From Pad Thai to Tom Kha Gai: Food in Thailand

Dear friends, family, and foes who secretly can’t resist reading about our travels,

We’re alive and well in Laos now, but wanted to wrap up a few loose ends from Thailand before we post about our new location. Thus, Canadaschmanada: the Thai food issue!

All the guidebooks and travel agencies back home warned us that when travelling to Asia, one must skip the ice, only eat fruit you can peel, and above all: avoid street food. But did we come to Thailand to eat bananas ladies and gentlemen? We did not. And so, setting aside all hopes for regular bowel movements, we ventured forth into the extraordinary world of Thai food.

In every city, fruit stalls line the streets with pickled mango, ripe pineapple, banana bunches, and pomelo — each package of sweet produce accompanied with a mixture of sugar, salt, and ground chili. Carp and catfish and groupers are yanked out of inflatable  swimming pools in the markets, whacked dead on the counter, and thrown on the grill. And every other stall is piled high with the mounds of spice pastes — green curry, red curry, khao soi paste, massaman curry paste, red chili paste, and the omnipresent shrimp paste.

At night, the food stalls that line the market smell richly of grilled chicken and Thai sausage. Steam from the soups fill the air with lemongrass and galangal, fish sauce and sugar. Running the culinary gauntlet, so to speak, you’re assaulted on both sides by offers for food and drinks. How does one choose between mystery meats roasting on a stick, or the thick, flat rice noodles soaked in molasses and soy sauce, or the simmering cauldrons of spicy soups? You try them all, of course. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourites:

1. Thai green curry: as spicy as they get, and with a hint of sweetness absent from its red curry counterpart. The astringency of lemongrass, heat of the green chilies, sharp ginger, sweet Thai basil, loads of coriander, and thick coconut milk infuse mouthfuls of chicken or beef swimming in the gorgeous sauce. Always eaten with rice.

2. Massaman curry: a southern Thai dish, this beef curry is both sweet and savoury, and much lower on the spice scale than its peers. Massaman is one of the only curries that contains potatoes, and therefore feels closer to a stew than a traditional Thai curry. The major flavours in here are roasted peanuts, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, palm sugar, and the delightfully tart tamarind.

3. Som Tam: this spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya is spiced up with sour lime, hot chili, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and crispy rice balls. It’s served with raw cabbage on the side to cut the zing of spice.

4. Tom Yam: This hot-and-sour soup comes especially on the hot side, thanks to the main ingredient, red chili, appearing in two forms: paste and chopped. The broth is infused with garlic, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, green onions, kaffir lime leaves and juice, fish sauce, and cilantro. If your lips aren’t burning after the third spoonful, then you aren’t drinking authentic soup.

5. Thai Rotee: Call it a crepe, roti, whatever you like, but the thin little pancakes served in street stalls all over Thailand are unquestionably delicious. Each rotee is made from a small ball of elastic batter being slapped flat and fried on a flat pan with copious slatherings of butter. Our favourites were banana nutella (how could you go wrong there?) or the tuna-tomato-cheese.

6. The humble but scrumptious Street Sausage: before we left home, we thought all sausages were created more or less equal, but this turns out to be far from the truth. Thai sausages flaunt their superiority by being filled not only with ground pork (or beef, chicken, raccoon, mystery meat), but also marinated cabbage, onions, chilies, and rice or glass noodles. Absolutely delicious.

7. And, of course, Pad Thai: am I going to spend time on this one? Don’t be ridiculous. If you haven’t had Pad Thai before, you probably live under a rock, and therefore also pr0bably aren’t reading this blog. It’s delicious, it’s good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it’s available everywhere for 1-3 dollars a pop.

(p.s. if you haven’t had it, get off the computer right now and call your local Green Mango. Seriously.)

Heaps of street-meaty love,

Alanna and Sam

Chiang Mai meat market

Unloading produce in Phuket's Chinatown

dinner one night in Chiang Mai -- though later we were told the grasshopper tasted better

fresh outta the kiddie pool, Chiang Mai market

Chinatown, Bangkok

Everything always available to go in these little baggies.

Chinatown, Bangkok

grinding green curry paste at the cooking school

Pad Thai a la Alanna


7 thoughts on “From Pad Thai to Tom Kha Gai: Food in Thailand

  1. Marco says:

    Finally some gourmet time I’ll go to Thai express I’ll ask Pad Thai a la Alanna 😀

  2. Elsa says:

    You are obviously more adventuresome that Percy and I were — in regards to gastronomic experiences, at least!!! We did have lemongrass soup. Does that count? Of course we are “old hat” when it comes to Pad Thai! And chicken is always good — if rather scrawny!

    Bon Appetit!

    In Luang Prabang Percy had delicious fish served on a banana leaf — eating in an open air restaurant, on a cliff (of sorts) overlooking the Mekong River. (I probably had noodles!) That must get some points, no?

    Continue to enjoy everything. We are certainly enjoying your trip vicariously!

    Elsa and Percy

  3. Dad says:

    Suggest, for the sake of efficiency, we just call it “Pad Thai a la nna”. Pretty sure the green curry paste and pad thai I made at MY cooking class in Thailand looked (and smelled) superior, but hard to say. Not bad, for a beginner, though.

    And thanks for making the Green Mango’s pad thai, which, in fact, I had ordered and rather enjoyed just last week, seem really, really lame now.

    Can’t I join you for dessert?

    Your Hungry Father

  4. Dad says:

    Oh, and a little rhyme to live by:

    For every silkworm that you eat,
    One sad bed gets one less sheet.

  5. Ashley Nafus says:

    Alanna, Woman of my dreams! I am so happy to see your tasty travels, I can’t wait to try your “pad thai a la nna” LOL!

  6. Mama says:

    A feast for my eyes! what wonderful pictures and descriptions. And, because I like a good rhyme:

    Five sad fishes on the grill
    Left the others swimming still.

    love to both of you

  7. Dad says:

    Well then:

    Catch it quick, before it scurries.
    So delicious with those curries!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: