Creamy coconut curries redolent with the fragrances of the Orient; cool, crunchy salads, spiked with fiery chillies; smoky stir-fries cloaked in hot and sweet sauces. Thai food has found a permanent place on the Indian palate and plate. When one thinks of Thai cuisine, one pictures a banquet of exotic dishes with beautifully carved fruit and vegetables adorning the table. The reality is, however, that in Thailand, a meal comprises a bowl of steaming glutinous rice with a portion of meat, fish or vegetable, and one or two of a variety of spicy sauces on the side. Aficionados of Thai cuisine will know that the array of exotic dishes featured on restaurant menus represents the culinary diversity of Thai regional food. Som Tam, the popular papaya salad sprinkled with crunchy peanuts, is a typical dish from the Northeast, the poorest region of Thailand. Fish sauce, an essential ingredient in Thai food, is produced in the South and Gulf coastal region, which is also home to the rich coconut curries, seafood dishes and the spicy Massaman curry contributed by Indian Muslim immigrants to Thai cuisine.
The heady jasmine-scented rice which is unique to Thailand, is a product of the Central Plains, also known as the rice bowl of the country. Rice noodles such as Pad Thai are a natural by-product, the noodles denoting the strong Chinese influence on Thai cooking. The Central Plains are also the home of Tom Yum, the popular Hot and Sour Soup and everyone's favourite Green Curry. Bangkok is the street food capital of the country with its rows of food stalls selling an array of snacks including barbecued meats, fish cakes and spring rolls. And finally, the intricately carved vegetables and fruit, which one associates with Thai cuisine, are an example of what is called Palace Food, a reference no doubt to the royal repasts of the rulers of the kingdom of Siam. Thai cooking, like Chinese cooking, from which it derives many of its culinary styles, lays a great deal of emphasis on the freshness of ingredients, the harmonious blend of flavours and textures, which engage all the senses at the same time. Every dish is an aromatic melange of four flavours: salty, sweet, sour and piquant. Galangal (similar to ginger), kaffir lime leaves, basil and lemon grass provide the aromas; Nam Pla or fish sauce and dried shrimp paste contribute the salty flavours; sweet notes are sounded by palm sugar (brown sugar is a good alternative) and coconut; while tamarind and the juice of the kaffir lime add that touch of sourness which appears to complete the bouquet of tastes. And just when one is beguiled by the smooth harmony of flavours, the searing heat of the red hot bird's eye chilli, intrudes on the senses and leaves a lingering fire on the tongue. Which is why, I am sure, Thai meals end with the soothing, creamy balm of tropical fruit purees and coconut milk desserts. I hope you enjoy this banquet I have laid out especially for you, so you can experience the flavours of Thailand in your own home.