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    Thai Cuisine - RTE Moscow :

    Thai Arts & Culture

    Thai Cuisine

    Thai food, one of the world’s great cuisine, is growing in international popularity. It is prepared from fresh ingredients that are not only good for your health but also have a range of tastes to tempt the palate. Visitors may be surprised to find how diverse the country’s cooking is. Each of the four major regions has its own special creations, sometimes revealing foreign influences assimilated over the centuries, but always with a distinctive Thai flavor.

    Thai traditional heartland, the fertile central plain that flanks the winding Chao Phraya River, has been the setting for the evolution of many of the best known dishes. The earliest were comparatively simple, based on the rice that grew so abundantly all around, fresh fish and such spices and seasoning as garlic, black pepper, and fish sauce. Other more complex elements were added during the four centuries that Ayutthaya ruled as the capital. The chili pepper, now considered an essential ingredient, was introduced at this time from its Central American native area, along with such other staples as coriander, lime and tomato.

    A large cosmopolitan kingdom, Ayutthaya attracted traders not only from the region but also from more distant places like the Middle East, China, India, Japan, Persia, and Portugal. All added to its culinary diversity, though in many cases their contributions were subtly altered and transformed to suit Thai tastes and to make use of local ingredients.

    Such developments continued in Bangkok, which became the capital in 1782. Chinese, or more accurately Sino-Thai dishes, became popular at this time, especially in the form of numerous noodle dishes, most of which are stir-fried. Fruits also played an increasingly important part in meals as Thai growers produced new, more succulent varieties of mango, durian, pamelo, and other species.

    Sharing borders with the Lao PDR and Myanmar, the north of Thailand was long an independent state called Lan Na, “Land of a Million Rice Fields” sealed off from the rest of the country by a range of high mountains, until it came under the rule of Bangkok in the 19th century. Through these centuries, during some of which it was alternately ruled by Burma and Ayutthaya, the north developed a culture of its own that is still markedly different from that of other regions, not only in languages and customs, but also in cuisine. Khan Tok, the traditional northern meal is served on a pedestal tray, a low table around which guests sit on the floor to eat.

    Instead of the soft, fragrant boiled rice of the central region, northerners prefer a steamed glutinous variety, traditionally rolled into small balls using one’s fingers to scoop up liquid dishes. Burmese influences are evident in some popular dishes like Kaeng Hang Le, a pork curry flavoured with ginger, tamarind and turmeric, and Khao Soi, a curry broth with egg noodles and meat, topped with spring onions, gingers, and slices of lime. Northern curries are generally milder than those in other parts of the country, and there are regional specialties like Sai Ua, a spicy pork sausage and crispy fried pork rind. Fruits like the delicious lamyai, longan and lychee are grown in many orchards.

    A rolling plateau that stretches to the Mekong River and shares borders with both the Lao PDR and Cambodia, the north-east is perhaps the least known region to most visitors. Yet Isan, as it is popularly called, covers one third of Thailand’s total area, contains many sights of historical interest, and has a highly distinctive culture and cuisine of its own.

    North-easterners like their food highly seasoned, and many connoisseurs of Thai cooking rank some typical Isan dishes as being among their favourite creations. These include Som Tam, the ever popular green papaya salad; Lap, a spicy minced meat or chicken salad; and Kai Yang, barbecued chicken meat. Freshwater fish and shrimp are also popular, often cooked with herbs and spices. Like northerners. The people in Isan prefer glutinous rice as a staple with every meal and also use it to prepare delicious sweets.

    Geographically, the south is a big segment of the large peninsula, one of the largest worldwide, stretching down to Malaysia and flanked by the Gulf of Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west. Famed for its scenic beaches and resorts, it is also noted for its cuisine in which the abundant fresh seafood from the surrounding seas plays a prominent role. This includes marine fish, lobsters, crabs, squids, scallops, clams, cockles, and mussels. Coconuts are also widely used: the milk obtained from young, grated, soups and curries, and the flesh as a condiment or base for sweets. Other regional specialties include cashew nuts from local plantations, such fruits as mangosteens and small, sweet pineapples, a pungent bean called Sato, which has a somewhat bitter flavour, and distinctively southern dishes like Khao Yam Budu, a rice salad with southern fish sauce, and spicy soups like Kaeng Lueang and Kaeng Tai Pla.

    The majority of Thailand’s Muslim populations lives in the southernmost provinces, and their influence is present in such dishes as Kaeng Massaman, a mild curry seasoned with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, and Sa-te, skewered bits of meat dipped in spicy peanut sauce.

    All photos from http://www.thaifoodtoworld.com

    Cooking Process

    Food is either steamed, quickly stir-fried, or egg grilled, and such cooking methods, plus the use of fresh ingredients, make it especially healthy. For this reason, it is being widely adopted for the health food market. A wide range of dishes have been developed that are both delicious and low in calories and cholesterol. The menu includes not only salads, red chicken curry and vegetable fried rice, but also invigorating health drinks concocted from fresh local fruits like papaya, pomelo, mango, guava, and tangerine, as well as assorted herbal teas made from lemon grass, galangal, or basil. These health drinks are offered at many well-known spas.

    While the cooking process tends to be relatively brief, with a minimum of complications. The preparation of certain dishes may require considerable effort and time. Generally, this involves peeling and chopping the various ingredients, as well as blending them with a pestle in a mortar.

    In more elaborate dishes, par vegetables are skillfully carved into beautiful shapes that amount to an art in itself, enhancing the aesthetic appeal of food presentation.



    Source: Royal Thai Embassy, Moscow
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