A TASTE OF SIAM

From the moun­tains to the sea, Thai­land’s re­gional cui­sine is as var­ied as its tribes and land­scapes

Escape! Asia - - Contents -

AS MYR­IAD AS ITS PEO­PLE,

Thai cui­sine is an amal­ga­ma­tion of lo­cal eth­nic tra­di­tions and in­ter­na­tional culi­nary in­flu­ences; Dutch, Por­tuguese, French, Chi­nese and Ja­panese char­ac­ter­is­tics seam­lessly blended into Bud­dhist roots. Tra­di­tion­ally, Thai dishes es­chew large chunks of pro­tein in favour of shred­ded meats laced with fresh herbs and spices, with gen­tler cook­ing meth­ods such as stew­ing, bak­ing and grilling. But with Chi­nese in­flu­ences came the pro­cliv­ity for stir- and deep­fry­ing; Por­tuguese mis­sion­ar­ies brought chill­ies with them in the 1600s; and In­dian curry was adapted with the use of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and spices – co­conut oil and milk re­placed ghee, fresh herbs such as lemon­grass and galan­gal re­placed car­damom and ginger. What we de­fine to­day as that uniquely Thai taste is ac­tu­ally a cen­turies-old con­flu­ence of Eastern and Western styles.

Yet in spite of these ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences, Thai cui­sine re­mains dis­tinctly lo­cal – a fact most clearly ob­served through its re­gional cui­sine. Be­fore the com­ple­tion of the rail­way in the 1920s, travel within the coun­try was slow and time-con­sum­ing, so the four main re­gions – North, North­east, Cen­tral and South – were left largely to gov­ern them­selves, keep­ing their in­di­vid­ual eth­nic di­alects and tra­di­tions in­tact, in­clud­ing culi­nary ones. So rather than the ho­mogenised um­brella of “Thai food” that has been so suc­cess­fully ex­ported to the rest of the world, true Thai cui­sine is re­ally a com­ple­ment of di­verse styles and flavours, from the seafood-in­flu­enced cur­ries of the South and courtly dishes of the North, to the herba­ceous recipes of the hum­ble North­east and the colour­ful flavours of the fer­tile Cen­tral delta.

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