Chorchaba Harper is our ressident Thai chef, we adore her food so we asked her to write a blog for us all about thai cuisine.
Ever since I first came to the UK back in 1985 and started to bring Thai Cuisine to the attention of Northerners, I have been asked one question more than any other, what makes it so different to most other Asian cuisines.
My answer is twofold, one is the way Thais eat and the other is what they eat in a typical meal.
The idea is to have a meal based on as many different tastes as possible depending how many people are eating. Each person will have their own particular favourites and so if a group of or family eat together then they can each add an element to the diversity of the meal.
Strictly speaking there is no such thing as starter and main course in Thai food. Thai people just love to eat every meal is an occasion and it just depends how hungry they are. Often a few dishes will be ordered and then added to as the meal is being eaten. Thais would never order a one dish meal to be eaten in seclusion, that is just too western and goes against everything food is about in Thailand.
The truth is a soup can be served in the middle or at the end of the meal as well as the start.
This also means a dish we think of as main course can start the meal (like a curry or a stir-fry).
Thais will usually eat aromatic boiled rice with their food but you can add some extra interest by having a Pineapple fried rice if that will suit the other dishes
What is more important is the balance of the dishes so that those eating can enjoy as varied a taste experience as possible.
So what would be a varied meal?
Maybe a curry of some kind, either a hot green curry or a milder curry such as Chicken yellow Curry or Massaman Beef Curry, which is sweet/tangy.
Something like a Chilli Basil dish, Beef, Chicken, Pork or Fish (if the curry is one of the milder ones) with perhaps a Thai Sweet and Sour dish which is very different to Chinese sweet sour. And maybe a Garlic Dish which is a very simple yet greatly underrated. In this way the meal has all the distinct tastes of Thai food, Hot, Sweet, Tangy and Mild. Add to this a few dishes like Chicken Satay, Thai Fish Cakes, which can be served at any time during the meal and add extra interest (no such thing as a Thai ordering a one dish meal) and there you have it a typical Thai meal for sharing with friends or family.
What makes Thai food smell and taste so unique?
Thai cuisine is based on 4 pillars of taste plus a 5th – Bitter – element often added for medicinal purposes.
Sour – Sweet – Salty – Spicy
Thai dishes will include each of the taste elements, depending on the dish one or two will be dominant. The secret is knowing what the dish is supposed to taste like so take a look at the description before you start – have fun and experiment with flavours.
To get the right balance first have a sense of that the lead taste element should be, for example in a massaman curry the lead element is spicy and sweet whilst Tom Yum has spicy and sour as its lead elements and the secondary flavours as sweet and salty flavour.
Ingredients to achieve the right balance of flavours
Sour – Use lime, lemon, tamarind, green mango, sour pineapple, green papaya, bamboo.
Sweet – Use palm or coconut sugar, ripe pineapple.
Salty – use shrimp paste, fish sauce, sea salt, shellfish.
Spicy – use chillies, black or white peppercorns.
Bitter – use turmeric, baby aubergine, bitter melon.
Aromatic Herb and Spices.
Thai food uses many key herbs & spices to give the food it’s unique aroma and depth of flavours, favourite herbs include lemongrass, galangal, coriander root, sweet basil leaves. For spices looks to cardamom, nutmeg, coriander seeds which are often added to pastes.
Finally – have fun!
The most important thing is to have fun, try experimenting with the dishes you’ve learnt at Chorchaba’s cookery classes, you’ll end up with food that tastes devine. For details of upcoming Thai cookery classes click here
You can also have a read of Chorchaba’s blog about where to buy Thai ingredients