Many of us are familiar with Thai cuisine, and if you happen to not be, you’re gravely missing out on one of the world’s most distinctly flavorful styles of cooking. Between ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, and coconut – it’s a sensory overload. Their flavor spectrum balances sweet, sour, salty, and spicy very harmoniously into dishes that practically sing on your tongue.
The U.S. and the rest of the world does its very best (bless its heart) to mimic these dishes as best it can using regional substitutes for the Thai locally-grown ingredients, but there is just something about Thai cooking done the long way, the authentic way, no shortcuts, no substitutes, that brings a purity to the flavor you can taste. Just like any country, the local favorites and specialties range from the south to north of the country, each region adding their own special twist to different recipes.
The northern region of Thailand is set apart by its preference to sticky rice, delicious spicy sausages, noodles, and a larger variety of vegetables that grow successfully due to the cooler and more mountainous climate. Khao Soi, a curry broth soup with noodles, is a must-try while in the north. Grilled chicken dishes, giant catfish delicacies, minced meat items called “lap”, and the perfection of the ever-popular papaya salad are the northeastern territory’s specialties. The familiar Tom Yum and Tom Ka soups originate in the central region of Thailand, but that’s not all they are known for; omelets for every occasion and preference are easy to come by, and Chinese influence is the strongest here, not to mention they boast of growing the best rice in the country! In the south, the local favorites are curries, coconuts and coffee (since they grow rampantly in this region), roti (Indian style bread influenced by trade), and extra chili spice added to already sweat-inducing dishes.
To gain a better understanding of the ingredients, cooking style, recipes and local flavor, opt to take a cooking class! Many are offered all over Thailand so catering to a specific time and day is no problem. There are full day options (which usually include a local market visit and a detailed showcasing and tasting of the ingredient list), or even speedy one-meal options which can be as quick as 45-90 minutes. There are group lessons (typically with a set menu) and private as well. If you’re comfortable at your villa, consider bringing the class to you! It’s not only a fantastic and fun experience, it sends you home with tasty takeaways of your prepared meals, as you always make more than you can eat. These classes aren’t just for those who are already comfortable in the kitchen. They’re great for novices alike. The mini cooking manuals are very thorough, ingredients and tools are all laid out individually for each student, and the staff is very patient and helpful, keeping everyone both at the same pace and usually laughing.
Not sold? Don’t take my word for it. Make your way to Thailand on a foodie’s holiday. If Thailand is too far, try an Asian market and follow this authentic Thai recipe below; but be warned—after tasting these incredible flavors, Thailand may have to be your next vacation.
Phad Pla Thod Kub Thualantao
(Deep Fried Marinated Fish and Snow Pea Stir-fry)
1 filet of white snapper or white fish
½ cup sugar snow (snap) peas trimmed
½ cup white onion cut thinly length-wise
¼ of each fresh red, green, and yellow peppers angle sliced (for color)
4 shitake mushrooms cut in half
2 cloves fresh garlic crushed and chopped
2-3 tbsp of ginger sliced finely
1 tbsp of soy bean oil for stir-fry
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp dry sherry brandy or cooking wine
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup chicken stock (use as needed)
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp ginger juice
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp of white or black ground pepper
1 tbsp dry sherry brandy
1 tsp sesame oil
½ cup tempura flour
½ cup soybean oil for deep fry
- Mix the first 6 ingredients of fish marinade into a bowl. Cut the fish filet width-wise into 4-5 pieces and soak in marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- In a small bowl, stir together the first 7 ingredients (all except chicken stock) and set aside.
- One by one, take fish piece out of marinade and into bowl with tempura flour. Coat all sides. Shake off excess flour, put aside. Flour all pieces.
- Heat ½ cup oil in wok on medium heat.
- Place fish gently in oil and fry until golden brown on each side and remove using tongs or a slotted spatula. Place onto paper towel to soak up excess oil. Cover.
- Remove oil from wok.
- Replace 1 tbsp oil back into wok and heat oil at medium. Add garlic, ginger, mushroom, & half the chicken stock. Stir together until chicken stock begins to evaporate.
- Add red, green, & yellow peppers, onion, and remaining half of the chicken stock and stir for one minute.
- Add in the pre-mixed stir-fry sauce and stir gently for 10-20 secs to coat vegetables. Add snow peas, stirring for 10-15 secs.
- Remove stir-fry from wok into serving bowl. Place fried fish on top. Serve with Jasmine rice.