Thai food of the north, in some way, is cooked with the sole thought for the taste for the northern people. The recipe consists of vegetable and ingredients available in their immediate vicinity. The common meal includes steamed glutinous rice, chili sauces which come in a host of varieties, such as “namprik noom”, “namprik dang”, “namprik ong” and chili soups (gang) such as gang hangle, gang hoh, gang kae. In addition there are also, local sausages such as sai ua, and nham; steamed meat, roasted pork, pork resin, fried pork, fried chicken and vegetable to go with them.
The northern people have penchant for medium cooked food with a touch of salty tastes almost to the exclusion of sweet and sour tastes. Meat preferred by the northern people is pork followed by beef, chicken, duck, bird etc. Sea food is the least known on account of the remoteness of the northern region from the sea.
Thai food of the north does not lack in varieties. These are dishes to be consumed at different times of the day. The northern breakfast known in the local dialect as khao gnai consisting mainly of steamed glutinous rice. Cooked in the early hours of the day, steamed glutinous rice is packed in a wicker basket made from bamboo splints or palmyra palm leaves. The farmer takes the packed basket to the working rice field and eat the glutinous rice as lunch, known in the dialect as “khaw tom”. Dinner or “khaw lang” is an familiar affair is served on raised wooden tray or “kan toke”. The tray which is about 15 to 30 inches in diameter is painted in red.
The northern people are known to follow their traditions in a very strict and faithful manner, in particular the tradition of serving and partaking of the evening meal. Food is placed in small cups placed on “kantoke” which could be an inlaid wooden or brass tray depending on the economic status of the house owner. Served together with “kantoke” is steamed glutinous rice that is the staple food of the northerner packed in a wicker basket. There is also a kendi containing drinking water nearby. Water is poured from the kendi to a silver drinking cup from which water is drunk. After the main course come desserts and local cigars to conclude the evening meal.
The Thai in the central plain prefer food with smooth and lasting taste with a touch of sweetness. The way the food is served is an art in itself. The dinning table is often decorated with carved vegetable and fruit. Cuisine of the central plain sometimes combines the best of the foods from various regions.
Rice is strictly the staple food for every family in the central region. There are on the average three to five dishes to go with rice. Typical are soup, gang som (chili vegetable soup), gang phed (Thai red curry), tom yam (spiced soup) and so on. Chili fried meat dishes are for instances, pad phed, panaeng, masaman, fried ginger and green pepper, Thai salads or yam are yam tua pu, salad with sliced roasted beef. Dishes that regular feature fin a Thai meal of the central region are vegetable, namprik (chili sauce), platoo (local herring), and perhaps omelette (Thai style), fried beef of roasted pork. On the whole Thai meal should meet protein and vitamin requirements with plenty to spare.
Traditional Methods of Serving Thai Food of the Central Region
The central plain of Thailand has always been known for its progress and advance in all areas of human activity, be it intellectual, technological or cultural.
The Thai in the central region have adopted spoon and fork and a common ditching spoon as the standard cutlery set for Thai meals. For affluent families, napkins simply folded or folded into various geometrical shapes are also to be seen depending also on individual family’s tradition and taste. Dishes, boiled rice and drinking water are laid on the dinning table and for the family which can afford the service of a maid, will be replenished by a waiting maid as the meal progresses. Less well to do families may do without shared spoons together, and family members take food from the dish by their own spoons.
Like Thai food of the north, Thai food of the northeast has steamed glutinous rice as a staple base to be taken with spiced ground meat with red pork blood, papaya salad or som tom, roasted fish, roasted chicken, jim-jaem, and rotted fish or pla rah. The northeast prefer to have their meat fried and the meat could be frog, lizard, snake, rice field rat, large red ants, insects etc. Pork, beef and chicken are preferred by well to do families.
Traditional Methods of Serving Thai Food in the northeast
Dishes are served in a large enameled food tray which sports a pattern of large and colorful flowers. Food is taken from the dishes is taken with steamed glutinous rice contained in a wicker basket (katib) made in the peculiar style of the northeastern people. Desserts mainly consisting of processed glutinous rice such as, khao niew hua ngog nang led, etc.
Thai food of the south tends to be exceedingly chili hot compared with Thai food from other regions of Thailand. Specially favored dishes of the south are a whole variety of gang (spiced soup or curry) for examples, gang liang, gang tai pla, and budu sauce. Boiled rice mixed in budu sauce known as khao yam is a delicatessen of the southern people. Salty is taste, khao yam is taken with an assortment of vegetable. Considered special ties of the south are sataw, med riang and look niang.
Sataw is a green pod when stripped reveals green berries. Strawberries sometimes chopped into thin slices are cooked with meat and chili or simply added to any gang or maybe boiled with other vegetable in coconut milk, or taken raw with chili sauce. The berries can be preserved by pickling and eaten without further cooking.
