The Art of Basic Thai Cooking
Today we are going to be breaking down our favourite Thai food classics into categories so you can get a better understanding of how the different dishes are prepared and what ingredients are used to make them. We will give you a tourist-friendly dish to try from each category, or you can check out our ‘eat like a local’ recommendation if you want to something a little out of the ordinary.
Curry – Geang
Coconut-based curries such as green curry – gaeng kieow waan, red curry – gaeng ped and masaman curry – gaeng masaman have become famous worldwide, and it’s not surprising as they’re utterly delicious.
What goes into a Thai curry?
A curry paste is made by pounding green or red chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime peel, coriander roots, shrimp paste, salt and ground spices, which are dependant on which region it’s from. The paste is fried and coconut milk or cream is added to give it a wonderfully rich flavour and texture. The coconut milk helps to dampen the searing heat from the chillies which is one of the reasons they are so popular with tourists!
Not all Thai curries are made with coconut milk, though. Traditionally, the curries of northern Thailand contained no coconut milk as coconut palms don’t fare so well in the cooler temperatures up there.
Jungle curry – gaeng pa is probably the most famous of this style of Thai curry. As the curry is made with just water, with no coconut milk to cool it down, it can be searingly hot and definitely not for the faint-hearted! Gaeng pa traditionally comes with either wild boar, frogs or snails but these days you can pick it up with chicken or pork if you’re not feeling too adventurous!
Recommended dishes (coconut based): Green Curry, Massaman curry, red or Panang curry.
Eat like a local: Tay pho curry – pork red curry with morning glory
Recommended dish: (no coconut): Gaeng som – sour yellow curry
Eat like a local: Gaeng pa -jungle curry with frog or snails.
Soup – Tom
All Thais love soup and it’s easy to see why. The two most well known Thai soups to tourists are tom kha gai, a rich soup made up of coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, Thai chili, coriander, mushrooms, chicken, fish sauce and lime juice and tom yam goong, which is a hot and sour soup containing lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers. Tom yam can be served clear or with milk to give it a creamy consistency, we’d go for the creamy version any day of the week!
Recommended dishes: Tom yam goong – spicy sour soup with prawns, tom kha gai – coconut soup with chicken.
Eat like a local: Tom Khlong pla – sour soup with dried fish or tom sap moo – sour pork bone soup.
Spicy Salad – Yum
Salads in Thailand don’t tend to resemble their western cousins in that they don’t contain salad leaves, so no iceberg lettuce in sight! A typical Thai salad will include, fish sauce, lime juice, chilli, celery leaves, shallots (or onions) and tomatoes. You can then choose from seafood (yum talay), grilled pork (yum moo yang), grilled beef (yum neua yang) or anything you want, really. A Thai salad is often bulked up with glass noodles made from mung bean flour called woon sen making it a yum woon sen.
Recommended dish: Yum woon sen -glass noodle spicy salad.
Eat like a local: Yum Tuapu – wing bean salad.
Fried Food – Tod
Sometimes you just want to forget the diet and get stuck into something crispy, oily and utterly comforting and Thailand has some classic fried food to soothe your crispy cravings. Por piah tod – crispy spring rolls are a staple of Thai street food. Vegetables, pork or shrimp (or all three) are wrapped in wheat or rice paper, deep fried and served with sweet chilli sauce.
Also, you can’t forget the chicken from Kentucky as Thailand’s Hat Yai fried chicken – gai tod Hat Yai puts any American southern fried chicken to shame. Chicken pieces are marinated in soy sauce, oyster sauce, coriander seed, cumin, white pepper, garlic and rice flour before being deep fried to golden perfection and served with crispy shallots and sweet chilli sauce.
Recommended dishes: Por piah – spring rolls, Hat Yai gai tod – Thai fried chicken.
Eat like a local: Salapao moo Daeng tod – Deep fried pork buns stuffed with sweet bbq pork.
Grilled – Yang and Ping
Yang and ping both refer to something grilled, and this type of Thai cooking produces some of the most delicious and cheap food you can get in Thailand. The majority of grilled food in Thailand comes from the northeastern province of Issan, such as gai yang – grilled chicken, kor moo yang – grilled pork neck and moo ping – grilled marinated pork on a stick. These simple grilled meat dishes usually come served with a spicy, sour issan dip called nam jim jaew and go perfectly with a fresh somtam – papaya salad and a packet of sticky rice. If you’re not a meat eater, you can pick up some gluay ping – grilled bananas or a parcel of khao niew ping – sticky rice grilled in a banana leaf.
Recommended dish: Moo ping – grilled marinated pork on a stick, gai yang – grilled chicken, kor moo yang – grilled pork neck.
Eat like a local: Moo yang Trang – sweet Chinese roast pork from the southern province of Trang.