I just concluded a 5-day trip to Bangkok, back in Manila now and I’m missing the flavors of Thailand. Thai food is one of my all time favorites. The flavors just explode in your mouth with the right balance of spicy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter…oh and did I say spicy? These flavors dance in your mouth even if you just order one dish. Each dish has a unique taste though and you can taste which ingredient is being highlighted with every spoonful. Oddly enough though its not the main ingredient like meat, poultry or fish that makes the dish standout but its the collection and blending of the minor ingredients that do justice to the meal. The red curry paste and the kaffir lime leaves to fish cake, the galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to Tom Yum Kung (sour soup with prawns), the coriander and the lime to Som Tam (papaya salad), and the basil leaves and mint leaves to the stir fries.
Here is a short food guide on 5 popular Thai foods to eat to get the best out of your Bangkok trip:
Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
Made from a mixture of green papaya, carrots, red chilies, lime juice, coriander, fish sauce and tomatoes, beaten and mixed together using mortar and pestle to obtain that spicy, sweet and sour goodness. It’s amazing that the flavor of this dish remains consistent even if you eat at a local restaurant or at a makeshift stall on a street corner. Best one I’ve had though is right under the BTS Skytrain station in On Nut and the lady cook enthusiastically showed me how it was made. Not every stall sells Som Tam though and one way of finding out is to look for the mortar and pestle made of stone; if they have one then you’re in for a treat! There are also several varieties of this dish – with salted eggs or cucumber and the equally popular Lao variety with fermented crablets. Best eaten with Tod Mun Pla (Thai fish cakes) and sticky rice or on its own, if you can bear its chili goodness.
Tom Yum Kung (Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns)
This is the uber popular hot and sour soup usually served with prawns. The soup is distinctly flavoured with galangal (a type of ginger), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and, you guessed it, chili! The semi-clear broth greets your pallet with the tangy goodness then flicks your taste buds as you feel the kick of the chili gently tapered by the sweetness of the kaffir lime leaves and galangal. This soup is a great starter for any Thai meal as it gently cleanses and prepares your palate for the other flavors of the succeeding dishes.
Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cake)
My absolute favorite and too bad that I haven’t tasted anything close to it here in the Philippines, so I really went for it while in Bangkok. I love the rubbery texture and the balance of fish and red curry paste made even more pronounced by the cucumber generously soaked in sweet chili sauce dip. Every bite is a delight! Thai fish cakes are different from western style fish cakes since they are not battered. The shredded fish fillet is held together by the red curry paste which also gives it the rubbery texture. Best ones I’ve tasted was after our floating market adventure at Damnoen Saduak on our way to the elephant show in Samprahan Elephant Ground!
Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in Creamy Coconut Soup)
This is chicken soup Asian style, chunky slices of chicken fillet in creamy coconut milk interlaced with the exotic flavours of kaffir lime leaves, galangal, coriander and fresh chilies, of course. The smell of the coconut milk, herbs and spices alone will make anyone crave for more. Similar to its cousin, Tom Yum Kung, Tom Kha Gai greets your palate with the sweetness of the coconut milk then leaves it with the gentle but powerful kick of herbs and spices. This dish is moderately spiced. Best one I’ve tried is in a local restaurant near the port on the way to Damnoen Saduak as we traveled to Samprahan Elephant Ground.
Mainly tried these from street vendors near our hotel, Imm Fusion in Sukhumvit. The stall had various sea foods, frogs, snake heads and vegetables. We were fortunate that they had a menu in English with pictures so we only had to point at the ones we found interesting. What was interesting is the distinct flavor of the basil and mint leaves that each dish had but the cook still managed to create uniqueness and individuality to each stir fry. We had 3 stir fried dishes – one with clams, one with beef and a vegetable called mimosa, and one with ground pork – and stuffed egg, which is basically an omelet, Thai style.
Thai foods are normally very spicy, but this shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying them out. Just make sure that you have a hefty serving of raw vegetables – cabbages, string beans and cucumber – to munch on in between bites. Whatever you do, do not drink water! It may provide temporary relief but after a while water, especially when cold, tends to aggravate the burning sensation in the mouth. A yoghurt drink is a good diffuser and they are readily available practically everywhere. Milk also does the trick but it has a tendency to make you feel full and that would spoil the fun.