Marie Lecoq - 2012-01-25
The Land of a Thousand Smiles has a thousand flavours to offer. Spicy and colourful, Thai cuisine can be enjoyed everywhere, from the finest restaurants of Bangkok to the vendor just across the way. For those who seek an introduction to the pleasures of Thai food, the streets of the capital are the very best place to be.
The predominant aroma of Thai cuisine is a heady blend of ginger, basil and a touch of coriander infused in coconut milk. Generally light and appetising, the scents can potentially turn sour and cloying in the overpopulated alleyways of the capital. Like it or not, that aroma will follow you everywhere during your stay. Along parks and canals, under the tarpaulins of covered markets, in front of shopping complexes and virtually every other door someone is working a wok. Only in restaurants does Thai cuisine move inside; most cooking takes place outdoors in full view of passers-by and customers. Those who are put off by the rather dodgy appearance of some of these stands are missing out - the ingredients are (usually) fresh and the tableware clean, and that’s really what counts!
How hot is too hot?
Green, red or yellow, the little chillies on display in the markets are so darling that you might assume that they are mild and even edible. Error! Some of these cuties can truly set your mouth on fire! Thais may swallow them until they begin to perspire, but who knows if they’re sweating pleasure or pain? Happily, when they take your order, most waiters are sensible enough to ask if you want your food spicy. At this key moment, your curiosity may impel you to answer in the affirmative, but wisdom recommends prudence. Only with patience and experience can the novice move up to medium heat or, with time, the ultimate: spicy piquance. This baptism of fire will give you the opportunity to experience an explosion of unforgettable flavours of which Kaffir lime leaves, citronella, galangal and ginger are the most easily recognised.
Wok the talk
One of the very best ways to discover Thai cuisine is to learn how to cook it. In Bangkok, notably, it seems that there are cooking classes at every corner. For less than € 30/£25 (1,000-1,200 baht) for a half day, a chef will teach you how to make pad Thai, curry and spring rolls. With luck, you might even meet up with vivacious May Kaidee in one of her two restaurants near the very popular Khaosan Road.
In the space of just a few years, this young chef has conquered Bangkok. Today she is very proud to announce the launching of her new restaurant in New York. And even if the service is decidedly Thai (e.g. rather disorganised), her vegetarian establishment is always full during lunch and dinner. Kaidee gives cooking classes daily: under the guise of a traditional cooking teacher who chaperones her students to market lies a true businesswoman - her cheerful pseudonym, May, means ‘a good saleswoman’, which bodes well for her venture! Once the curry paste has been prepared, it’s time to take Thai cuisine’s number one kitchen utensil, the wok, in hand. Kaidee imparts ten recipes as if they are ten stories; song and dance are welcome ingredients in this joyful celebration of Thai culinary art.
Once back home in your own kitchen, you’ll want to replicate the recipes, though it isn’t always easy to find the exotic ingredients you’ll need. Asian quarters and shops are easy enough to find in any big city; elsewhere, you may need to go web-hopping. Hint: if there’s a Thai restaurant in your town, that’s usually a good sign. And please: be gentle with the delicate stomachs of your guests. They may not have been fortunate enough to familiarize themselves with the ‘gusto’ of Thai gastronomy on-site. Spicy, yes… in moderation!
More articles about…