Thailand Throwback: Falling in Love with Thai Cuisine

Among Asian cuisines, Thai food used to be last on my list. Aside from my dislike on the fusion of sweetness and spiciness in a dish,  there is a rarity of restaurants in Manila that seem to execute Thai dishes well, based on experience. Not to mention, I am not a fan of spicy food.

Not until I visited Phuket, Thailand – where my view of Thai food changed significantly.  Thai cuisine exhibits a unique food profile that considers texture, fragrance, taste and presentation as important components. Its profusion of exotic flavors and fragrances make it among one of the most popular cuisines around the world. It spins on five fundamental tastes: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy.

Thai dishes use a wide variety of herbs, spices, leaves and vegetables that create a distinct taste and aroma in every dish. Australian chef David Thompson said: “Thai food ain’t about simplicity. It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish.” 

I had an enjoyable time learning and experiencing the authentic Thai food: whether at the beach, a fancy restaurant, a sidewalk eatery, or night market, or a hole-in-the-wall restau at an old town. Rich in quality and flavours, Thai food impressed me.

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We had a simple lunch at Old Phuket Town at a small restaurant that didn’t have flashy signs or attractive facade, but this is what they delivered to us: An interesting mix of succulent garlic shrimps, crispy fried squid and seafood and chicken fried rice that caught us speechless with the taste. Peppered with spices, vegetables in bright colors, garnished with cilantro, these food awakened our senses. The freshly juiced watermelon shake were awesome coolers. This prelude to authentic Thai cuisine satisfied us both, for less than THB 200.

Fish sauce or Nam Pla is a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine and gives a unique character to Thai food. It is sprinkled with small green chilies that make it an incredible sauce.

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After we went to Patong Beach, we had lunch at Tandoor Restaurant featuring Thai and Indian dishes.  We had Pad Thai, Green Curry, Pineapple Fried Rice and Fresh Coconut Juice. Since it was near Patong Beach, the prices are quite expensive. We had this meal for THB 500 .

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Thai Pineapple Fried Rice is seasoned with curry, pineapple tidbits and chicken breast served in a hollow pineapple. Sometimes they add cashew and chilies to it. The rice was oily but it tasted right. The taste of curry was very bold in this dish.

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Thai Green Curry is made of basil, coconut milk, coriander, chilies, sometimes topped with tender bamboo shoots and cherry-sized eggplants. Wondering how it became gloriously green? That would be spoons of green curry paste stirred furiously into hot creamy milk. It was too salty for our liking.

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Pad Thai or Thai Style Fried Noodles is by default one of the most popular Thai dishes and we tried several versions in that trip. Thick or thin soak-dried rice noodles stir-fried with egg, tofu, shrimp, seasoned with fish sauce, tamarind, vinegar, crunchy bean sprouts, dried chili and served with lime wedges and roasted peanuts – these make up a festively delicious Pad Thai. While I go crazy with fried rice, my friend went gaga over this one. I’m not into sweet-tasting main courses because I am more inclined to salty, savory, tasty ones.

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To eliminate the strong flavors and spices, we had fresh coconut juice. Thailand’s coconut juice is sweeter compared to that of other Asian countries, including ours, the Philippines. It actually depends on the climate and soil from where it was grown. It’s wonderfully fresh, milky and slightly thicker in consistency than what we have in Manila. From whatever region it is, coconut juice is always perfect when you’re in the beach.

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Tanned Ladies after sunbathing at Patong Beach 

A few blocks away from our hotel, we dined at Gusto Italian Restaurant in Patong. We had seafood in red sauce, stir -fried noodles and fried rice.

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The sauce had this mix of sweetness and spices, but the texture of the seafood was a bit rubbery that I had indigestion after.

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This was a simple version of their fried rice.

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This version of Pad Thai was also good and had the same elements as above, but the noodles used are thinner, making the ingredients shine through. No matter how messy it looks with the toppings, it still holds that exquisite flavor Pad Thai is known for.

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Everyday, we’d go to the night market to have shopping and food trip. Malin Plaza Patong is just a few steps away from our hotel. I appreciated more the location of our hotel since it was quiet, near Patong Beach and of course – the night market where we had a wide selection of cheap bazaar items and our favorite, food trip.

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At the night market, I had interactions with the locals and happily observed the way they prepared the food right in front of you. I got curious with the ingredients, their cooking methods and packaging. I remember always warning them “not too spicy please!” 🙂

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Fresh seafood

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They have turned small trucks to mini bars with flashy lights. So cute!

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And of course, I could never trade this for anything – POTATO!! This was baked or grilled potato drizzled with ketchup and mayonnaise.

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Our first taste of Tom Yum was at Malin Plaza as well. Literally, the name “tom yam” derives from two Thai words: “tom” and “yam”. “Tom” refers to the boiling process, while “yam” refers to a Thai spicy and sour salad. We get to pick the type of noodles, the main meat from pork, chicken or seafood and other vegetables. The basic broth comprises stock and fresh ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed chili peppers.

I remember not finishing this because of its greasy soup that overpowered the taste of the all other ingredients.

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Like other Asian countries, rice is the staple grain of Thailand. And since I’m a lover of fried rice, Khao Pad (Thai fried rice) is always present whenever we eat out. I’m fascinated with the blend of ingredients that go well with each other – prawns, fried egg, chicken, basil, crab, left-over vegetables: they can practically place everything on it! It’s typically served with lime wedges and sliced cucumber. Still nothing beats the one I have tried in Old Phuket Town. (first pics)

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I enjoyed watching how it was cooked. They throw in the rice and mix all the ingredients in a large, flat pan .

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Aside from fruit shakes, we always resort to crepes as desserts. It’s cheap and handy that we can eat it anywhere while roaming in the streets. You get to choose the fillings from fruits or chocolates. This was the favorite of Cath, my friend and I couldn’t count the number of times she ate this.

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Our brief stay in Phuket proved my notions wrong about Thai food. Now, it is enlisted in my top favorite cuisines but I guess I wouldn’t have it elsewhere than Thailand where quality, freshness and creativity interplay with flavours. I admire not only its aesthetic presentation, but its concoction of several flavors rolled in one dish – making it truly versatile. The variation in ingredients, and artistic presentation reflect Thailand’s passion and ingenuity. Stay tuned for more of my Thailand- related posts.

Like a complex musical chord it’s got to have a smooth surface but it doesn’t matter what’s happening underneath. Simplicity isn’t the dictum here, at all. Some westerners think it’s a jumble of flavours, but to a Thai that’s important, it’s the complexity they delight in.”David Thompson, Australian chef

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