Food in Thailand
About Thai Food
Thai Food is now very popular in most western countries, with a reputation for using fresh ingredients to quickly create dishes that are fiery but fragrant and subtly flavored. Lemon grass, basil, conriander, galangal, chilli, garlic, lime juice, coconut milk and fermented fish sauce are some of the vital ingredients that give the cuisine its distinctive taste.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the country's big culinary centers, boasting the cream of gourment Thai restaurants and the best international cuisine. The rest of the country is by no means a gastronomic wasteland, however, and you can eat well and cheaply even in the smallest provincial towns, many of which offer the additional attraction of regional specialties. In fact you could eat more than adequately without ever entering a restaurant, as itinerant food vendors hawking hot and cold snacks materialize in even the most remote spots, as well as on trains and buses, and night markets often serve customers from dust until dawn.
Hygiene is a consideration when eating anywhere in Thailand, but being too cautious means you'll end up spending a lot of money and missing out on some real local treats. Wean your stomach gently by avoiding excessive amounts of chillies and too much fresh fruit in the first few days, and always drink either bottled or boiled water.
You can be pretty sure that noddle stall and curry shop that's permanently packed with customers is a safe bet. Furthermore, because most Thai dishes can be cooked in under five minutes, you'll rarely have to content with stuff that's been left to smoulder and stew. Foods that are generally considered high in risk include salads, raw are undercooked meat or fish, ice and ice cream. If you're really concerned about health standards you could stick to restaurants and food stalls displaying a ''Clean Food Good Taste'' sign, part of a good sanitation project set up by the ministry of Public Health, TAT and Ministry of Interior. The criteria for awarding the logo seem to have some rigour: less that half of applicants pass muster, and thirty percent of awarders are randomly chosen and reassessed each year.
What to eat
The repertoire of noodles, stir-fries, curries and rice dishes described below is pretty much standard throughout Thailand. When you get out into the provinces, you'll have the chance to sample a few specialties as well, which have evolved either from the cuisines of neighboring countries or from the crops best suites to that area.
Many of the specialties of the north originated over the border in Burma; one such is khao soi, in which both boiled and crispy egg noodles are served with beef, chicken or pork in curried coconut soup. Also popular around Chiang Mai are thick spicy sausages (nem) made from minced pork, rice and garlic left the cure for a few days and then sometime eaten raw with spicy salad.
Known in Thai as mung-sa-wi-rat, it is practiced by most Thais from time to time, sometimes as a way to cleanse the body after a long period of feeling unwell, sometimes simply in order to improve one’s Karma. Thais of Chinese descent will often take things further, practicing something closer to veganism, and eating no animal products. This is known as gin jay. They also avoid eating plants such as onions and garlic, partly because the eating of these requires the plants to be uprooted and therefore killed.
Desserts (khong-waan) don't really figure on most restaurant menus, but some places offer bowls of luk taan cheum, a jellied concoction of lotus or palm seeds floating in a syrup scented with jasmine or other aromatic flowers. Coconut milk is a feature of most other desserts, notably delicious coconut ice cream and a royal Thai cuisine special of coconut custard (sang-kha-yaa) cooked inside a small pumpkin, whose flesh you can also eat. Cakes are sold on the street and tend to be heavy, sticky affairs made from glutinous rice and coconut cream pressed into squares and wrapped in banana leaves.
Thais don't drink water straight from the tap and nor should you; plastic bottles of drinking water (nam plao) are sold country wide, even in the smallest villages, for around 5-10 Baht. Cheap restaurants and hotels generally serve free jugs of boiled water, which should be fine to drink.
Beer (bia) is one of the few consumer items in Thailand that's not a bargain due to the heavy taxes levied on the beverage at around 60 Baht for 330 ml bottle it works out roughly the same as what you'd pay in the West (larger, 660 ml bottles, when available, are always slightly better value). The most famous beer is the slightly acrid locally brewed Singha, but Kloster, which is also brewed by Boon Rawd and costs about 5-10 Baht more then Singha, is easier on the tongue.