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The Tiny Book: Thai Food PornA TASTE OF THAI

THAI FOOD FESTIVAL. (Musings about being a mother, a feeder and eating on the road… with kids). A couple of weeks ago I visited the super famous World Travel Market, in London, a global event for the travel industry. Lately, this kind of exhibitions have been enriched with some funny activities to engage with the participants. In the Thai stand, visitors could have obtain a personal luggage tag with their photo printed under a beautiful «Amazing Thailand» logo after answering a few questions; one of them was …Main reason to visit Thailand? Talking with the guy in charge of the tags, I found out that almost 80 percent of visitors had replied the same thing (me included): FOOD!

What about some rice?  No way, mom!

My trip to Thailand had been in the oven – or so to speak – for months, we had stumbled on some super discounted tickets in January for a trip due in September, that was almost nine months to plan and outline everything: what to pack, what to wear, what to visit, where to stay, immunizations, visas, currency, credit cards, insurance… you name it! As soon as I booked, of course, two things became a recurrent nightmare: snakes and food.

Strangely enough, as time went by, I took it easier on snakes (even if snakes are the worst thing that could ever happen to me, I hate the poor things, I really do). Food instead? I couldn’t relax about it.

[Tweet “To make matters worst, as soon as we booked Thailand, my eldest son became enemies with rice.”]

You now, the regular The Tiny Book: Thai Food PornI adore rice, I can’t live without a risotto, but hey, mom books my first trip to Asia… Let’s see, what can I do???   – Oh! I know! Let’s start hating rice”

As simple as that, a son’s job is about that: making a mom’s life easier. Yeah, that’s my life guys. That’s a Polaroid of my life.

And mind you, I tried it all, I tried banning rice, I tried not paying attention to rice, I tried the overdose of rice, I bought all types of rice. So it was Jasmine (of course, the first one!), Basmati (Are you crazy, woman? that’s too long to be rice!!!”), parboiled, French red, Venus black, Carnaroli, Japanese style… A-L-L of them. No way. Nine years old, but I guess kids become teens earlier these days.

First thing he says when we get to Suvarnabhumi Airport: You’re right, mom! Here it smells so much like rice… it’s so delicious!” Delicious, right? Never ate a grain of rice during the whole trip.

Updated situation: He still doesn’t eat rice. Me? I’m about to be upgraded, from Travel Blogger to Holy Rice Saint.

Pad Thai, nothing but a legend

I was once told Pad Thai is everything but a Thai dish. In fact, if you do some research about it, you’ll probably find it ‘s true. And I’m not suggesting you devote your whole afternoon reading some sophisticated Asian cook book, just look it up on the old dear Wikipedia:

Plaek Phibunsongkhram promoted pad Thai in his campaign to set up Thai nationalism. Thailand was a main exporter of rice, and the government hoped to increase amounts for export. As prime minister of Thailand, Phibun hoped to Westernize the country. He supported the change of name from Siam to Thailand. At the time, wheat noodles were very popular in Thailand, but he wanted to cancel the Chinese influence, he did so promoting rice noodles, helping to set a Thai identity, A new noodle named sen chan was created. Pad Thai became popular in Thailand during World War II and it has become one of the country’s national dishes.

Still, though, controversy remains. In another popular source we read that according to certain chefs, this dish is totally Thai, being the sauces what highlights differences“(…) Pad Thai, the national dish of this country, is Chinese, if you look at the ingredients you find tofu, noodles, dried shrimp, None of them are Thai? But what makes it Thai are the sauces and pastes. The profile is Thai. Everything else is Chinese“.

Again, the same story repeats: a Prime Minister working for the unity of a country, trying to find this powerful sense of Thainess. The name of the nation was changed from Siam to Thailand, now it was time for a national dish.

The Tiny Book: Thai Food!

My first street pad Thai

I was doubtful until the very end. But setting one foot on Khao San Road was all I needed to receive the gift of courage. On my first night in Bangkok, I didn’t think twice about it. I sat on a plastic chair on the street, surrounded by powerful penetrating odors, and I ordered a Chang beer along with a dish of pad Thai,

 – How do you want it, kah? Chicken?, Shrimp? Egg?

 – Everything.

My first, one and only pad Thai. After pad Thai, I moved to authentic Thai food. And just like magic, just as snakes had vanished from my nightmares, so fear about tasting Thai food disappeared.

 Now it was time for the feast.

Bring the dishes along. Let the succulent Thai foodporn begin

Spicy Salad

If there is one dish in the whole World I wouldn’t describe as succulent, that’s salad. Let’s be honest: It is only thanks to you, holy lettuce, if I’m now super slim again! If I finally reached my so desired pre-marriage weight. But, listen:

  • I went through two pregnancies;
  • I like eating, I like cooking (less than eating, but I don’t hate it), I adore restaurants;
  • I love sweets (but also spicy food, Italian, Argentine meat, pizza… you get it: I love whatever);
  • And I live in the land of spaghetti.

