Thai food is internationally famous. Whether chilli-hot or comparatively bland, harmony is the guiding principle behind each dish. Thai cuisine is essentially a marriage of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai. Characteristics of Thai food depend on who cooks it, for whom it is cooked, for what occasion, and where it is cooked. Dishes can be refined and adjusted to suit all palates.
Originally, Thai cooking reflected the characteristics of a waterborne lifestyle. Aquatic animals, plant and herbs were major ingredients. Large chunks of meat were eschewed. Subsequent influences introduced the use of sizeable chunks to Thai cooking. With their Buddhist background, Thais shunned the use of large animals in big chunks. Big cuts of meat were shredded and laced with herbs and spices. Traditional Thai cooking methods were stewing and baking, or grilling. Chinese influences saw the introduction of frying, stir-frying and deep-frying. Culinary influences from the 17th century onwards included Portuguese, Dutch, French and Japanese. Chilies were introduced to Thai cooking during the late 1600s by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America. Thais were very adapting at "Siameseising" foreign cooking methods, and substituting ingredients. The ghee used in Indian cooking was replaced by coconut oil, and coconut milk substituted for other dairy products.
Overpowering pure spices were toned down and enhanced by fresh herbs such as lemon grass and galanga. Eventually, fewer and less spices were used in Thai curries, while the use of fresh herbs increased. It is generally acknowledged that Thai curries burn intensely, but briefly, whereas other curries, with strong spices, burn for longer periods. Instead of serving dishes in courses, a Thai meal is served all at once, permitting diners to enjoy complementary combinations of different tasters.
A proper Thai meal should consist of a soup, a curry dish with condiments, a dip with accompanying fish and vegetables. A spiced salad may replace the curry dish. The soup can also be spicy, but the curry should be replaced by a non-spiced item. There must be harmony of tastes and textures within individual dishes and the entire meal.
The Special combination of herbs and species used in preparing Thai dishes is what gives Thai food its very distinctive character, both within Thailand and throughout the world. There are 27 main herbs and species, which form the real basic for Thai cooking with that special Thai flavor.
Chili ( Prik )
Chili is an erect, branched, shrub-like herb with fruits used as garnishing and flavouring in Thai dishes. There are many different species. All contain capsaicin, a biologically active ingredient beneficial to the respiratory system, blood pressure and heart. Other therapeutic uses include being a, carminative and anti flatulence agent, and digestant.
Cumin: "Yi-ra" in Thai
Cumin is a small shrubbery herb, the fruit of which contains a 2-4% volatile oil with a pungent odour, and which is used as a flavouring and condiment. Cumin's therapeutic properties manifest as a stomachic, bitter tonic, carminative, stimulant and astringent.
Coriander:"Pak Chee" in Thai
This member of the carrot family has delicate leaves and deep roots. Wen the plant reach maturity, it produces abundant white flowers. The leaves and seeds are used in many cuisine throughout the world, but Thai cooking makes use of the roots as well.The round, beige seeds are added to curries and vegetables. The root are crushed with garlic to flavor meat and are often added to soup, especially beef soups, The leaves are used extensively as a garnish.
Cloves:"Kan Plou" in Thai
Marco Polo thought that cloves came from Java, but Conti discovered that they actually originated from Moluccas Islands. From there the use of cloves spread to other parts of Southeast Asia and to Europe.In Thai cuisine, cloves are added to curries and they also go very well with tomatoes, salty vegetables and ham. In Thailand, cloves have traditionally been chewed with betel leaves. Medicinally, Thais believe that cloves kill bacteria and also act as an antispasmodic. Cloves can be chewed after meals, as some Thais do, to aid digestion.
Garlic: "Kra-tiem" in Thai
Garlic is an annual herbaceous plant with underground bulbs comprising several cloves. Dried mature bulbs are used as a flavouring and condiment in Thai cuisine. The bulbs contain 0.1-0.36% garlic oil and organic sulfur compounds. Therapeutic uses are as an antimicrobial, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, anti flatulence and cholesterol lowering agents.
Ginger: "Khing" in Thai
Ginger is an erect plant with thickened, fleshy and aromatic rhizomes. Used in different forms as a food, flavouring and spice. Ginger's rhizomes contain a 1-2% volatile oil. Ginger's therapeutic uses are as a carminative, antinauseant and antiflatulence agent.
