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A Deeper Look at Thai Cuisine
Thai cuisine refers to typical foods, beverages, and cooking styles common to the country of Thailand in Southeast Asia. Thai Cuisine is well-known for being hot and spicy and for its balance of five fundamental flavors in each dish or the overall meal - hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and bitter (optional).
Although popularly considered as a single cuisine, Thai food would be more accurately described as four regional cuisines corresponding to the four main regions of the country: Northern, Northeastern (or Isan), Central, and Southern, each cuisine sharing similar foods or derived from those of neighboring countries. Southern curries, for example, tend to contain coconut milk and fresh turmeric, while northeastern dishes often include lime juice. The cuisine of Northeastern (or Isan) Thailand is heavily influenced by Laos. Many popular dishes eaten in Thailand were originally Chinese dishes which were introduced to Thailand mainly by Teochew people who make up the majority of the Thai Chinese. Such dishes include jok, kway teow rad na, khao kha moo (also known as moo pa-loh) and khao mun gai.
Thai food is known for its enthusiastic use of fresh (rather than dried) herbs and spices as well as fish sauce. Thai food is popular in many Western countries.
Instead of a multiple main course with side dishes found in Western cuisine, a Thai full meal typically consists of either a single dish or rice khao with many complementary dishes served concurrently and shared by all.
Nowadays, Thai food is eaten with a fork and spoon but traditionally, it was eaten with the right hand. Only noodle dishes (and then mainly only the noodle soups) are eaten with chopsticks and a spoon.
Rice is a staple component of Thai cuisine, as it is of most Asian cuisines. The highly prized, sweet-smelling jasmine rice is indigenous to Thailand. This naturally aromatic long-grained rice grows in abundance in the verdant patchwork of paddy fields that blanket Thailand's central plains. Steamed rice is accompanied by highly aromatic curries, stir-frys and other dishes, incorporating sometimes large quantities of chillies, lime juice and lemon grass. Curries, stir-frys and others may be poured onto the rice creating a single dish called khao rad gang, a popular meal when time is limited. Sticky rice is a unique variety of rice that contains an unusual balance of the starches present in all rice, causing it to cook up to a sticky texture. It is the staple of Laos and substitutes ordinary rice in rural Northern and Northeastern Thai cuisine, where Lao cultural influence is strong.
Noodles, known in much of Southeast Asia by the Chinese name kway teow, are popular as well but usually come as a single dish, like the stir-fried Pad Tha or noodle soups. Many Chinese cuisine are adapted to suit Thai taste, such as kway teow rua, a sour and spicy rice noodle soup.
Nam prik is Thai chilli sauce or paste. Each region has its own special versions. It is prepared by crushing together chillies with various ingredients such as garlic and shrimp paste using a mortar and pestle. It is then often served with vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw or blanched. The vegetables are dipped into the sauce and eaten with rice. Nam prik may also be simply eaten alone with rice or, in a bit of Thai and Western fusion, spread on toast.
Thai food is generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. Chopsticks are used rarely, primarily for the consumption of noodle soups. The fork, held in the left hand, is used to push food into the spoon. However, it is common practice for Thais and hill tribe peoples in the North and Northeast to eat sticky rice with their right hands by making it into balls that are dipped into side dishes and eaten. Thai-Muslims also frequently eat meals with only their right hands.
Often Thai food is served with a variety of spicy condiments to embolden dishes. This can range from dried chilli pieces, or sliced chilli peppers in rice vinegar, to a spicy chilli sauce such as the nam prik mentioned above.
History of the Pad Thai dish
Pad thai is a dish of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chilli pepper, plus any combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, or tofu, garnished with crushed peanuts and coriander. It is normally served with a piece of lime, the juice of which can be added along with Thai condiments. Pad Thai is one of Thailand's national dishes.
Two different styles of Pad Thai have evolved: the version most often found in the streets of Thailand, which is relatively dry and light, and the version that seems dominant in many restaurants in the West, which is heavier and may be covered in red oil.
Though the dish had been known in various forms for centuries – it is thought to have been brought to the ancient Thai capital of Ayuthaya by Vietnamese traders – it was first made popular as a national dish by Luang Phibunsongkhram when he was prime minister during the 1930s and 1940s, partly as an element of his campaign for Thai nationalism and centralization, and partly for a campaign to reduce rice consumption in Thailand. The Thai economy at this time was heavily dependent on rice exports; Phibunsongkhram hoped to increase the amount available for export by launching a campaign to educate the poor in the production of rice noodles, as well as in the preparation of these noodles with other ingredients to sell in small cafes and from street carts.
During the recession following World War II, the post-war government of Field Marshall Pibul, desperate in its efforts to revive the Thai economy, looked for ways to stem the massive tide of unemployment. Among the occupations the government aggressively promoted to give the populace a way to earn a living was the production of rice noodles and the operation of noodle shops. Detailed instructions on how to make the noodles and recipes were printed and distributed around the country. From these efforts, rice noodles became firmly rooted in the country and have since become a widespread staple food.
Outside of Thailand, Pad Thai is one of the best-known Thai dishes, and is very popular in Thai restaurants in the United States and Australia and many other countries.