Thai food owes so much to neighbours such as China and India and has been influenced by such diverse cuisine as Japanese, Portuguese. At the same time it retains the essentials of the native diets: aquatic animals, true characteristics of water-borne communities, and other
ingredients such as grains, herbs and plants.
Being Buddhists, Thais refrained, in the earlier days, from killing for food. Fishes and other aquatic animals were in abundance, easier catch for consumption. Bigger animals such as cattle were considered unsuitable as food. Domesticated animals of any kinds would be considered pets more than foodstuffs, and besides, they were not raised for eating purpose but for labours.
Other sects of Buddhism permitted killings in the form of religious sacrifices, in which case, meats were used for consumption as god's gifts and sins were then waived as killing was done in god's name.
Animal meats were then sliced or cut up in small pieces for a few reasons : for one, as a disguise so that consumers would not be reminded of the true, original forms of the animals: this made consumption, spiritually and physically, more convenient.
Not only that other cuisines and eating habits have been adopted but Thais are very clever at adapting and Siamesizing others' cooking methods. Substitute ingredients had already been practiced, then. Ghee was replaced by coconut oil, and, other dairy products, by coconut milk in a curry dish. Curry or Kari was then considered too strong and heavy for coconut cream which has delicate, nutty flavour
and taste. Pure spices which could be overpowering were toned down and enhanced with fresh herbs such as lemongrass and galanga. Eventually, there are fewer spices used in a Thai Curry and the use of fresh herbs has become a more common practice.
The Nouvelle Cuisine classique that the Thais had perfected, by force and sheer necessity is fading out as the fast food type of cooking is creeping in. It must be revived or maintained. Thai fruit and vegetable carvings have been known the world over, they are proof that cooking can be glamourous, and that is what traditional Thai cooking is all
All good things are appreciated the world over regardless of cultural differences. A good painting or a good theatrical performance is spiritual food, a good meal is of the same value, food for the soul and food for the existence and good living.
It is gratifying that more and more Thai restaurants are returning to home cooking style with their own creations and concoctions, based on, naturally, traditional methods.
Thais who ate out only when they craved other cuisines, other tastes and other flavours, other than Thai, are also eating out Thai style, as present days living conditions do not permit them time to cook at home as Thai cooking method can be labourious and time consuming.
Hot and spicy is what one believes to be flavours and tastes of Thai food. It is correct, but not totally. Thai food, in spite of its occasional sharpness, requires harmony. Coconut milk tones down the spiciness and enhances other ingredients in a dish. There are a few kinds of Thai cooking methods.
The use of chillis was introduced to Thai eating habits only a few hundred years ago. It came with the Portuguese missionaries, they
had been to South America earlier. Prior to the introduction of chillis,
Thais had always used peppercorns and some spicy herbs to heat up
their dishes for better appetite and for palatial excitement.
Thai men enjoy drinking strong alcoholic drinks. With these kinds of
drinks, a well harmonized and well seasoned dish becomes almost too
mild. Hence, the need to heat up a dish to accompany drinking bouts.
Again a heavily chillied dish, goes a longer way than a regular dish. It
then, can feed many more mouths in the family, when stretched thinly
over a plate heaped with rice, more economical for a sub-standard
family with several members. Rice still comes less expensively than
meats. Vegetables, as condiments, help soothing the palates with their
coolant agents, are widely consumed with chillied dishes.
Thai curries bum intensely but only for a brief while and it is over with.
Other curries, with strong spices, not only burn but also linger for a
It is not what one uses to make a dish but it definitely is how one
makes it. Ingredients are what one uses to concoct a meal but it is
more important how a meal is conceived with the ingredients.
Substitute ingredients is an unsatisfactory choice of word but it must
be lived with as sour grapes and sweet lemon. How to get best result
from substitutes is a matter of knowledge and know-how.
Knowledge of food plays important role in menu selection. A simple
but well combined menu can whet more appetite and can be more
appealing. Instead of having dishes in courses, a Thai meal is served
all at the same time, seemingly, to allow one to enjoy each dish
repeatedly and to allow dishes to complement one another more
Perfumed and sweetened water goes well with Thai food. That was
traditional in the olden days. More kinds of drinks have been invented
since then and they are all perfect for a Thai meal. Drinks
accompanying a Thai meal are up to times and places. Rain water
seems as good as Dom Perignom with a Thai meal.
To attack and to enjoy a Thai meal does not require more than a fork
and a spoon. With our cooking methods, ingredients are either cut or
sliced or shredded to fit perfectly for a mouthful. A serving spoon is
normally placed alongside a dish, when a meal is taken by more than
one person. It is a noblesse oblige or to be more blunt for hygienic
A proper Thai meal should consist of a soup, a curry dish with
condiments, a dip with fish and vegetables on the side. A spiced salad
may replace the curry dish. The soup can be spicy but in this case the
curry dish has to be replaced by non spiced item. There must be a
harmony of tastes in a dish and also in a meal.