Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Floating Market Image courtesy Turism Authority of Thailand
Centuries ago people emigrated from southern Chinese provinces, mostly Szechwan, into modern day Thailand bringing along their culinary traditions. Over the centuries, many other influences have affected Thai food including dishes and methods of cooking from India and Portugal. At the Southern part of the country Malay and Burmese culinary influences are also found. Thailand has a sizable Buddhist community which has also impacted the cuisine. These influences have been incorporated into Thai gastronomy to create uniquely tasty dishes.
I get all worked up when I see western tourists eating western food in an eastern country like Thailand and not be willing to taste the exceptionally tasty Thai dishes I enjoy. I just can’t help it. This cuisine is known for its remarkable balance of flavors i.e. sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The food of Thailand is both considerably regional and considerably seasonal.
During a visit to Bangkok and Phuket a few years ago I was very impressed by the high gastronomic level of not only the hotels that we stayed in, but everyday restaurants and even roadside food stands where we had a chance to stop and taste their offerings. And talking about interesting Thai cuisine, Thailand’s floating markets are an essential part of Thai life that offer a very tasty insight to the local cooking expertise… where you get to buy lunch from a boat while floating on a canal or a river.
Khlong Lat Mayom is the floating market I was first exposed to in Bangkok… there tourists are a distinct minority. It is a medium-sized market located very close to the city. It's so local that you will probably be one of very few foreigners. The market is famous for its cooked food. What makes it stand out is a variety of dishes such as som tam, pork satay and barbecued pork ribs plus the charcoal grilled cuttlefish and the grilled or fried shrimp.
Most of the larger cities have Chinatowns and dim-sum, the lovely bite sized steamed buns and dumplings (baozi) served for tea lunch. Even in the countryside, there were roadside stands offering dim-sum to hungry travelers for little money. After we departed Bangkok our lunch-time mantra became “dim-sum in 30 minutes”.
Traditional Thai cooking is perfumed and dominated by lemongrass, kaffirlime leaves and juice, spring onion (scallions), garlic, bird’s eye chili, fish sauce, tamarind sauce, coriander, cardamom and galangal - a member of the ginger family. The average protein is chicken, fish, seafood, duck, pork (in the non-Moslem areas), eggs and small amounts of lamb; noodles and tofu are present in many Chinese-inspired dishes. Beef is minimally used. Jasmine rice is served with most of the dishes and is flavored by the dinners with sauces from the dishes, a number of which are curries -- there are 6 curry paste varieties: red, yellow, green, sour, massamun and phanang. Coconut milk and coconut cream are used in large quantities as the soups and curries that encompass many of the classic dishes have coconut milk as a main ingredient.
For traditional Thai dish recipes see: Tom Kah Gai and Chicken Massamun
For a foodie, a visit to Thailand is a must. Avoid April to mid-May when heat and humidity are at the highest. It is said that Bangkok has three seasons, hot, hotter and hottest; though the Songkran (New Year’s) celebrations that usually happen in April can offer a very interesting experience. The best time to visit is November till early-March, when the heat abides and the humidity drops.
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