A typical Thai meal includes five main flavours: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy. Indeed, most Thai dishes are not considered satisfying unless they combine all five. While the seasoning can be spicy for a foreign palate, Thai food ensures that a balance of all flavors is present.
When eating out, or making a meal at home, a group of Thai diners would eat a variety of meat and/or fish dishes, plus vegetables, a noodle dish, and possibly soup. Everything is shared, except the soup each person might order, or each person gets a personal bowl to get a serving of the soup. Dessert may consist simply of fresh fruit, such as pineapple or any of the thousands of tropical fruits that are common in the country (guava, durian, mangosteen, papayas, bananas, tamarind, or mangoes, amongst many). Or it could be something more elaborate, like colorful rice cakes, rice dumplings coated in coconut, grass jelly, or a bean dessert.
Thais eat slowly and enjoy the food, as a meal is also an opportunity for sharing with loved ones.
In Thai cuisine that are made with various types of curry paste and to the pastes themselves. A Thai curry dish is made from curry paste, coconut milk or water, meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit, and herbs. Curries in Thailand mainly differ from the curries in Indian cuisine in their use of ingredients such as herbs and aromatic leaves over a mix of spices
The first Thai dictionary from 1873 CE (2416 in the Thai Buddhist calendar) defines kaeng as a watery dish to be eaten with rice and utilizing shrimp paste, onions or shallots, chillies, and garlic as essential ingredients.
Coconut milk is not included in this definition and many Thai curries do not feature it. Curries in Lanna (northern Thai) cuisine, with only a few exceptions, do not use coconut milk due to coconut palms not growing well, if at all, in the climate of the Thai highlands.
Influences in Thai Cuisine
The flavours found in modern-day Thailand come from ancient history. As early as the 13th century, the Thai people had established what might be considered the heart of Siamese cuisine as we know it today: various types of meat and seafood combined with rice, local vegetables, herbs, and pungent garlic and pepper. Later on, the Chinese brought noodles to Thailand, as well as the most important Thai cooking tool: the steel wok.
Thai cuisine is also heavily influenced by Indian spices and flavours, which is evident in its famous green, red, and yellow curries. Impossible to confuse with Indian curries, Thai curries incorporate many Indian spices in their pastes, maintaining their own unique flavours thanks to local ingredients, such as Thai holy basil, lemongrass, and galangal.
Other influences on Thai cooking come from neighboring countries, like Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, and Malaysia. Such plentiful and vast influences combine to create the complex taste of present-day Thai cooking—one of the fastest-growing and most popular of world cuisines today.
The spiciness of Thai curries depends on the amount and kind of chilli used in the making of the paste. Even within one type of curry the spiciness can differ widely.
Thai curries are always made with a curry paste. Common ingredients used in many Thai curry pastes are:
Chillies; depending on the curry these can be dried or fresh, red or green
Onions or shallots
Coriander (cilantro) root
Depending on the type of curry, additional ingredients for the paste can include spices such as turmeric, pepper, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, and cumin, or other ingredients such as boiled fermented fish, and fingerroot. Ingredients are traditionally ground together with a mortar and pestle, though increasingly with an electric food processor. With many curries, the paste is first stir-fried in cooking oil before other components are added in to the dish. This allows certain flavours in the spices and other ingredients in the paste to develop that cannot be released at the lower temperature of boiling water.
Most Thai curries are made with meat, fish or shellfish as their main ingredient. Vegetables and fruit, but also certain tree leaves can be added. Commonly used vegetables in curries are Thai eggplant, yardlong beans and different types of squash and pumpkins.
Ingredients are dictated by regional and seasonal availability.
Fresh kaffir lime leaves (bai makrut), fingerroot (krachai), or fresh herbs such as Thai basil (horapa) are often added to Thai curries. Kaffir lime leaves and krachai are often cooked along with the other ingredients but fresh herbs such as Thai basil are nearly always added at the last moment to preserve the full taste and serve as a contrasting note to the flavours of a curry.
Fish sauce is not only used when cooking the curry as a flavouring and for its salty taste, but it is usually also available at the table as a condiment, mixed together with sliced green bird’s-eye chillies for those that prefer their curries more salty and spicy. Sugar (traditionally palm sugar) is used with curries that need to be sweetened. Besides lime juice, tamarind juice can also be used to sour curries as the souring agent. To achieve the most fragrance from the ingredients in a curry paste, the curry paste is often first fried together with vegetable oil or coconut oil that has separated from the coconut cream, before adding in the other ingredients.
What’s the Difference Between Red and Green Thai Curry?
While all Thai curry pastes typically share some ingredients, like garlic, ginger, chillies, and fish sauce, green curries contain green chilies and fresh herbs like cilantro and basil, giving it a distinct hue. Makrut lime leaves and/or peel are sometimes used for a fragrant, often spicy curry. Red curry is made using red chilies and/or chilli paste or powder and often includes a little tomato sauce to boost the color and flavor. All Thai curries can be spicy or mild depending on who makes them, but green curries are often one of the spicier options.
Whichever Thai curry you choose to have you will not be disappointed! Just remember the true flavours are achieved from inclusion of the beautiful fresh aromats.
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