The Art of Thai Food



The Art of Thai Food

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Thai food is justifiably renowned for its quality and diversity – and for being as much a feast for the eyes as for the stomach. The simplest of dishes is often served with a carved carrot flower or a scallion tassel; a full-blown Royal Thai meal in a high-class restaurant may be accompanied by spectacular virtuoso fruit and vegetable carvings. The cooking and presentation techniques of Thai cuisine are so respected that Bangkok’s celebrated cooking schools attract pupils from all over the world. For the majority of Thais, eating is an informal, social activity. Whether it is an important family occasion, such as a wedding, an impromptu outdoor garden party, or a colorful festival, food will play a central role. Many restaurants serving Northern khantoke dinners may be aimed at tourists, but the principle of communal sharing of food is genuinely Thai.

Fruit and Vegetable Carving

Few visitors to Thailand fail to be impressed by the exquisitely carved fruit and vegetables that accompany many dishes in restaurants. Scallions are transformed into tassels and chrysanthemums; carrots and chilies become flowers; and tomatoes are magically turned into roses. The practice was once the preserve of the women of the royal court. Today, most Thai chefs know the basic carving skills, but few have the dexterity and application needed to master the more advanced techniques. Skilled practitioners, capable of producing astonishingly elaborate creations, are highly esteemed.

Cooking schools provide trainee chefs and interested amateurs with a grounding in Thai cooking techniques, although most chefs learn their trade over a period of years in a restaurant kitchen. The most famous schools are in Bangkok.

Miang kham, a snack dish of ginger, coconut, lemons, red onions, dried shrimps, peanuts, and a syrup sauce, is presented here with a typical Thai attention to detail. The idea that food should look as good as it tastes applies to simple as well as elaborate dishes.

Rice is endowed with spiritual significance in Thailand as well as being the central pillar of the country’s cuisine. Here, Brahmins present offerings of rice in a Bangkok temple.

Luk chub are utterly exquisite sweetmeats made to resemble tiny vegetables. Because few people possess the skills to make them, they are quite expensive, but well worth trying nonetheless.

A communal meal is the subject of this 19th-century temple mural. Although the Thais are inveterate snackers, sitting down for a full meal is still an important social event. Weddings and funerals are never without food and drink for all guests to enjoy. Eating out of doors, in a pavilion or a garden, is a popular way of dining in Thailand and is known as suan ahan. On Sundays many wats host a large communal meal.

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