Tired of cooking the same handful of meals each week, I enrolled on an international cookery course.
The course may have ended, but it's just whetted my appetite....

Join me on a weekly visit to the cuisines of the world, countries from A to Z, and back again!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

T is for Thailand

Where we're going this evening - Thailand

Somewhere else that I am having to look up on the map.  It turns out that Thailand, home of the phonetically funny city of Phuket (that is, if you have the sense of humour of a ten year old), and capital of a thousand innuendos in Bankok is right over by the Philippines where we were a few weeks ago.

It's a on peninsula along with Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanamar, all of which I tend to lump together with a vague 'far east' label.

What I do know about this area is mostly from the Next-doors who enjoy travelling the region very much, and tend to head off with huge rucksacks in that direction for some weeks most summers, like a pair of over-age teenagers on a gap year.

Mind you, although they do stay in some places which are cheaper (with arguably fewer facilities) than the cattery where their two mogs spend their time, they also like their comfort and send back pics via wi-fi from envy-inducing luxurious tropical retreats. 

So what makes Thailand stand out from the crowd...

Thailand has about the same population as the UK, but is about twice the size.  It used to be called Siam until it changed it's name to Thailand in 1939, then back to Siam, then back to Thailand where it seems to have settled since 1949. The name change will confuse anyone watching The Lady and the Tramp song 'We are Siamese, if you please' or watching The King and I in which the King was that of Siam.

The middle ages saw the rise and fall of various Buddhist empires and powerhouses (and there was me thinking that Buddhist were all peace loving), with Thailand becoming a great trading state with the (inevitable) arrival of those great respecters of other peoples' land, the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and the good old English.

Astonishingly (given the Empirical tendencies of those above), Thailand was not colonised - the only nation on the peninsular to have retained independence.  Well, good for you, Thailand!  They managed to keep their own affairs to themselves, remaining as a buffer between those countries colonised by the French and those that the British Empire had their mitts on.

These days all is broadly democratic - despite a few hiccups; and Thailand is an 'emerging economy; with a staggering growth rate of 4-5% in recent years (compared to recession in most Western countries) and an unemployment rate of less than 1%. Blimey.

Thailand is a tropical country with natural assets which encourage tourism as well as a rich cultural heritage.  Let's explore more, as we say Sawat dee kah to our Thai hosts, and see what's to eat tonight...

Tonight's Menu...

So what does your average Thai eat?  Well, off the top of my head, I'd say that Thai green curry, and Thai red curry have got to be contenders, but I see that 'lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components' sums it up (thank you Wikipedia).

Well that sounds pretty easy - but looking at the list of ingredients in some of the Thai recipes on line, I started to worry that the ingredients were not going to be easy for me to find here - so I started off with a complete swizz and a cheat, buying a culinary kit to make my first dish a bit easier.

But looking further into the lightly prepared dishes bit, I can see that as long as I have lime, chilies (sweet tai dipping sauce) and fish sauce (called Nam Pla), then I'm in.

I did struggle, though, for a traditional Thai sweet - even when I consulted the Next-doors, there was nothing that they could say that they had eaten which was 'typical' unless I counted the delicious fresh fruit - so tonight, we are all savoury.

Pad Thai Curry - kit from thaitaste.co.uk

Soak noodles in boiling water for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, stir fry prawns/seafood (can use chicken, pork or veg here), then break an egg in the pan and lightly scramble.  Add noodles and sauce supplied, heat through and stir well to combine.

Thai Chicken cakes with sweet chilli sauce - recipe from BBC Good Food

Blitz chicken breasts, garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, chilli & seasoning until well mixed.  Make into cake shapes & shallow fry.  Serve hot with sweet chilli sauce, lime wedges coriander, green salad leaves & shredding spring onion

Thai Beef stir fry - recipe from BBC Good Food

Stir fry beef strips & chopped chilli. Add fish sauce, until sauce is warmed through and the beef is coated.  Serve with rice (I used jasmine rice)

The Result

And what have we learnt?

  • To use a big plate for Thai Taste kits - there is a serious amount of food going on here.  If this is indicative of portion size in Thailand, all Thais must be the size of a barn.
  • That the instruction 'put noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water' should read 'put noodles individually in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of boiling water and agitate freely to separate' unless you want your reconstituted noodle strips to resemble a solid noodle block.
  • If you omit the seasoning on your chicken cakes, they will taste of nothing at all, despite the inclusion of all other ingredients, and copious quantities of dipping sauce
  • That the use of just one 'different' ingredient can totally alter the way a dish tastes compared to expectations
  • Not to give in to misgivings that jasmine rice will taste unpleasantly like chewing flower petals.  Palma violets as a child have an awful lot to answer for

And out of 10?

  • for the Pad Thai Curry - a reasonable 5/10 - the seafood and sauce very tasty, the stuck together noodles definitely to be avoided next time.
  • for the Chicken Cakes - a so-so 5/10 - you would think that this would have had a bit more get up and go about it - but I could have been eating slightly hot sponge for all this tasted of chicken.
  • for the beef stir fry - a very tasty 8/10 - definitely the hit of the night.  The most simple thing in the world to prepare, and the jasmine rice an excellent complement.

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