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Here’s a statement that’s proven every time you twirl a pad Thai noodle around your chop stick: Thai dining is divine.
From regionally diverse curries to bowls of street-side noodles, Thai cuisine makes every mealtime an indulgence. Take a culinary journey across the country, from spicy hot-spots to back alley delicacies and culminating in an exotic Thai cooking class.
Keep Calm and Curry On...
1. A DISH BEST SERVED CHILI
In Thailand, the food’s akin with the temperature. Hot. Curries are served the length and breadth of the country with some variations boasting an almighty sixty chilies per serving, so there’s little surprise the nation’s flavours have tongues puffing and brows sweating. Foodie aficionados embarking on a trip from one Thai region to the next will experience all manner of culinary – and curry – revelations.
With most long haul flights landing in hedonistic Bangkok, visitors can ease into Thai spice with a mild, Bangkok-style curry. In a city where everything else is alarmingly feisty, you’d expect the capital’s culinary flavours to be equally gutsy. To the contrary, it’s central Thailand where you’ll find the sweet (and sort of spicy) Thai Green Curry. Made with fresh, young green chilies, it’s the curry crowd-pleaser; creamy, flavoursome and unlikely to make you sweat.
Now that you’ve dipped your toe in, go full throttle and fully immerse the taste buds. Head north and order Kaneg Pa – Jungle Curry. Concocted in the forested hinterland of northern Thailand, this one’s a real brute. With double figure chilies, a distinct lack of coconut milk and a merciless heat, prepare to feel your ears steaming, eyes watering and your face reddening to a deep shade of crimson.
Too much too soon? Make a U-turn and travel south. Masaman is signature to the southern regions of Thailand, arriving some sixty years back from India. It’s now considered one of the nation’s sweetest curries. Offering low spice levels and mild aromatics, Thai households often refer to it as a ‘training curry’. Top choice for the spice shy.
2. THE STREET IS YOUR DINING ROOM
When it comes to food, if you possess a ‘try anything’ attitude, then Thailand - with its unique and unexpected street food - is your calling.
The best mindset is to lose all inhibitions, embrace everything and regret nothing. Pick your vendor, take a seat on the curb – a plastic seat if you’re lucky – and chomp your way through an unidentifiable feast that has so much flavour it’s like taking a Mike Tyson punch to your taste buds. You’ll be engulfed by the heady aroma of fried garlic, accompanied by roasted duck, bubbling curries and steaming dumplings. Follow your nose down the next alleyway for another excessively sized portion of delicious (and incredibly affordable) Thai food. Find yourself a roadside ‘Pancake Man’, they are the masters of pancakes and can whip
up the most delicious banana crepes in less than thirty seconds and at any time of the day, for less than a dollar. From desserts available before and after the sun comes up, to an entire assortment of sizzling obscurities, you can’t call Thai cuisine predictable, it’s a Pandora’s Box of unknowns, but delicious unknowns all the same.
3. WHEN STUDENT BECOMES MASTER
Having successfully navigated Thailand; tasted every coloured curry under the rainbow and chomped on deep fried insects as casually as you would a pack of chips, it’s time to learn your Tom Yam Kai from a Tom Yam Goong. It’s time to take a traditional Thai cooking class.
Authenticity is key, so on the morning of your lesson, aspiring chefs are led to the local food market to source fresh ingredients for the afternoon ahead. The mornings are mild but early humidity coaxes the rich market scents to rise and mingle in the air. Absorb the intoxicating mix of exotic fruits, pulses, nuts and fragrant herbs that will dart up your nose and encourage your stomach to rumble.
Arriving hungry is paramount. You’ll cook multiple courses mid-morning and devour them for lunch, working up an appetite to craft a few more delicacies in the afternoon. Once in the kitchen your Thai teacher is on-hand to guide, advise and to bat you with a large wooden spoon. Cooking classes aren’t just an introduction to authentic Thai cuisine, but also the playful nature of the Thai people. Divert from instructions at your own risk.
The style and number of dishes depends entirely on the class you attend, but are likely to include specialities such as Green Curry, Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice. One thing’s for sure, you’ll leave school with a rounded belly, a learned mind and a deep desire to replicate every recipe back at home.
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