There are about 15 Thai dishes that are compatible with western sensibilities, and these are the only ones listed on the English-language menus. These are all dishes I’m very fond of, but after a while they get boring... though it must be admitted they’re all very healthy.
When I was only making short trips to Thailand I only ate these dishes, and each time I’d lose about 7-8 kilos during my stay. Then there’s proper Thai cuisine, which is something very different, and uses combinations of flavors which are hard for Westerners to get used to…
If you go to a restaurant with a Thai acquaintance, then a new world of Thai cooking opens up before you. The Thai-language menu is three or four pages long, while the menu for foreigners runs to just half a page. There’s a lot there that doesn’t work for me at all, but if you let your Thai friend order, you’re surely in for an adventure. (s.g., 2020)
I love seafood, but though it isn’t expensive here, I rarely eat it: it’s just so tasteless compared to what I’m used to –by the Adriatic, for instance, where my favorite is garlic and parsley squid. I decided to try to make the same thing here, using the cheap local shrimp, but when I put them in oil to sauté them, they immediately discharged about half a liter of water and collapsed into shapeless mush. I tried about a dozen different recipes, but nothing ever worked. I was completely at a loss, until a British chef explained to me that good-quality seafood always comes from cold-water seas, whereas the sea around Thailand is quite warm.
The squid and prawn in today’s dinner were pretty tasteless too, but the sensational garlic and tomato sauce really elevated them…
Thais generally just grill seafood, then smother it with strong sauces that completely obscure the taste, or else they use it the same way as, for instance, chicken breast in other recipes, and again the herbs and spices dominate the palate. At least it looks good, though :D
Only lobster and rock lobster are really tasty here, but they’re also wildly expensive. (s.g., 2020)
“There is a white powder that is famous as a famous flavor enhancer in Asian cuisine: sodium glutamate, or MSG. I always say specifically that I don’t want any in my food, and today many restaurants even write it in capital letters: NO MSG.
‘No MSG’ is definitely an important and useful expression when ordering in a restaurant in Thailand – or when faced with a Thai chef elsewhere in the world: "mesai pongchurot" or, for safety's sake, show it in Thai: ‘C ใส่ ผงชูรส’” (B.C., 2021)
“You don't have to be afraid of anything, most of the food on the street is made from fresh ingredients and you know what you’re getting (I've never had a problem with anything in my life, but I've heard countless cases of people eating at quality restaurants or expensive buffets who got food poisoning because sometimes food had been stored for days, which should not be allowed in such heat and conditions). You definitely have to try the different smoothies, as well as the fresh, sliced fruit (I always bought a watermelon, passion fruit, mango, and banana, and there was one day when that was all I lived on).” (2018)
“There are restaurants, canteens, and markets everywhere, but even if you stand still, a cart or motorcycle converted into a fully equipped kitchen will turn up sooner or later. Eating is one of the central themes of Thai culture, and they will generally open a conversation by asking what you had for breakfast or lunch. The answer is often the same: rice, which is so much a part of their lives that the terms 'eat' and 'eat rice' is the same in the Thai language. The locals enjoy consuming it, even in the early hours of the day. The stomach used to instant coffee, jam on toast, or a sandwich is, of course, a bit shocked by sour and spicy fish accompanied with rice or spicy noodle soup, which is heavily steamed at thirty degrees in the morning, then the locals spoon it up before heading to work or school.
Thai cuisine is made up of sub-cuisines from the four dominant regions. These include chili-sauce-based cooking in the north, reflecting the Laotian and Cambodian influences in the northeast, the central style, and the Malaysian-influenced, wickedly spicy cooking of the south. The cooking culture is based on four basic flavors: spicy, sour, salty, and sweet, with most dishes striving to balance these ingredients. Meals are mostly made from fresh ingredients and fresh spices, usually in a matter of seconds. The following ingredients are found in most bakeries, and most of them can be found in the carts of street vendors: lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, tamarind, garlic, lime, ginger, coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, and of course the various chili peppers.
