December 11, 2010
A LITTLE THAI FOOD BACKGROUND
- Buddhism is the main religion of Thailand, which accounts for its many vegetarians, and traditionally, but now rarely, every male was expected to shave his head and spend a least a year in a monastery clothed in the ubiquitous saffron robe of a Buddhist monk where most men learned to cook Thai food when they were not asking for it as an alms offering. And at funerals it is common to compile a small cookbook of the deceased favorite recipes and then give each mourner a copy as a living remembrance.
- The country was originally called Siam until 1939 when it became Thailand although it reverted back to Siam for about five years in the late 40’s. The seal point “Siamese” cat was it’s largest Western claim to fame after one was given to the first lady of the US in 1879. Knowledge of this exotic country, but not Thai food, experienced a huge upswell in the 50’s when the Oscar and Hammerstein musical, the Yul Brenner film, and Walt Disney’s Lady and The Tramp became blockbuster hits of the US entertainment industry.
- Vasco de Gama “discovered” Siam and Thai food in 1511 and soon Portuguese, French, Dutch and Danish traders made it the major entrepot for the China-India trade until all the Westerners were thrown out of the country in the late 17th century for about 150 years. Siam was opened to European trade and influence by King Monkrut, Rama IV, portrayed by Yul Brenner or Chow Yun Fat, in the middle of the 19th century.
- Thailand’s cuisine has been influenced by that of India, China, Burma, Laos and Vietnam either through conquest, common boarders or centuries of trade. Thai foods are often slowly grilled, braised or deep fried, as well as stir fried like Chinese, because there is no shortage of cooking fuel. Thai foods are simmered in coconut milk and curry spices or deep fried in woks and generally there are no ovens for roasting or baking. Thai rice is usually eaten as a balancing foil with every meal including those that feature soup or salad. Jasmine rice is the Thai food carbohydrate of choice and it and soup may be the only items in a meal that are served warmer then room temperature.
- All courses of a Thai meal are usually served at once and table salt is replaced by fish sauce or shrimp paste as a condiment accompanied by peanuts, dried chili pastes, sugar and crispy fried onions and garlic as flavor toppings. A selection of raw vegetables, a virtual Thai salad, is served with most meals that includes mint, basil, soft leaf lettuces, cabbage, long beans, bean sprouts and tomatoes. Thai table accouterments don’t usually include knives and instead you use a fork to push your food onto your spoon which then transports the morsel to your mouth.
- The heat of any Thai dish is adjusted by the amount of curry paste, coconut milk, brown sauce or stock used to prepare it. Thai food can be searing hot like the spicy foods of other high temperature climates but you can moderate it to your own taste. Unfortunately many US Thai restaurants have a heavy hand with the sugar and that throws off the intended balance of the meal so use your sweetener sparingly.