My two weeks in Thailand served as only time for an introduction to the vast expanse that is Thai Cuisine. Here's a few of my more memorable dishes.
Mangoes atop sweetened sticky rice, topped with condensed milk. It’s the perfect amount when you split it with someone else, because too much sticky rice makes you sleepy.
Roti. Better known as the banana pancake. What would the chow-timid shoe-stringer do without ‘em? It’s made with fresh dough fried atop a griddle in a ridiculous amount of oil and margarine. You can get these pancakes plain, stuffed with fruit or even nutella. At first this crispy, unctuous pancake topped with sweetened condensed milk is a revelation. After your 3rd you're over it.
Standard condiments. No self-respecting restaurateur would leave these off any table. Thai cuisine prides itself on attacking all parts of the tongue. Clockwise from the top we have chili flakes (spicy), fish sauce (salty), vinegar (sour) and sugar (sweet). Adjust your dish to suit your liking.
Phad Siew. This is one of the most popular fried noodle dishes (along with Phad Thai), and my personal favorite. It takes flat rice noodles and wok fry’s them with kale and soy sauce. Simple but seductive. The rice noodles are coated with both sweet and salty soy sauce while the greens provide a crunchy contrast to the chewy noodles. Here’s an abridged phad siew cooking session for anyone who wants to try and replicate this dish!
Phad Thai. I’m sure you’ve all eaten or at least heard of this dish if you’ve ever stepped foot inside a Thai restaurant. Thin rice noodles, egg, peanuts, bean sprouts, green onion and shrimp combine with vinegar, tamarind, sugar and lime. Of course there are variations but the basic phad thai has to have some sour to it- in varying degrees depending on your geographic location. Both phad thai and phad siew will run you anywhere from $.65-$2.00 depending on your whereabouts.
This may seem like an ordinary chicken soup, but add some fish sauce, vinegar and chili to the already robust chicken stock base and you have a wholesome lunchtime soup that runs you less than a dollar.
You’ll also find street stalls all over Thailand selling grilled meats, most commonly chicken. Sweet and spicy most of the time.
I straight love these. Fried sesame taro root balls. I presume it’s a taro root batter that is deep-fried and rolls in sesame seeds. I’ve eaten these before in the states, but they were always a lot bigger, greasier and heavier. These were small, ludicrously light and scrumptious.
Khao Soi. This is a regional specialty of northern Thailand (also where I found the best food). You have your curry base, chicken and crispy fried noodles on top. For $.65 cents this was an amazing dish at price even my dad wouldn’t complain about. It can be real spicy or relatively mild, again depending on the cook or how white you look.
Gung (shrimp) penang. Nothing much to say here. Just a mouth-watering snap of some gung.
All around Bangkok you can also find grilled bananas on a stick. See that char-esque caramelization going on? Just beautiful.
Head down to Yaorwat road in Bangkok and you’ll have your choice of several Chinese delicacies. I’ll take the roast duck.
One of Thailand’s national dishes: Tom Yum Kung. It’s basically a hot and sour soup with shrimp- in this case jumbo shrimp. The sour comes from the tamarind, the hot from chilis. The soup is also cooked with lemongrass and galangal (thai ginger) to give it a pleasant lightness. The white beads you see are fresh coconut milk, which is also sometimes added.
Spicy banana flower salad. I’ve never had banana flower before, but I’m a huge fan now. You’ll just have to try it.
Overall I'd give the food I ate in Thailand a solid B+. Outside of the touristy places of the Southern peninsula, it's possible to get amazing meals for rock bottom prices. Get over there and eat all the food I missed out on!
Check back soon. I’ll be discussing the frustrating enigma that is Laotian cuisine.