Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

About Thai Food

Chopstick Cinema

This Week's Film: Jan Dara
Cuisine: Thai

Thailand is located in Southeast Asia, on the same peninsula with Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Its proximity to India and China has had a strong influence on the cuisine, however, Thai cuisine has its own distinctive characteristics. Upon researching Thai recipes, I've learned that Thai cuisine makes use of many of the same ingredients used in other Southeast Asian dishes. Lots of hot chile peppers, a similar assortment of spices, and many of the same herbs and fresh ingredients. But as with any cuisine, it's the way the ingredients are combined, prepared and presented that makes it uniquely Thai.

Rice is the primary starch, topped with modest amounts of curry, and other spicy sauces, although noodles are served in abundance as well. Since Thailand is a coastal nation, seafood is commonly featured in many Thai dishes. Two flavoring ingredients, an Asian fish sauce called Nam Pla, and a shrimp paste called Kapee, are essential elements of nearly every dish. In addition to Nam Pla and Kapee, Thai cuisine is also flavored with ginger, garlic, onions, tamarind, hot chile peppers, cilantro, basil, lemongrass, peanuts, kaffir lime leaves, cumin, black pepper, palm sugar, coconut milk, and sesame oil. A typical Thai dish combines the four basic flavor elements: sweet (sugar, fruits, sweet peppers), spicy hot (chiles), sour (vinegar, lime juice, tamarind), and salty (soy sauce, fish sauce, shrimp paste).

The most common methods of preparation are stir-frying and steaming in a wok, or grilling over an open fire. A Thai meal may include many dishes, but is not typically served in sequential courses. And unlike many Asian countries, the use of chopsticks is not common in Thailand, where meals are eaten with a spoon.

Some of the most popular Thai dishes include:
Tom Yam Gung - hot & sour soup with seafood
Tom Yam Gai - hot & sour soup with chicken
Tom Kha Gai - hot sweet soup with chicken and coconut
Satay - grilled meat served with peanut sauce
Pad Thai - pan-fried rice noodles with various ingredients
Gaeng Pet - hot curry made with dried red chiles
Sweet Green Curry - made with fresh green chiles and cumin
Massaman - yellow curry
Som Tam - grated papaya salad
Larb - various salads with meat
Gai Yang - marinated and grilled chicken

My Thai curry recipe will be posted at the end of the week along with my Jan Dara film review.

For questions or comments send e-mail to cheiter at thingsasian dot com