The traditional Thai diet is healthy and based around fish, remaining largely unaffected by the less desirable aspects of modern food culture. Thais generally eat meat sparingly, opting for generous portions of rice or noodles supplemented with a bit of meat and vegetables. This is a result of living in a land of abundant agriculture but with limited protein resources. Most tourists will find that fish, chicken, and pork are the most readily available sources of protein available on menus. They are prepared every way imaginable by skillful Thai cooks.
Traditionally the easiest source of meat for the Thais has come from their abundant seas, lakes and rivers. They make use of shrimp, squid, crabs and untold varieties of fish in their cuisine. When near a seaside area, any visitor is encouraged to take advantage of fresh seafood and local preparation methods.
As for other meats, it is clear that the Thais have a love affair with pork and chicken. Pork and chicken win out because they are fairly cheap to come by and taste great in hundreds of different dishes. Although Thailand has cows and buffalo, these are not regularly eaten in Thai cuisine.
Though Penang Beef may be on the menu, many Westerners will find this a chewier offering than what they expected. Those wishing for a tender piece of steak are best off searching out a proper Western eatery known for its US Angus or Australian beef imports. Otherwise stick to fish, chicken and pork.
Prepared in pots
This is great way to get food for takeaway. Many foodstalls in markets are not in the business of feeding you onsite, but rather sending you home with the goods. Again, this has the benefit that you can point at desired items without struggling with language at all. At prepared food stalls you begin to realise that there are not just red, yellow and green curries in Thailand, there are thousands of curries.
They vary by region, season, ingredients and the cook who made them. In addition to curries, there are standard stir-fried items like pad woon sen – bean thread noodles with vegetables, pad pak ruam – stir fried mixed vegetables, and steamed pla tuu – mackerels. The variety is never ending like the creativity of Thai chefs. It is best to be willing to experiment. For the price of one hotel meal a visitor can usually walk away with enough items to feed a horde of people back in their rooms.
Noodles themselves are a staple of Thai food and culture since their introduction by the Chinese centuries ago. They are made from several different types of flour, and come in varying sizes. Most popular are the rice noodles which come in three main varieties sen mii, sen lek, and sen yai – strand noodles, thin noodles, and wide noodles respectively. In addition there are sen mii leuang – yellow egg noodles, and woon sen – clear bean thread noodles.
Noodles end up both stir–fried and in soups in Thailand depending what kind of stall you are at. Not to be missed is the satisfyingly exotic pad kee mao – ‘drunken man’s noodles’ made with wide noodles and the spicy additions of garlic, basil, and chilies. Other favorites at food stalls are pad thai, made with thin noodles and crushed peanuts, and pad see–ew, wide noodles fried with soy sauce and Chinese kale.
In soups it is fair to see every kind of noodle employed. Which type of noodle gets used is based on the eaters’ preferences. Rice noodles are used most commonly, with yellow noodles ordered almost always with BBQ pork in the Chinese Style – bah mii hmu daeng.
There are several other types of tasty noodles, too, including glass noodles, stringy noodles, ramen noodles… oodles of noodles, well, I’m sure you get the idea. There’s also plenty of ‘big noodles’; in fact, you can even get your noodles in a knot in Thailand!
Rice in Thailand
Thai food just wouldn’t be Thai food without generous helpings of fluffy white, or glutinous sticky rice. Rice adds bulk to your meal and cuts the heat of many of the dishes that might unsuspectingly set your mouth ablaze. Many stalls cook your food to order, and then serve it over rice. Some stalls with ready prepared food laid out in pots serve their items with a heap of white rice on the side too. Foodstalls serving items over rice are the cheapest eateries with the widest variety of food. They also have the built-in convenience for foreigners that little or no language is needed. You simply point at the desired dishes and they scoop them onto the plate.