Wednesday, 21 October 2015
What Makes Thai Food, ...well, Thai ? - Pt.2.
...continued from... Pt. 1.
In Thailand, rice is the main ingredient of nearly every meal. It too, will vary from region to region. For instance, the 'normal' way to serve rice is steamed. Thais call it, either, Khao Suay - beautiful steamed Jasmine Rice, or Khao Plao, while plain boiled-rice in a soup, is called Khao tom. In the north-east, a more glutinous form, called white sticky -(neow), rice is preferred. This, they call Khao-neow khao. My personal favourite is Black sticky rice, Khao-neow darm, ((si)darm = black) as a dessert. The big differences occur with the accompaniments, and the sauces and spices.
Now, we note the subtle differences I mentioned before. Most meals consist of rice, with either vegetables, perhaps some fish, or another meat, and sauces and spices, and maybe a soup. The main spicy sauce is called Nam Phrik .... This comes in various forms. It is a sauce accompaniment. It is prepared by pounding many ingredients, or a few ingredients, with a Pestle, in a Mortar. If we split Thailand into basically, four regions, North, North-East (Issan), Central and Southern, we have four different taste regions. 'Nam Phrik' will be different in all those regions, too. There are as many recipes and varieties of Nam Phrik as there are dishes to put them on. One of the basic Nam Phrik sauces is Nam Phrik Pla Pon - made from ground, dried fish and chillies. It can be very salty and very hot.
There's also Phrik nam som, Nam Phrik plaa, and many others. The difference between Nam Phrik and Phrik nam, is whether, or not, it is a dipping sauce, or, it is to be added into the actual cooked meal. So, Phrik nam som, could be added to the cooked meal of something like, Kuay-tiao rad na.
In the North, where people like to eat mild to hot meals, the Nam Phrik Oong, with its minced pork, tomato and chili, is favoured. They prefer their food salty and sour - never sweet.
The North-East prefers Nam Phrik pla raa - which is made with Fermented Fish sauce and with chili. The hotter and saltier, the better. One particular favourite is Som tam, the spicy Papaya salad.
In the Central region, the preference is more middle-of-the-road. They like a variety of Nam Phrik sauces and condiments, as well as a sweetness in their food. Saltiness and a sour flavour are also welcomed. They also tend to have a soup with most meals. It's not uncommon to find all varieties of Nam Phrik sauces at a meal.
The Southern people tend to go for very hot foods, which are salty and sour. One particular favourite is 'Jungle Curry'. Southerners also use Nam Phrik Kapi which is made with Shrimp Paste (kapi) and chili, and lots of condiments and spices. In particular, they love their fish sauces and always tend to have raw vegetables to accompany a meal.
Other subtle differences come from the herbs and spices used. These include Black Pepper, Tamarind juice, Coconut Milk, Ground Peanuts, Galangal, Garlic, Chillies, Ginger, Lemongrass and Coriander Leaf.
So, when describing what makes Thai Food, Thai, we have to account for the subtle differences in the regionality of the flavours and preparation styles. There's just that difference between Thai, and say, some Indonesian, or some Vietnamese dishes - even when preparing the same meal (which isn't often, thank goodness). The subtle, and sometimes, not so subtle, balance in the fundamental five flavours - hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty and bitter.