19 Aug Emerging Flavors
19 August 2019
Thailand is a destination of choice for lovers of the culinary arts. The capital is full of treasures and Phuket and Chiang Mai dishes are well known, but the emerging tourist regions also offer wonderful gastronomic surprises.
Considered as the finest offer in Southeast Asia, the Thai cuisine charms the world with its balance of flavors in all its incredible subtlety and nuance. Indeed, the Land of Smile relies on a passion for ultra-fresh products with infinite combinations; these preferences and the Thai culinary talent make it a paradise for all gourmets.
This is one of the common points between the Thai and French cultures: we cherish our gastronomy and the meal is a matter of sharing. Dishes are placed in the center of the table and we like to talk about it with friends and family, at work or while traveling and often even… during the meal! Going around the country and enjoying the culinary specialties is a real pleasure, also outside the most touristic areas.
The lack of road infrastructure in the countryside until the end of the 20th century and natural obstacles such as the northern mountains have led to a great culinary diversification and a multiplication of dishes from one region to another.
The recipes have often been dictated by the ingredients reachable on site or the cultural particularities of the villages and are available according to the regions and their neighbors: Laos makes its mark in the North-East; Malaysia and Indonesia in the South; Myanmar and Yunnan (China) in the North, while the so-called gastronomy of kings, undoubtedly the best-known by foreign tourists, predominates in the center.
If everyone knows the Pad Thai, “national dish” imposed after the war, many other recipes can open to really new taste pleasures, like the succulent Kor Moo Yang (pork neck), or soup Tom Kha Kai and his mixture of chicken and coconut milk. The center’s cuisine has made a significant contribution to Thai gastronomy beyond its borders. It is largely influenced by the royal family and is characterized by the omnipresence of coconut milk and garnishes such as grapes. These include the famous tom yum goong, shrimp soup and sour or kaeng khiao wan, green curry with chicken or beef, basil and eggplant. Sauteed noodles, also very common in the region, are the signature of the Chinese community.
Kaeng (curry) is used to designate a wide range of dishes, from liquid soup to dishes without sauce such as kaeng ho. Coconut cream is used in many kaeng dishes, including kaeng pet (red curry), kaeng wan (green curry) and kaeng massaman, a spicy and sweet recipe of Persian origin made from meat, potatoes and onions. Among kaeng without coconut milk, jungle curries do not skimp on spices.
But beyond these classics, the emerging destinations of the country offer excellent traditions, to be discovered over the wanderings.
For example, Phetchaburi, a coastal city in the south of Bangkok, ranks first for its palm sugar. The Khanom mor gaeng, a cake with yellow beans, is very tasty and appreciated. On the market, you can buy Khao chae, floating rice in cold water scented with fragrant herbs. It is a specialty of the Mon, from the west of Thailand in the 6th century. Their recipes are still found on the stalls around Kanchanaburi and Ko Kret, near the capital city.
Around Sangklaburi, near the Burmese border, tea leaf is often found in salads and served as a wrapper for a snack called miang, consisting of minced ingredients – grated coconut, dried shrimp and peppers. A little more effort and we manage to reach the North…
Delicacies from terroirs
While Northwestern specialties (Chiang Mai) are already popular for tourists, it is interesting to turn to the East (Isaan). The cuisine of the Northeast is inspired by peasant recipes, often full-bodied, where glutinous rice or khao nio kept warm in the bamboo baskets is the star. It is consumed in the form of dumplings dipped in sauces or curries, including kaeng hanglay, sour-sweet pork curry with tamarind of Burmese inspiration. Most likely from China and present in Myanmar, the khao soi often includes chicken and noodles with fresh eggs bathed in a coconut curry and finely dotted with crispy pasta.
The sausages are among the most delicious regional specialties, especially that with pork, or sai oua, quite spicy and grilled on a fire of coconut shell. We also recommend naem, a sausage made from rind and raw fermented pork, garlic and chilli. Also popular in the Northeast, the laab consists of a salad with fish, beef, chicken or minced pork, served with mint leaves and raw vegetables to relieve the fire of spices. And to accompany the famous khaep moo, crispy pork rind, sauces like nam prik ong – minced pork, sweet pepper, tomato, garlic and shrimp paste – or the famous nam prik noom – grilled peppers, onions and garlic.