Med riang is very much like a bean sprout but much larger in size and dark green in color. It is ready for eating after the outer skin is removed. It can be cooked with vegetable and meat or pickled for eating with gang, chili sauce or lon (ground meat or fish in chili sauce).
Look niang is a round berry in a hard and dark green skin. When the skin is removed it is ready for eaten. The inner layer may or may not be removed depending on individual taste. Look niang may be raw or with chili sauce, lon, gang liang especially gang tai pla. Ripe look niang boiled and mixed with coconut flakes and sugar is served as a dessert.
Information from: “Rice and Thai Ways of Life” published by Office of the National Culture Commission.
In the past, the Royal Household served as the primary source for home economics, cooking, needlework, and Thai manners.
The royal ladies in the palaces rigorously trained their ladies-in-waiting; therefore, many upper-class families took their daughters there so that they would learn to cook and to do other household chores, and thus be prepared for marriage and family life. The royal palace’s home economics expertise has since proliferated.
After the country’s change in 1932 from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, during the reign of King Rama VII, the old and new generations of the Royal Household maids moved out of the palaces. Some modified and applied what they learned to earn money to support themselves or their families.
Some foreign dishes on the royal menu have been modified to please the Thai palate. Sometimes the cooks are inventive and modify dishes from the other regions, too. These days, the food that is made for the Royal Household is not much different from the common folks’ dishes; in fact, some of the dishes are even prepared for sale to the general public in various outlets.
Regular rice is the staple food in this region. There are varieties of dishes that the people here eat with their rice, and a meal often includes some form of spicy dip for vegetables, a hot and sour vegetable soup, a type of curry, and a plate of fried vegetables, or a soup and a spicy fried meat dish. They also have seasonal dishes, such as cold rice soup, or sticky rice topped with ripe mangoes in the hot season.
The meal is arranged on a table and eaten with fork and spoon (knives are not needed). Most dishes are the typical central region dishes, but people sometimes include their favorites from other regions for variety.
People occasionally include beautifully arranged dishes from royal cuisine and dishes from other countries. All dishes, however, offer complete nutrition: protein from meat, vitamins and minerals from vegetables, and medicinal attributes from herbs. For instance, spicy and sour vegetable soup balances the body’s physical elements in line with Thai traditional medicine, and the tasty, spicy dips help nourish the four elements and strengthen the body.
Southern dishes are unique in their flavors thanks to influence from the neighboring country, Malaysia. Several cities in the South served as central trading ports visited by vendors from India, China, and Java (Indonesia), so there are some spices and herbs in some of the dishes influenced by southern India and other countries.
Southern dishes in general reflect the mixed influences between Thai and southern Indian dishes, particularly in the four major southern provinces. Some new dishes are invented and some were modified to suit the southerners’ palate and are considered a valuable feature in their southern heritage.
Some traditional southern dishes handed down through generations, and so not influenced by other countries’ cuisine, are cooked from raw materials found locally. The cooking procedures are simple, and the main condiments are shrimp paste, tamarind sauce, and palm sugar, all made locally. In original recipes, there is no coconut milk or spices.
The southern cuisine and customs of eating are categorized by the nations influencing their dishes. Some dishes are influenced by the traditional local culture, and those that came later are developed with new cooking styles. They are all eventually included in the southerners’ meals.
Phuket dishes are influenced by Chinese food as a result of the large number of Hokkian migrating from British and Dutch colonies in the Malaysian peninsula to settle down in the province in the Rattanakosin era. Phuket dishes are mild with a sweet note in them.
The menu on the island of Phuket is a result of the compromise between the southern cuisine and Hokkian cuisine. The dishes are distinctively different from those cooked by the southerners and Muslims. Differences and variety are what differentiate the natives of Phuket Island.
They like to eat rice noodles as much as everybody else in the country does, but they top theirs with steamed, spicy hotcakes, deep-fried hot and spicy fish patties, and churos or boiled eggs. Other Phuket dishes include Hokkian noodles, similar to Japanese soba, and loba, which is crisp, fried, cinnamon-spiced pork intestine eaten with fried tofu cakes, fried wonton, and sauteed mussels, called o-tao.
The meals are often arranged on a mat and eaten by hand, which people say enhances the flavor of the meals, though now they use forks and spoons and their meals are arranged on mats or tables, depending on their preferences and the economic status of the families.
For breakfast, southerners prefer eating out, and the most convenient and popular breakfast is fermented noodles topped with spicy fish bladder curry, green curry, spicy peanut curry, and spicy fish curry. Other meals usually include either of the two staple foods – rice or fermented noodles – with yellow curry or spicy fish bladder curry. Local vegetables, such as “stink beans”, luk niang leaves (young cashew nuts), and young rajapreuk (golden shower) leaves are consumed along with the spicy dishes to reduce the hot taste and to improve the appetite. Another popular dish is rice topped with vegetables and southern sweet sauce, or “sweet budu.”
