Lemongrass. Kaffir lime leaves. Galangal Root. Banana leaves. Tamarind. Rambutans. Durian Fruit. Dried shrimp paste (warning: stay away from this one at all costs). These are some of the new ingredients that I uncovered on my most recent adventure/culinary journey across Thailand (read about it here!). If you know me, you know that a post based solely on the food from our trip was obviously in order. I’m a Thai food junkie, so for me, the chance to visit the motherland and uncover rainbows of curries, pan fried noodles adorned with peanuts, and rices laced with pineapple chunks was truly an awe-inspiring experience.
Before venturing to Southeast Asia, I was slightly nervous about the food. I’m familiar with the Western versions of Thai food..but I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. My worry stemmed from the Anthony Bourdain in Thailand episode, where he went cross-country to hunt down a bowl of a Thai speciality, Cow’s Blood Soup. This, paired alongside my ideology that people casually hang around enjoying grilled scorpions on a stick, or deep fried maggots and cockroaches–left me with an anxious feeling.
Half way through our first meal in Thailand, I knew I had entered a full-fledged food Heaven. Everything is so vibrant, flavorful, and rich. Everything also comes served in hollowed out pineapple shells, or adorned with 10 orchids. Eating our way across Thailand was an experience I’ll cherish forever, and it advanced my food knowledge and shocked my taste buds in amazing ways. So, I’ve decided to highlight some of the Thai ingredients and flavors we uncovered (what to try and what to stay the hell away from), along with some of my favorite meals. (Just in case anyone reading this feels like venturing to their local Asian market and getting weird, or hopping on a plane and soaking up the Thai flavors first-hand).
e n j o y !
my photos // meals & ingredients
green papaya salad (top)-one of the most popular salads of Thailand and a must try. A combo of raw shredded green papaya, carrots, and roasted peanuts/tomato/long beans in a tangy vinaigrette. Kind of like the Thai version of slaw>>>NOTE: The vinaigrette in this salad contains fish sauce, a widely used condiment across SE Asia. Made from fermented anchovies, fish sauce is used in a lot of Thai food, and for the most part it blends in. However, some dishes (often salads) go heavy on it in the dressings, and it is a serious mouthful. When used heavily, it tastes and smells like a straight up fishy-vinegar combo. Watch out for generous amounts of it, seriously. Additionally, a thing called Shrimp Paste exists in these parts of the world. Exactly as it sounds: shrimp, pulverized into a grey-ish goopy looking paste. I’m not very familiar with this item, and I would like to keep it that way. I do know, however, that I made the mistake of ordering a dish one time that highlighted this ingredient, called “stir fried chicken with shrimp paste.” I was trying to be adventurous, and it completely backfired. Do yourself a favor, and stay away from any food that directly identifies shrimp paste in the title at all costs.
Rambutans (top): a funky looking spike-y fruit. You have to pry it open and on the inside is a soft, sweet ball of fruit. Similar to the texture of a melon. They snack on these little fruit balls and in some bars they use them to chase tequila, in lieu of lime and salt.
Pad-See-U (top left): a pan fried noodle dish (similar to the national dish of Thailand that everyone knows, Pad Thai). Pad-see-u is made with a thicker, brown soy-based sauce, is more vegetable heavy, and uses wide rice noodles vs. the thin noodles in Pad Thai. Both are delicious but Pad-See-U is a bit more hearty (perhaps a better choice for a 2 am intoxicated snack).
Hot banana in coconut milk (bottom left): BEST DESSERT IN THAILAND…this is so simple and exactly as the name implies. Its a hot coconut milk base, sweetened with sugar, and served with warm, cooked bananas. Sometimes they add cinnamon. So comforting and delicious, even on the hottest of days. Must must must have. Also, Mango Sticky Rice (pictured further down) is the other most popular Thai dessert dish. The idea of rice sounds weird for a sweet treat..but it is so soft and sticky, almost pudding like, and its doused in a hot sweet milk concoction. Served alongside perfectly ripe juicy mangos, this dish somehow works and is so delicious.
Bottom Right, Melonz, photo credit: Kaley Smith
Durian Fruit (top): large, spiny fruit common across SE Asia. However, the Durian fruit is best known for its horrendous smell. The edible flesh emits a very distinctive and raunchy odor even when the outer husk is still on. It is widely recognized as revolting, and there are signs on public transportation and in hotel rooms that actually ban the fruit, and you can be fined if caught bringing it onto the premises. I’ll leave with this quote, which I think best describes the overall attitude towards the fruit:
“.. its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia.” (-Richard Sterling)
not my photos // other delicious Thai favorites