Fresh, fresh, fresh! That’s the only word I can use to describe Thai food. If you’ve ever eaten at a (good) Thai restaurant I think you’ll know what I’m talking about. But of course, in the native land the cuisine always tastes better. Simple pad thai cooked on the street by an old man was better than some of the nicest Thai restaurants I’ve been to in America.
In many ways Thai food is very similar to Chinese food. Noodles and rice are staples and they have many of the same vegetables.
But the way they use them is of course different. Chinese food tends to be a bit more salty and oily. Everything is cooked, even things like cabbage and cucumbers. But in Thailand there are last-minute additions to almost every dish so that you have some crunch of fresh, barely cooked veggies.
Thai food is very flavorful, a mix of sweet, savory, sour and spicy. In fact having all four flavors mixed together is a staple of Thai cuisine. But knowing that everyone likes their flavors just a tad differently, all restaurants and food stalls leave the exact mixture up to you. At each table, or counter, there will be 4 containers of ingredients.
In China the main condiment of choice is soy sauce. But in Thailand there are two other common sauces instead of soy sauce: fish sauce and oyster sauce. Both are dark brown and tangy, but both also have slight sweet flavor.
I tend to prefer sweet over sour, and I was right at home in Thailand. In fact, in almost all things their sweet tooth put mine to shame. Especially with some of the deserts and lemon teas.
Thai cuisine is also heavily influenced by India, which is evident by the spices and curry. In a cooking class I actually learned to make my own curry. (From scratch!)
Another surprising thing about Thailand was all the Carnation condensed milk tins I saw. Yeah, you read that right. Carnation. The red and white tins. It goes into everything! Coffee, tea, deserts. Kudos to Carnation for recognizing a willing market. In most countries places have Coke signs everywhere, but in Thailand it’s Carnation. You could spot all the tea/coffee places from a mile way because of their Carnation tin towers. But I’m not complaining. This is a vital ingredient to my beloved Thai iced tea.
And I haven’t even talked about the street food yet. Succulent BBQ, dumplings, veggies, noodle soups and others. I think Taiwan still gets the Becky “Best street food in Asia” award, but Thailand is a close second.
I didn’t even talk about the amazing fresh fruit. Everywhere had vendors selling cut up apples, pineapple, melons, berries and more. You could buy a bag for about 50 cents. Or, for a buck you could get a fresh fruit smoothie. Fresh fruit, a little ice and water and a blender. (This was the one time vendors didn’t add sugar to something. Although, I think the water they used was sweetened slightly.)
Usually when I travel I end up eating a lot of western food that I can’t get in China. You know, pizza, burgers that kind of thing. But aside from a tex-mex meal and a few Krispy Kreme donuts I stayed away from western food. Thai food was just too good to pass up. I didn’t want to waste my stomach space on anything but fresh, local food.