Galanga: "Kha" in Thai
Greater Galanga is an erect annual plant with aromatic, ginger-like rhizomes, and commonly used in Thai cooking as a flavouring. The approximately 0.04 volatile oil content has therapeutic uses as carminative, stomachic, antirheumatic and antimicrobial agents.
Hoary Basil: "Maeng-lak" in Thai
Hoary Basil is an annual herbaceous plant with slightly hairy and pale green leaves, eaten either raw or used as a flavouring, and containing approximately 0.7% volatile oil. Therapeutic benefits include the alleviation of cough symptoms, and as diaphoretic and carminative agents.
Kafffir: "Ma-krut" in Thai
The leaves, peel and juice of the Kaffir Lime are used as a flavouring in Thai cuisine. The leaves and peel contain a volatile oil. The major therapeutic benefit of the juice is as an appetizer.
Lesser ginger "Krachai" in Thai
This erect annual plant with aromatic rhizomes and yellow-brown roots, is used as a flavouring. The rhizomes contain approximately 0.8% volatile oil. The plant has stomach ache relieving and antimicrobial properties, and therapeutic benefits as an antitussive and antiflatulence agent.
Lemon Grass: "Ta-krai" in Thai
This erect annual plant resembles a coarse gray-green grass. Fresh leaves and grass are used as flavouring. Lemon grass contains a 0.2-0.4 volatile oil. Therapeutic properties are as a diuretic, emmanagogue, antiflatulence, anti flu and antimicrobial agent.
Lime: "Ma-now" in Thai
Lime is used principally as a garnish for fish and meat dishes. The fruit contains Hesperidins and Naringin , scientifically proven antiinflammatory flavonoids. Lime juice is used as an appetizer, and has antitussive, anti flu, stomachic and antiscorbutic properties.
Marsh Mint: "Sa-ra-nae" in Thai
The fresh leaves of this herbaceous plant are used as a flavouring and eaten raw in Thai cuisine. Volatile oil contents give the plant several therapeutic uses, including
carminative, mild antiseptic, local
anesthetic, diaphoretic and digestant properties.
Pepper: "Phrik-Thai" in Thai
Pepper is a branching, perennial climbing plant from whose fruiting spikes both white and black pepper are obtained. Used as a spice and condiment, pepper contains a 2-4% volatile oil. Therapeutic uses are as carminative, antipyretic, diaphoretic and diuretic agents.
Holy Basil: "Ka-prow" in Thai
Sacred Basil is an annual herbaceous plant that resembles Sweet Basil but has narrower and often times reddish-purple leaves. The fresh leaves, which are used as a flavouring, contain approximately 0.5%volatile oil, which exhibits antimicrobial activity, specifically as a carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant and stomachic.
Shallot: "Hom,Hom-lek,Hom-daeng"in Thai
Shallots, or small red onions, are annual herbaceous plants. Underground bulbs comprise garlic-like cloves. Shallot bulbs contain a volatile oil, and are used as flavouring or seasoning agents. Therapeutic properties include the alleviation of stomach discomfort, and as an antihelmintic, antidiarrhoeal, expectorant, antitussive, diuretic and anti flu agents.
Sweet Basil: "Ho-ra-pha" in Thai
Sweet Basil is an annual herbaceous plant, the fresh leaves of which are either eaten raw or used as a flavouring in Thai cooking. Volatile oil content varies according to different varieties. Therapeutic properties are as carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant, digestant and stomachic agents.
Turmeric: "Kha-min" in Thai
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and provides yellow colouring for Thai food. The rhizomes contain a 3-4% volatile oil with unique aromatic characteristics. Turmeric's therapeutic properties manifest as a carminative, antiflatulence and stomachic.
Learn Useful Thai Words
Aharn = Food
Aroi = Deliciuos
Chan Hew = I am hungry
Chan Im = I am full
Dong = Pickled
Gai = Chicken
Kem = Salty
Khai = Egg
Khoa Niew = Sticky Rice
Khoa = Rice
Krob = Crispy
Goong = Shrimp
Mamuang = Mango
Manow = Lime
Mapraw = Coconut
Moo = Pork
Nham = Water
Nua = Beef
Pad = Stir-fried
Ped = Spicy
Plah = Fish
Preaow = Sour
Prik = Pepper
Poo = Crab
Tom = Boiling
Tam = Pounding with a mortar and pestle
Waan = Sweet
Yang = Roasted, grilled
Yam = Salad; literally "to mix with the hands"