If you’ve lived in Thailand for a while, and certainly if you’ve got Thai family or close friends, you will know that eating is an important part of the day. When Thai’s meet, or speak on the phone, one of the first questions you hear will be “kin khao mai?” or “have you eaten yet?” Furthermore, if a Thai says “I’m hungry”, it’s not just a general statement, it means “I’m going to eat, and very soon.”
When you’ve been lucky enough to eat with Thai people at their homes you will realise that unlike in the west, meals are informal affairs involving circles of families or friends sitting around the table, or in a circle on the floor eating ‘family style’.
Having a meal the Thai way is very simple; they don’t eat individual dishes, the food is served communally meaning the dishes are shared and enjoyed together.
Typically, each person will have a plate of rice, and there will be three or four dishes which feature the main Thai flavours: salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. These dishes will usually include a variety of meat and/or fish dishes, plus vegetables and possibly a soup. The people eating will then take one or two spoonfuls from one dish, eat that with some rice and then proceed onto another dish. Thais like to take their time when eating and savour the flavor of each individual dish.
If you would like to try eating the Thai way, and by saying the real Thai way I mean at home and not in a restaurant, there is a great way you can do this and all it takes it a quick visit one of the many places that sell tray food. These are pre-made foods placed in large silver trays, and ready to be eaten with rice. The best places to find these are at food courts in malls, food markets or in local street restaurants. There are a complete range of dishes to choose from, and if you’re not sure what to choose then below is a simple recommended set menu that is not only delicious but also extremely cheap. If you eat the Thai way, a family of four can easily eat for less than 200 baht a meal.
My recommendations for eating the Thai way:
Pad Pak Boong (Stir Fried Morning Glory)
Stir-fried morning glory is one of the most popular dishes amongst Thais and is often referred to as the poor man’s dish due to the fact that it’s so cheap. However, although it’s cheap, it’s also delicious and will go with go well with almost any other Thai dish. The ingredients used for this dish are simply garlic, oyster sauce and the customary chillis. Don’t worry if you don’t eat spicy food as the chillis do not add spice to the dish, just a slight chilli flavor, and they can be taken out easily.
Moo Palo (Sweet Pork and Egg Stew)
This dish is favourite of many Thai’s and should be amongst westerners who don’t like spicy food, and it can be found in pretty much outlet that sells tray food. The stew smells great with hints of cinnamon and star anise and soft pork which have been cooked for hours in a tasty broth.
Gaeng Massaman Gai (Chicken Massaman Curry)
This Muslim influenced curry is possibly the most popular of all Thai curries, and also the tastiest! A southern Thai style mild curry with chunks of chicken with potatoes, peanuts and onions cooked in coconut milk with Massaman curry paste which gives it its distinctive taste. Similar to Indian curries, this curry is heavy on dry spices and very aromatic.
Main image courtesy of eatingthaifood.com