To properly define Thai food in one or even a few sentences would seem absurd to a Thai food enthusiast of which there are many.
Thai food offers such a variety of different flavors, many dishes telling tales from long ago when visitors like the Chinese, Indians and even the Portuguese left a note in the secret sauce. There is one thing though that shelters all true Thai food under the same umbrella − the adoration of fresh ingredients.
There is no food on earth that captures the imagination quite like Thai food and there seems to be something ritualistic about the way one approaches the cooking of this particular cuisine. It is the subtle complexities of flavors and ingredients that give Thai food its "other worldly" taste. Exotically fragranced and possessing a gentle balance of sweetness, sourness, spiciness and citrus, conjures fleeting images of lonely, mystical temples among lush, tropical gardens and blushing flowers.
The true secret of Thai food lies in the use of fresh ingredients, like mint, coriander, nutmeg, ginger and tropical fruit. Then, with a stone pestle, mortar and the labor of love, it is recommended to hand crush the fresh ingredients and spices into a paste, which can then become the base of a spicy laksa soup with noodles or red, green and yellow curries.
The balance of various ingredients used in the paste affects the overall flavor and aroma. Lemon grass, caffir lime leaves, red or green chilies, prawn paste, cumin, ginger, coriander and cardamom seeds are just a small part of the list of ingredients that can make up an intoxicating mix of smells. After they are crushed, the flavors and aromas are ready to be released and unlocked by the heat of the sizzling wok.
Of all the curries, Massaman curry is the most fragrant. It was first introduced to the southern Thai people by the Muslim traders. It has a slightly richer and hearty appeal, as it uses cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, which give a warmer, perfumed aroma that is appetizing. Thai curries can vary to both extremes; some are creamy and sweet, others are based on stock, so the flavor can be sour, salty, tart or even dry.
Coconut milk is made from the flesh of the coconut and is an uncompromising ingredient in the Thai kitchen. It adds a creamy, smooth and a nutty quality to soups, curries and desserts. Wild rice cooked in coconut milk with ripe mango is sure to please the pallet, offering taste buds a respite from the hot and spicy main course that it complements. In fact, desserts in Thailand are often eaten cold because of this.
When greeting a friend, one would expect to hear the familiar words: "How are you today?" Thai`s, on the other hand say: "Have you eaten yet?" Rightly so, it is true that Thais love their food, and their passion for exquisite flavors and aromas is ever reflected. Next to Chinese, Thai food is the most popular foreign cuisine style here in the West and you can`t blame them for not being a little bit proud of their traditional food.
To explore Thai food, I recommend Spirit House, a Thai cookery book written by Helen Brierty and Annette Fear, which offers inspirational concepts, traveling stories and beautiful photography.
Source: www.en.epochtimes.com (14 Juni 2007)