Chilis can be fresh, pickled, or dried, depending on what food it is flavored with. It may be green or red, but both are extremely hot. The most dangerous is the green variety, the Thai name of which literally means ‘mouse-poop’, and which is not much bigger than a thumbnail. The first bite will surprise you, but for the next few bites, you still won’t feel as though your mouth is on fire. Then it suddenly explodes and covers everything. It's like pushing a hot stove around your mouth. This is when the seemingly suicidal food intake begins. At first, you hope it will pass, constantly wiping your sweat-beaded forehead, and then you get a better sense of the taste. And the wild feeling of ‘can’t live with you, can’t live without you’ begins. In addition to being loved, there are a number of practical reasons for the widespread use of chili. It highlights the other characteristics of the food, according to Chinese medicine, strengthens the immune system, keeps diseases away, and has a good effect on the heart and circulation. Of course, most people eat out of habit. And they love it!
In addition to the above, thanks to the strong seasoning, fish or meat prepared early in the morning – this being a tropical country – can stay good right through until the evening. In addition, if the meat in the afternoon market is a little overripe, the enzymes in the chili kill the bacteria that cause diarrhea and other unpleasant side effects. Thus, the old Thai saying: there is no such thing as smelly meat, only too little chili, isn’t so crazy after all. Thai dishes include one-course meals, thick soups, fried noodles or rice, and many toppings. In this case, it is common practice to have more dishes on the table than the number of guests: green chicken curry, basil pork, spicy fish, egg salad, seafood, and I could keep going to the bottom of the page. Everyone takes rice from the huge pot in the middle of the table and puts it on their plate, then covers it in several toppings at once. This is where the never-boring culinary shoveling begins. With a spoon of the spicy, two of the sour, and a piece of octopus, you keep going from taste to taste until the rice runs out.
Most Thai food arrives in front of us sliced. So there is no need for a knife. If you still need to cut something, there's the spoon. The set-up for right-handed people is as follows: The spoon is on the right, the fork on the left, and then the latter is used to put food on the spoon. And then it can be eaten. Practical and very easy to get used to. What to look out for: it is indecent to put a fork in your mouth – only the spoon is allowed in. Chopsticks are found when consuming hearty noodle soups or foods of Chinese origin. There are dishes that are prepared with minimal seasoning and the dish is then seasoned to the liking of the guest. Most tables have a quartet of crushed chili, sugar, fish sauce, and cut peppers cut into rings that everyone can take from as they please. The people of Bangkok are notoriously sweet-toothed, so in addition to the big spoonful of paprika, they even sprinkle two teaspoons of sugar onto their food.”
“The days when Thailand was a crazy cheap destination are over unless you're eating in a ‘dive’ ... which can be good, but Thai food is a gamble ... I can get my favorite duck noodle soup for 70 baht, with a quarter of a duck, or else you can get it with a couple of bones for 60 ... both from the same ‘cockroachy’ place, as Marcel put it ... but without local knowledge, you're sure to have some bad experiences.
It is true that ‘farang’, or Western food is more expensive – and of course, all tourists want to eat Thai food – but it can sometimes work out relatively cheaper than Thai food when you look at all the garnishes and the setting... at least in Pattaya, where retired English plumbers live and it's an international scandal if an English breakfast costs more than 99 baht... which, let's face it, may not be to everyone’s taste, but it far surpasses frugal Thai food in terms of ingredients.
So today, for instance, in a trendy expensive restaurant, I had Norwegian smoked salmon salad as an appetizer, then salmon fillet fried in butter for 265 baht, plus a mug of tea... I don't think that’s expensive. (Where would you get the same at home for that?)
At the same time, I don't understand how so many people can fork out hundreds of dollars for plane tickets then eat nasty street food for 100 baht, because it’s authentic .... To be honest, (this may not be totally fair, but you have to know the right places and no one will accidentally find them without local knowledge ... especially not on the tourist promenades) ... It's about the same as if a foreigner came to Hungary and their only experience of Hungarian cooking was fried lángos.
If it's really authentic food, it's not the street pad Thai ... (although this can be very good)
And finally ... I know I’m not going to be popular ... and I know, the waterfalls, the temples, the beaches ... and even many of my own friends rate a dish of food on the basis of it being 5 baht cheaper, almost competitively. ... any food was better if it was 5 baht cheaper, all the while bragging about millions in bank accounts, which is often true ... Anyway, I understand that it’s an old reflex among those who came out here in the old days, when everything was still high quality ... but those days are long gone ....
It's not about whether someone can afford it or not ... Anyone who can afford to come here can afford it .... but I think it’s a false picture when a street ‘dive’ is put on a pedestal as the best and most authentic food. Because it’s not.” (b., 2021