Fat rats, skinny cats, lots of cockroaches, cutlery washed in a bowl next to it and the likely low personal hygiene of chefs – this is how the story about the best cuisine I’ve ever tried begins.
Hungry for experience
I will not lie. Let me put it straight – I go on holiday to eat (and sleep, it’s an amazing feeling when you fall asleep in a completely strange place, on the other side of the world and you wake up ready for challenges). Do not have me at once for a voracious sleeper, but the food is a very important stimulus for me, which I pay attention to when learning about new cultures. It tells us a lot about indigenous people, their preferences, sometimes even their character.
In Thailand it is even more important. The inhabitants of this land love to eat, cook, talk about food and boast about the richness of their country’s cuisine. They are very proud of this. So if you ever get an awkward situation with the Thai, resulting from the fact that you do not know what to talk about, talk about food. Immediately a smile will appear on his face, you will immediately start to be on the same wavelength. They can talk about food for hours.
Welcome to the Land of Thousands of Flavors
Not without reason Thailand is called the Land of Thousand Flavors, especially by the Thai people themselves, they like to talk about their homeland like that. The richness of spices, exotic ingredients and bold combination of flavors make Thai cuisine unique on a global scale. Sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter taste co-exist with each other like an orchestra under the baton of Hans Zimmer.
Wait, wait a minute … I wrote about ubiquitous dirt, unhygienic conditions, and it would be such a wonderful kitchen? How is it possible? If our sanepid (equivalent of American CDC) came to those places, it would close all of them. Nobody cares about meeting the requirements, tens of permits, does not obtain a number of rights or licenses. Just find yourself a piece of space, start cooking and then sell it. And the business is running. You only need a wok and a gas burner to run your own catering point. You will prepare the dishes with bare hands, washed (or not) in one bowl for the whole day. The ingredients are cheap and easily available. You will not spend a penny on advertising – customers will be lured by the smell. Regardless of where you place your buissness, here there is someone who will eat something. Of course, you must also know what you are doing.
And Thai people know about better than anyone. It’s easy to find “safe” places where the risk of eating something harmful is the smallest. The cook prepares food there on a regular basis, and the queue to him is large. We should also avoid booths, where at first glance you can see that the owner does not care for cleanliness. Following these simple rules, you’ll find that street food for 4 PLN which taste better than dishes in a five-star restaurant. When it comes to hygiene, certain issues in such a country can not be eliminated. It is good to have a bottle of antibacterial cream with you and to smear your hands before each food. Additional safety is provided by vaccinations before departure. Thanks to all of this I felt really safe.
The pension system in Thailand is even less beneficial than ours. That’s why everyone at retirement age must make a living. People often choose to run makeshift mobile stalls here. All they need is a trolley, a burner, a wok and several products. We do not have to worry about their freshness most often. When the cook is good, the supply must be replenished daily. In the Land of Thousand Flavors, from which I returned in February, the best food is prepared on street stands. The prices are low and the owners compete with each other for best taste. This solution is not only for tourists, but also for Thai people. Most of them do not have a kitchen at home. Every meal they eat outside, because food is so cheap that it optimal to cook yourself. Let me even say that in Thai, exquisite restaurants you will not eat better than on the street. The accompanying unique atmosphere and taste sensations can not be recreated. Many Thai pubs in Poland try to recreate it, but it will never be the same.
Contrary to semblances (and what we observe, when we wait for a meal – yes, here everyone looks at the chef’s hands, no one complains about it, and the cook himself is satisfied that someone admires his work) preparing Thai dishes is time-consuming. They require many ingredients and preparation of intermediates. That is why street soups specialize in one dish or a specific type of dishes, served, for example, in several different versions. While standing at the stand, we see only a fraction of this work, earlier the ingredients are often precooked / fried to be able to prepare them more quickly.
Although they eat here often, it does not mean that Thai people are fat. On the contrary! They care for a healthy look (many of them run in the evenings in parks, go to city gyms – it’s very popular to spend the evening in this way) and habits. The food here is low-calorie, fried briefly on the wok. Most often, it is fried here in rice oil. Because of its high smoking temperature (232 degrees), it releases little harmful compounds during the preparation of the food. In itself, it also has pro-health properties. The dishes are fried here in deep oil, but very briefly – hot fat does not soak up meat or vegetables, creates a crunchy batter, the middle is leaving perfectly juicy.
Despite the huge heat in Thailand, I drank relatively little water. I bought a lot of fruit sheiks and fruits in bulk (#Ananaslovers). It irrigates the body very well, more effectively than water. I never felt a shortage of water once. And freshly peeled and cut fruit sold on the street for PLN 2 for a bag is a unique experience, I miss it very much! We also have many other fruits in Poland that we can boast of. Walking through the streets of Bangkok it’s hard to be hungry. Small snacks, freshly squeezed fruit juice, unusual dishes straight from five-star restaurants do not let you pass by indifferently.
Thailand is famous for Pad Thai. And although it is not a traditional Thai dish, tourists liked it so much that it always appears in the first place of Thai dishes. And rightly so, because the taste of Pad Thai prepared in Thailand is unique. The dish is prepared on the basis of instant fried rice noodles with vegetables, Mung bean sprouts, shrimps or chicken, egg and spices. An important role is played here by tamarind sauce and chilli, which in Thailand is added to almost everything. Pad Thai, unlike most dishes in this country, is not spicy. It’s a combination of sour, sweet and salty. Often a ready dish is sprinkled with crushed peanuts. Next to the taste sometimes lies a half of lime, which strengthens the taste of many dishes. After coming from Thailand, I introduced it (and not only) to my kitchen permanently. Pad Thai (also called pat thai, phat thai or Stir-Fried Noodles) is a dish that can be easily made at home. Rice noodles are easily available (it is more expensive than eggs), Mung bean sprouts can be replaced with our regional variety, and the meat can be modified – Pad Thai also tastes great with tofu.
Breakfasts in Thailand are very often soups. Tom Yum Goong is a soup with shrimps, which are its main ingredient. Perfect for seafood lovers. This dish is very spicy, it is worth asking for a milder version, which will be spicy enough anyway. Another soup is Khao Soi (another name is Egg Noodle with Curry Soup), thick, spicy and very tasty. Similar to yellow curry, always served with egg noodles and spices. Tom yam kung is considered the queen of Thai soups. Leaves of papeda (commonly known as kaffir limes), galangal (has a ginger-pepper taste), lemon grass, a large amount of lime juice, chilli, onion, tomatoes and various types of Thai mushrooms. Sometimes it is served with coconut milk or condensed milk, and shrimp, chicken or seafood are in the middle. Shrimp versions are usually more expensive than those with chicken.
But Thai food is not just soup and Pad Thai (which Thai people do not eat every day). The cuisine are also characterized by a large number of different variations of dishes, with curry, rice or rice noodles. The ones I tried presented in the pictures.
In Thailand, knife is not used. This is considered as a weapon, and it is not appropriate to sit with a meal with it. All dishes are easily to eat with a fork and a spoon (it differs significantly from ours, a very interesting variety, I brought this set to my home) – yes, not with chopsticks. These are usually used … to eat soup with noodles. The fork is used to put food on a spoon. It is so fragmented that there is no need to use a knife.
Of course I can not describe all Thai dishes – there are thousands of variations. I present the ones I wanted to try myself.
*Rudyard Kipling, author of the title quote