The most traditional condiment is budu sauce, made of tiny salted fish that are fermented by exposure to the strong sunlight for a few months. The result is a brownish sauce, the color of shrimp paste, and it can taste either sweet or salty. The sweet type is used to top the above-mentioned dish of rice with vegetables, and the salty one is used as a condiment in spicy dips. Southern dishes are unique because of their sharp salty and sour tastes, as well as strong aromatic spices due to their geographic location.
Spices not only add color to their dishes but also override strong meat odors, improve the flavor, and increase the appetite. The habit of eating hot and spicy food helps warm up people’s bodies and prevents them from getting a cold in the hot and humid climate.
Moreover, being close to the sea, they have an abundant supply of seafood.
The generic name for cooked items or dishes from a Thai kitchen is “kap khao” – “in addition to rice” or “to be taken with rice.” Such dishes vary in accordance with the geophysical makeup of the land it originated in. Because the people have resided along the country’s waterways since ancient times, fishbased dishes make up the Thai people’s daily diet, complemented by fresh vegetables found in abundance near their homes. As time passed and the society developed, conventional Thai dishes also underwent changes and became more versatile, in terms of ingredients, cooking methods, and tastes. International trade that the country engaged in through the ages also brought foreign food cultures that the Thais embraced and adapted to suit their tastes.
Thai dishes can therefore be roughly categorized into two types: genuine and adapted.
Genuine Thai dishes are those that have been cooked by the Thais since time immemorial. They include such dishes as “summer rice” – khao chae – rice in ice-cold water, served with various condiments; spicy clear soup – tom khlong and tom yam – with herbs, meat and vegetables; hot curry or goulash – kaeng pa, kaeng khae, and kaeng om – curry with no coconut milk but with meat and vegetables; and spicy dips – nam phrik and lon, for instance. Thai desserts and sweetmeats, meanwhile, are made mainly of rice flour, sugar, and coconut milk, such as khanom piak pun, khanom chan, tako, and lotchong, for example. Those with egg yolk and egg white mixed in are adapted from other food cultures.
But alongside the genuine dishes, a large number of Thai dishes resulted from the adaptation of foreign food to Thai taste, so masterfully done that the Thais themselves adopted them as their own. They are dishes like kaeng kari (curry), kaeng massaman (from “Mussulman,” that is, Muslim), both adapted from Indian food, while stir-fried and steamed dishes and vegetable soups are adapted from Chinese food. Several desserts and sweetmeats have been introduced by Europeans since the Ayutthaya Period, such as thong yip (gold cup), thong yot (gold drop), thong prong (gold nest), foi thong (gold thread) and sangkhaya (egg custard), for example.
With the wise blending of foreign cuisines into Thai cookery, the versatile Thai master chefs (normally female) invented new recipes that are now well-known all over the world. Cooking methods used in the Thai kitchens are diverse. Apart from boiling, grilling, and frying the food, there are specific methods that are characteristic of Thai food, as described below.
Tam – as in som tam, the world-famous spicy papaya salad – refers to the pounding of one or more food items in a mortar, as ingredients or as the main dishes, such as pla pon (pounded fish), kung pon (pounded shrimp), nam phrik sot (fresh spicy dip), nam phrik haeng (dry spicy dip), nam phrik phao (sambal, from Indonesia), and phrik kap klua (pounded and seasoned roasted coconut meat).
Yam is a form of spicy salad, in which vegetables, cooked meat and seasoning sauce are mixed. The sauce combines saltiness and sourness, laced with the hot taste of capsicum. Popular ingredients for yam include mimosa, wing bean, rose apple stamen, grilled meat, seafood, and sausages of all sorts.
Kaeng is the general term for a type of curry that does not use curry powder. Thai herbs and spices such as shallot, garlic, lemon grass, galangal, and turmeric root are pounded into a paste and dissolved over a fire in water or coconut milk as soup, with meat and vegetables added. Hot chilies or capsicum are indispensable, with varying seasoning and spices used to make such dishes as kaeng som, kaeng phet, and kaeng khua.
Lon is the term for spicy dip with coconut milk, which is meant to be eaten with fresh vegetables. It has three main tastes – sour, salty, and sweet – and can be made with soy bean paste or preserved fish as ingredients.
Kuan is a method of cooking liquefied food over a medium fire, usually done to preserve ripe fruits. Large wooden spoons are used to turn the ingredients thoroughly in a quick and forceful motion. Such sweetmeats as palm sugar caramel, khanom piak pun, tako, and thua (bean) kuan, are made in this manner.
Ji involves cooking in a frying pan with some oil, as in the case of paeng ji and khanom ba bin, for instance.
Lam is a way of cooking food by putting ingredients in a section of bamboo and smoking it, as with khao lam, glutinous rice flavored with coconut milk and other ingredients, smoked in bamboo sections.
By the Thai National Culture Commission
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