well as friend rice (a Chinese dish you don't usually find in Thailand itself, except in the far north) if that's your thing. You might want to put off having a big "bed" of rice to scoop your other dishes onto as in Chinese though, since rice features prominently in dessert and it would be a shame to get tired of it before then!
This is pretty much one of the areas where Thai cusine really shines; much more so in my opinion than Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or Laotian. Because Thai food already leans to the sweet side (that oddly satisfying sweet and spicy combo), it's no surprise to see desserts such as coconut rice ice cream, thai custard, sticky rice with mango, thai coconut pudding, and mee krob - a unique crispy noodle matrix glazed with a sugar reduction and often served with subtle amounts of lime, chili, and even one time I saw a sprinkling of powdered sugar over the top.
Thai Iced Tea - not everyone likes it, but I love it. Like a sweet tea with a layer of coconut milk at the bottom.
Various teas and coffees - indigenous as well as varieties borrowed from China, England, and all over. The basics, really.
Singha - the most popular Thai beer. Light and crisp but with a nice full flavor and not a lot of aftertaste. Perfect for the daytime heat and humidity of Bangkok, in fact. I could suck down a sick pack of these bad dogs easily just walking around that city for an hour, the heat is that oppressive.
Well, I hope this helped, and apologies anywhere I dumbed down. I'm just not sure what you've had and haven't had.
A typical order for Taunya, Sue, and me would be something like this:
Tom Kha soup, no meat
Chicken or beef satay w/peanut sauce dip
Yellow chicken curry
Pad Thai, veggie or maybe pork
And then I would skip dessert; sometimes they would indulge.
That would fill us all to the brim and usually guarantee leftovers, unless I got on a roll :)
We learned the hard way that finding good, authentic Thai recipes on the internet is like trying to catch wild turkeys on the eve of Thanksgving or seeing gay cowboys pretending to go fishing together... Oh wait, strike that last one. Anyway, I'm not cook enough to tell you where TO go to find the best recipes, except that I'd probably avoid big databases like Allrecipes.com or Epicurious.com, since they don't specialize in Thai cuisine, and merely consist of user-uploaded recipes that then get voted on by others. We found many of these recipes to be what Tex-Mex is to real Mexican food: nothing like it. Many Americans will Americanize the ingredients and cut corners, rather than going to the admitted hassle of finding the correct ingredients, fresh and from an Asian market or a small upscale grocery store which stocks quality Asian produce and spices.
In the end we found a few easy dishes we made fairly often at home (as well as Indian dishes, but that's another post), but for a more complex meal it was always easier to go out :) Plus being waited on by a beautiful Thai girl in a sarong doesn't hurt.
Have fun! Feel free to comment with your own favorite Thai dishes, or anything else on the subject you'd like to say. Like, how popular is Thai food where you live? Have you ever made it at home? It would be fun to put together little guides like this for many major types of cuisine: Indian, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, German, Japanese, and more. But I think I'd subcontract the work for some of those to others who are much more knowledgeable than I. :)
Posted by Metamatician on Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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