Thai Food Guide
For a large number of visitors Thai food can be one of the main attractions and highlights of their trip. Phuket is famous for its fresh seafood, but there are also plenty of Thai food restaurants serving a wide range of Thai cuisine.
One of the most distinctive things about Thai food is the harmony of its flavours. Many dishes will be a combination of chilli, sweet, sour and salty flavours. Another aspect which distinguishes Thai cuisine, is the extensive use of fresh herbs for flavouring, rather than strong spices. This is the difference between Thai and Indian curries.
Rice is the staple of the Thai diet and is eaten at practically every meal. To eat in Thai is kin kao, literally ‘to eat rice’. Noodles, (kuaytiaw), are also popular and are a result of the Chinese influence on Thai cuisine.
Thai people like their food very spicy, and if the dish is not intended to be spicy, they will often add condiments to make it spicy, in the form of fresh chillies or chilli powder. In fact, chillies were brought to Thailand by the early European traders from South America.
Spicy food is not to everyone’s taste. To request that a dish is not made spicy, say “mai aow pet”, (pet means spicy). In reality, most restaurants will realize that as a foreigner you are not used to very spicy dishes and will prepare your food accordingly.
If you like your food a little spicy, say “aow pet nid noi”, (nid noi means ‘a little’). On the other hand, if you think you are not being served food that is spicy enough because you are a tourist, say “aow pet pet”. Not recommended except for the most die-hard chilli lovers. (For more useful phrases when ordering food, see our Thai phrase guide).
Contrary to popular belief, most Thai dishes are not spicy at all. The spice comes from the condiments and sauces which you add yourself. A good example of this is most noodle dishes. With a couple of notable exceptions, such as kuaytiaw rua, noodle dishes are not spicy at all. Spice is added in the form of chilli powder, along with other condiments like fish sauce (naam plaa), vinegar and sugar.
Although there are very few vegetarian restaurants on the island, a couple of local restaurants can be found near Jui Tui temple on Ranong road, in the centre of Phuket City.
Other good bets include Indian restaurants, which usually have a vegetarian section in their menus. Chinese restaurants should also be worth a try, since a small minority of devout Taoists will abstain from eating meat all year, not just during the Vegetarian Festival.
Our Thai phrase guide contains a few sentences that should help when ordering vegetarian food.
How to Eat
The traditional way of eating Thai food is to have a few different types of dishes to share and a plate of rice to yourself. This allows you to be adventurous and to sample a lot of different dishes. Soup is taken with the main meal, not as a starter. A proper Thai meal should consist of a soup, a curry dish with condiments, a dip with accompanying fish or meat and vegetables. There should be harmony of tastes and textures within individual dishes and the entire meal.
One of the most popular condiments you will come across is prik naam plaa. This is fish sauce with sliced chillies. Occassionally it will also have some garlic and a slice of lime. Thais like to sprinkle a little of this on their food to add some saltiness and chilli. With Chinese-style food, instead of fish sauce you will have soya sauce as a condiment.
Thai food is eaten with a spoon and fork. You will never need a knife in a Thai restaurant as all the meat is cut into bite-sized chunks. Chopsticks are often used at noodle shops together with soup spoons but you should always be able to get hold of a fork.
Apart from providing great flavours, it has been suggested that many of the herbs used in Thai food have health benefits, (see CNN article). Lemon grass, a popular ingredient in Thai dishes, is credited with diuretic and anti-oxidant properties. Galangal, an important ingredient in tom yum gung and tom kha gai, may have properties which are helpful against arthritis and rheumatism. And let’s not forget the all important chilli, which is good for your respiratory system, blood pressure and heart.
To learn how to prepare authentic Thai food check out Thai cooking classes.
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