Now, with all those facts at hand, you will agree with me on this: loosing those pregnancy kilos was an ordeal, it took me each and every of those ten years my child is about to become. Ten years so tremendously full of salads: salad does not equal to succulent in my mind. Unless I’m in Thailand.

Yum or Thai salad is a must dish in any Thai meal. It implies combining various ingredients, that vary in flavors, aromas and textures, of course. Then, there’s the dressing which normally consist of 4 flavors: Spiciness, from fresh or dried chilies. Saltiness, from salt and fish sauce. Sweetness, from sugar or palm sugar. Sourness, from white vinegar, lime juice, tamarind paste or certain sour fruits (mango, star gooseberry, etc.). The appeal of aromas can come from coriander, garlic and peppercorns.

According to the type of salad, each kind of dressing has a different cooking method, some dressings need all ingredients to be roasted before pounding them together; others, instead, use fresh ingredients that do not need any cooking or heating process. Every Yum has vegetables; and some types have really many of them; other salads take only fresh vegetables. These help to enhance and give more power to other dishes served with the salads.

One of the reasons for the popularity of Thai salad is the use of many spices as well as herbs. Herbs that grow with strong and decisive flavors in such a tropical weather. Both spices and herbs must be used in the right amounts, little quantities cannot be enough, while an extremely big dose of condiments might make a dish smell like medicine.

The most frequent condiments used in Thai cuisine are garlic, shallot, holy basil, Thai basil (which has a very strong and distinctive smell, according to me, it can be felt in every street and it can be inviting as well as repulsive according to its intensity), lemon basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves, ginger roots, wild ginger, lemongrass (another typical Thai flavor you will be able not only to distinguish but also to miss when you leave the country), mature galangal, lime, lemon balm leaves, pepper.

There are tons of salads to try, I’ll post my favorites:

Yum yuan, for instance, is a spicy salad with pork, prawn and chicken, it has a very tempting aroma, and it’s spicy but does not kill you.

Yum moo-yarng, is a spicy grilled pork salad with a tender and well cooked pork. Its taste is well-balanced and fragrant thanks to the coriander leaves, the lime juice and the sugar.

 

The Tiny Book: Thai Food!

 

And the best of all, the one you can decide whether it will kill you as it’s very spicy or it will just do for an afternoon in front of the sea with a fresh beer (I like all ingredients together: super spicy + seafront + cold Singha), the queen of salads for me: Papaya Salad

 

Papaya Salad, Thai Food!

Papaya Salad.

One of the best papaya saldas I tried, i.e.: the most spicy one, was one I ordered in a little restaurant, on a corner of Rambuttri road, but I guess an extra spicy Papaya salad is not that difficult to find (or order!). This is the picture I took of that salad, before I experienced my first papaya salad tears (because remember: before you learn to love it, you must learn to suffer it. Warning: parts of your tongue might go missing in action for ever).

Thai Food... everywhere!

Food Everywhere!

Same Same but Different

(Thai Stir-Fry)

Stir-fried dishes are a whole chapter in the typical Thai meal. They also divide into categories according to their tastes and other characteristics:

Bland dishes which are not hot but salty and sweet, do not have chili pepper or curry paste, their main ingredients are vegetables. A good example are stir-fried cabbage and sweet and sour dishes. These tastes also complement and help tone down the hot taste of spicy dishes in a menu.

Slightly hot dishes contain fresh chili peppers or curry pastes. Most of them have meat as a main dish, as stir-fried pork with red curry (pad prik khing) and stir-fried crispy catfish. The expression “prik khing” contains the word khing which means ginger, but there is no ginger in the dish, it just indicates the degree of heat: it tastes as hot as fresh mature ginger, this tells the dish should not be very hot or sweet, and should taste as hot as a mature ginger.

Hot Thai stir-fried dishes use meat as main ingredients and include small amounts of vegetables. Some of the best known are pad cha and pla rad prik. Hot stir-fried dishes need to be served with a mild dish to complement each other and tone down the hot dish, for instance an omelette, fried eggs, pickled cabbage, rice etc.

Thai stir-fried dishes cook rather quickly with small amounts of oil, so they are easy to prepare. They taste great with hot steamed rice, and some of them even with noodles too.

After fifteen days of non-stop menu reading in Thai restaurants, all dishes read pad-something, stir-fry-something, (green/red) curry-something, chili-paste-something, that “something” normally being chicken, pork, prawn or basil. Then all those combine like if they were multiple choice exams gone mad. It’s day number three and of course, every thing looks SAME SAME…

But DIFFERENT! trust me.

