8 December, 2019
The article was originally published in the December edition of The Plus.
Thai cuisine is (like any other) is a confluence of cultures. It originally was not a distinct cuisine but originated with the people who emigrated from the Southern Chinese provinces. With Szechwan, Buddhist (“Indian”) and links with Southern Muslim states, Thai cuisine evolved into a unique blend of neighboring cultures.
Thailand, having never been colonized was not hermetically sealed from the colonial gastronomical influences. Thai cuisine has been heavily influenced by Portuguese and Dutch cuisine. Since they allied with the Japanese during the second world war, Japanese culinary influences are not wholly absent.
Thus the essence of Thai cuisine is to capture and balance the five flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy.
Interestingly curries in Thailand are identified and named after colours, the most common ones being: green, red, yellow, and orange. However, contrary to what the colours could mean, the mildest (in terms of spiciness) is orange, with green being the spiciest. Yellow is spicier than orange and red being even more, but less than green.
Thai cuisine, like Indian cuisine, is largely based except that the spices are first ground into a paste before adding them to the broth. Another point of difference is that Thai cuisine uses a lot more coconut milk and fresh herbs like lemongrass, basil, and galangal (ginger). Due to most of the products being local, Thai cuisine has not traveled far. It is only recently being discovered as a rich cuisine with intricate flavours. Also, unlike Indian cuisine where seafood and meat curries are bereft of vegetables, in Thai cuisine vegetables are added in plenty to the meat/seafood curries as well.
The main staple is rice: sticky rice and it can be eaten in many ways. The way the rice is cooked and eaten depends on the region you belong to!