You cannot miss the spicy green papaya salad with lime juice. From Northeastern Isaan as well, this exotic dish is a very spicy delicacy. Garlic, chilies, green beans, cherry tomatoes and grated papaya with spicy sauces and make this a real delight. Depending on regional variations, you can find peanuts, dried shrimp, canned crab or salted fish in the mix. a tasty specialty, gai yang, surprises us with its sweetness: marinated chicken in a fish sauce seasoned with pepper, garlic, coriander, and palm sugar, then grilled and served as a bite.
Finally, for the more adventurous, in the isolated villages of the North, it is possible to eat also snake, turtle and deer and in the heart of Isaan even frogs, lizards and insects.
From North to South: ever spicier!
Southern Thai cuisine has nothing to envy to the flavors of the North in terms of inflammation of the palate and Chinese, Muslim and Thai traditions have become intertwined to culminate in many culinary compromises. For example, the Kaeng Tai with many spices: the fishermen who wanted to preserve their food would have invented this recipe by mixing fermented fish stomachs with chilli, bamboo shoots, vegetables and a very hot sauce. Even more full-bodied, kaeng luang, with fish, green papaya, bamboo shoots or palm heart.
The cuisine of the South sometimes warms the palates even more, but also knows how to be moderate, as revealed by the khao yam, rice salad, vegetables and dried fish, or the fish sauce budu. The Phad Sataw, sautéed pork or shrimp and sataw, bean quite big and very fragrant, is hardly stronger. To be tested as well: the khao mok gai, a dish made with roasted chicken and turmeric-flavored rice reminiscent of Indian Biryani, often sprinkled with fried onions.
The region is distinguished among other things by its flagship ingredient: the soft-shelled crab. Other specialties to try are: fried calamari with Satun ink, mussels cooked in their shells, steamed, scented with lime juice and herbs (hoi malaeng poo op maw din) and the crab pieces cooked in a curry thickened with egg and crunchy vats (poo pat pong karee).
For gourmets, Trang is a five-star destination, where it is good to wake up early, because the breakfast is a warm matter, it is even the best meal of the day! The locals are not content with a bowl of rice porridge and it is better to eat it in one of the city’s lively pork shops (at the last census, there were more than 70 in town). The restoration protocol changes little from one place to another: once seated, a dim sum tray is proposed. The delicious steamed packets contain everything from chopped pork to quail eggs or tofu, all sprinkled with Chinese tea. But pork, or Mu Yang, is the star of the breakfast table.
After being marinated for several hours with a range of Chinese herbs, spices and honey, the pigs are cooked whole during the night. The pork is so famous that it is celebrated every September during an annual pork festival where village chefs share the secrets of their marinades.
Khanom Chin, fermented rice noodles served with fish and curry sauce, is popular all over Thailand, but in Trang this dish makes more sense with plenty of local seafood and coconut.
Finally, a drink not to be missed in Trang is the famous Kopi coffee: black, strong and sweet, this coffee will energize you for the whole day. Kopi is served everywhere in Trang, but do not forget to order it by name rather than asking for generic coffee to make sure you get it. It is often served with fried sweet bread called Cha Kui or local donuts called Pa Tong Ko. And why not accompany it with other desserts?
Province and candy: obtain justice for Thai desserts
By leaving Thailand’s usual tourist destinations, we realize that, unfortunately, Thai desserts have often been neglected in the menus of most tourist restaurants because of the very complex preparation methods. Since many fresh and quality products such as palm sugar, rice flour and coconut milk are needed, it has become increasingly difficult to find real Thai desserts.
Probably the most remarkable in its forms and vivid colors, the choob dessert is sparkling with miniature fruit and vegetable dough and mango cooked in coconut milk dipped in gelatin.
Thai desserts are not all made with egg yolks and rice flour, but tropical fruits have also found their way into the world of Thai sweets. The best known of all is still the khao niew ma muang (glutinous rice topped with sweet coconut cream and some toasted sesame seeds with a ripe mango). For those who want a good taste with fruits, depending on the season, sticky rice can be served with pieces of durian. Bananas can be made into gluay buad tchi (banana with coconut cream), gluay tord (banana fritters), and Khanom gluay (banana steamed with rice flour and coconut ). But that’s not all, the choice is wide.
How about banana in a hot coconut cream (Kluay buat chee), banana dipped in a mixture of coconut cream and rice flour, then fried (kluay kaek), broken water chestnuts sprinkled with red tapioca flour, served with coconut cream and crushed ice (taap tim krawp) or coconut cream pudding steamed in a spicy and sweet coconut, coriander and coconut cream (sanggkhaya ma-praoawn)?