Similar to Italians, Thais cook mainly with fresh products from the weekly market. Supermarket cuisine only works if freshness is guaranteed. This is usually not the case, as much comes from Chinese cultivation areas, which one does not trust because of massive use of pesticides. At the local weekly markets, you know each other, rely on each other and can try and touch everything undisturbed. You come early for the best quality. Thai women are already on their way at five in the morning. At ten o’clock the colourful displays are cleared away, the great culinary show of fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and spices has lost its exotic charm. Not all the scents and flavours of the tropical product range are to our liking. Many products are fermented with fish sauce and pungent smell is the result. The more penetrating our noses are affected, the older and more precious the fish sauce is. Depending on aging, fish sauce can be very expensive. They are used in Thailand instead of salt. Salt and sugar are needed for baking. Instead of sugar, palm sugar determines the sweetness in cooking. Fresh palm sugar is liquid, has the finest nuances and can be better adapted to the taste. It’s the same with fish sauce and therefore both ingredients are a must for original Thai cuisine.
Unfortunately, tourists are less and less likely to enjoy this, because the Thais have quickly noticed that foreign guests do not put value on it out of ignorance. Cooking with high-quality fish sauce and fresh palm sugar requires expertise, more time and additional costs. Here in Khao Lak, a pure tourist place, there is therefore little of the highly praised Thai culinary art available, except in some gourmet restaurants. In many restaurants the offered dishes are more reminiscent of bad imitations.
One of the most popular Thai dishes, Pad Kha Prao, roasted with a special kind of basil, is usually ruined beyond recognition in Khao Lak by using carrots, sliced beans, corn kernels, mixed pickles and, last but not least, salt. Tourists enjoy the appearance of the served mishmash, because there is so much in it. Only from the point of view of the Thai cuisine are the most elementary basic rules of their culinary art violated here.
Basically, it can be said that Thais prefer dishes that follow a precise flavour, determined by the use of selected spices and herbs. It does not matter if shrimp, meat, fish or poultry absorb its aroma. The secret of their culinary art is not the treatment of the main ingredient, but the aromatic structure of ginger, galangal, tamarind and similar spice and vegetable plants. There are clear rules for using these delicious aroma transformers, which are known by every housewife. The purpose is perfect harmony and balance of the ingredients, this interaction gives the dish its name. Thai chefs are true masters in the preparation of heavenly balance. Their extraordinary and incorruptible sense of taste shows them where the journey to Lucullus is headed. It is important in the Thai cuisine to use many ingredients to create a clearly defined aroma. In the spice mixtures, the yellow, green and red curries, which appear in the markets as brightly colored shining mountains, up to 40 different spices are mixed to a unit known to every Thai. One relies on this taste value when purchase the portion needed. As a time-saving cooking aid, they are carefully submerged in hot palm oil, which was previously flavoured with chilli and garlic. After a few minutes, the bite-sized, unseasoned main ingredients are cooked in this mixture. At the end, for the last few seconds, the crowning green leaves, coriander, basil and the like, are added. Parsley is unknown in the original Thai cuisine. Professional culinary artists, to whom one can also count the tradition-conscience Thai housewives, deliver their masterpieces using the curries in just five minutes.
Thais do not cook by recipes as we know it. With time and quantity information, they can’t do anything. Your time and quantity plan is variable and depends on the quality of the goods. A cabbage on Friday tastes different than the one on Monday. While a celebrity chef on our television would rather refrain from tasting constantly, the exact opposite is essential in Thai cooking. They even use a wooden test stick, which is constantly being used. I learned to cook pretty well in Bangkok. I will never forget my teacher, who freshly squeezed a few drops of lime juice into a 2-liter soup. After compelling tasting he showed with an ecstatic face that he had hit the nail on his head with this action. Constant correction to taste is the rule in Thai cooking and not the exception.
The tasting also applies to another care. Creative cooking is not the thing of the Thai housewife. She is considered a master of culinary art, if she succeeds in conjuring a meal that her grandmother would have dreamed of, despite the different quality of the goods. In Thailand, you do not cook how it could taste but how it should taste. Therefore one only sees few Thais in restaurants of their holiday strongholds. Not only do they shy away from the massively inflated prices, up to three times as high, they simply and poignantly see little reason to pay more than twice for bad food. Without a good cook who knows about these secrets of true Thai cooking, no restaurant survives in Thailand. That is also why many cooks prefer to cook in Khao Lak for tourists, as they do not have to worry about their inadequate education when they are paid better. A job in a real Thai restaurant is very demanding.
What particularly annoys me in Khao Lak is the frequent use of cheap rice, which also softens quickly. Genuine jasmine rice, large-grained and fragrant, costs only a few cents more per pound. One can explain it perhaps with the fact that the restaurant owners and cooking aids originate predominantly from poorer areas, are not native locals. The majority comes from the Issan and there one is more familiar with the sticky rice. Each meal begins with rice and already here one can estimate the quality of the culinary art of the Ajahn, as they call the cooks in Thailand.
Contrary to many assumptions, cats and dogs are not on the menu of the Thais and are not the subject of their culinary art. No Thai would eat it, apart from regional proximity to Laos and Cambodia. When it comes to exotic animals, their preference is more crispy fried insects and protein-rich maggots. Even a hygienic rice field rat is considered a special barbeque delicacy, for which one pays an average of 1000 baht.
Popular Thai dishes will follow in other blogs.