No dish, no taste, no aroma resembles the other. Thai food is a continuous party. It’s there to enjoy, pleasant to be seen and appetizing to be discovered.

Picky children?

Picky children can be a challenging adventure. I recommend bland stir-fry, so much fruit and ice creams (we had of tons banana, mango and pineapple for breakfast which not only took away our hunger, but gave us lots of vitamins and energy to face the day). Orange and tangerine juices help too. Banana cupcakes and muffins are also very good, coconut products like milk and yogurt are tasty and sweet for children. Probably your kids are not as mine, so white rice and noodles are available everywhere.

Thai Food (fruit).

Another option for children is no-name. I believe it started as a way not to throw away left-overs and then became a real dish on its own, now served i
n restaurants. It can be spicy, so you better ask first, and combine a protein (chicken, pork, seafood) with vegetables. My kids adored the no-name chicken.

Heat helps a lot, you will be more often thirsty than hungry, take advantage of the heat to add some vitamin loaded smoothies and juices to their diet.

Must try: Coconut ice cream, fruit, mango sticky-rice and fruit with a twist

I know, I know, every single soul coming to Thailand will tell you to try those. In fact you must try so many things I was almost forgetting Mango Sticky Rice and tasted it on my last day and at the airport!

Food is like a national sport for this country, you must try everything. In a way, except from insects, which do not really appeal to me; and durian for which I had a hard time finding the courage, all the rest was fun to taste and a good surprise. So, all in all, no snakes, great food. We must come back.

To put it simple, when in Thailand (and this is MY suggestion)  you should try:

All fruit: pomelo is magnificent, but also longan, carambola (star fruit), and mango. I thought dragon fruit was going to be amazing, but it was not that tasty. Pineapple is tremendously juicy with an inviting aroma, rich and succulent. Durian… it’s up to you. I’ll do it next time.

Coconut ice cream: of course, with as many toppings as you wish, or plain. Any way, you’ll find it creamy, tasty and soft.

Mango and sticky rice: it is a must try, mostly if you like South East Asia mangoes, which are completely different from western mangoes in taste. In fact, I cannot stand mangoes here in Europe, while I could live on mangoes and mangoes alone in Thailand. They are different fruits. Honestly.

All fried, dried, fruit: specially banana. That was addictive. Crispy, extremely sweet, one after the other you eat a whole package without even noticing.

Nuts, all of them: they are used in every kind of dish, with your rice and salads and noodles, but when covered in caramel or used on top of your sweets, you’ll reach Seventh Heaven.

An amazing invitation

I am a chatter box and I guess you know. I’m a chatter box in real life but on-line as well. Therefore, I’m a chatter box when in Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This brings along a lot of problems but also a wonderful bunch of friends.

One of my Instagram friends learned from my chatty comments and countdown posts, I was traveling to Thailand. We had been mutually following each other for a while and had become good Insta-friends.

So, while in Koh Tao, I received a message from my friend Or, inviting me to meet in Bangkok on our last day there. I thought we were just going to share a coffee and more chatting. Instead, she took me and the family to experience a fun and completely new eating experience, something I would have never tried if I had not been together with a native bangkokian!

We visited a Thai Suki restaurant which is the Thai version of the Chinese hot pot.  A communal dish where you dip meat, fish, noodles, dumplings and vegetables into a pot of broth (ours was half regular and half spicy) cooking at the table. Then, you dip everything into a spicy sukiyaki sauce before eating. Even if the name reminds you of the Japanese sukiyaki, my friend quickly explained us that it’s not really Japanese, but more Chinese in style.  We tried a menu called “pork lover” and we added “Fired duck” (which was absolutely delicious and the children adored – not knowing it was duck, of course!) as well as Jade noodles. Other available options are soups: Korean soup/Thai hot and spicy soup (Tum Yum) or Miso (Japanese) soup.

Our restaurant belonged to the MK chain which opened its first restaurant in 1962 on Siam Square in Bangkok, today the most popular in Thailand (with about 200 restaurants in the country, and more than 20 in Japan). Or also adds that during Mothers’ day (August, 12th) all MK restaurants in Thailand are fully booked.

This was an amazing experience, first of all I saw my kids really interested in the process of cooking and actually eating what they cooked. So no surprises, or better: pleasant surprises! They tried and tasted almost everything that was not spicy and for once were not picky with burgers left out of the question. This made this mommy happy not only to see them try new things but also to learn new costumes hand in hand with a marvelous friend.

Thai Lunch with friends.

Lunch at MB, our family meets Or.

[Tweet “”PEOPLE WHO LOVE TO EAT ARE ALWAYS THE BEST PEOPLE.” – Julia Child”]