Thursday, 28 October 2010

Southeast Asia’s Contribution to the Humble Curry!

Thai Green Curry
What do we know about curry? Ask any foreigner of Western origin this question and the standard answer will be along the lines of: “It’s from India and it’s really spicy.” While the cuisine of Southeast Asia does lend a degree of inspiration from India, their adaptation of this globally popular dish is breath-taking and utterly mouth-watering. With coconut palms adorning just about every beach front and garden from north to south, the creamy juice of coconuts have become a great part of curry preparation here. When arriving for the first time in Thailand, the incredible selection of delicious curries can very much be the portal through which the unaccustomed palate can travel to the enjoyment of the rest of Thai cuisine! So, what exactly does this mean?

To be fair, while the menu of Southeast Asia is perhaps the most interesting, complex, fresh and colorful cuisine in the world, many people from abroad struggle with the unique and often pungent flavors typical of this food. The widespread use of fermented fish sauce in many of the Thai dishes is one thing; the side-effects of consuming copious amounts of chili is another! Yet, the range of curries – usually made from coconut milk or cream, fresh vegetables and a meat (generally chicken, seafood or pork) - are so universally delicious that foreigners are at least given a few days to acclimatize to the rest of the cuisine before starving or worse; falling back on McDonalds!

Thai Massaman Curry
The most popular curries in Thailand – popular to foreigners that is – are green, red and yellow curry. The first, Thai green curry is a classic and extremely popular addition to the menus in both local Thai restaurants and those abroad. Then of course there’s Penang curry, Massaman curry, Thai shrimp coconut curry, Jungle curry (northern), Northern Pork curry, Thai fish curry… and the list goes on and on! As a result of the complex spicy flavors, creamy coconut backdrop, wholesome crunch of fresh vegetables and savory finish of your choice in meat, the contribution of Southeast Asia to the humble curry deserves an Oscar for culinary performance.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Southeast Asian Cuisine: Rice Obsession or Passion?

If you’ve been to Asia, you will know that the Eastern culture and cuisine is rice-crazy. There is no meal in the day that is not in some way complimented with a rice serving, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. This can make those untraveled of us wonder at just how interesting Asian cuisine can possibly be. Preliminary Internet-based searches of the kind of culinary experience we can expect from an adventure into the East don’t even touch on the sheer variety of rice types and preparation methods used in this beautiful destination. And so, this blog endeavors to take a brief journey in the white haze of the Eastern rice craze.

First and foremost, each and every continent has its staple food. North America has corn, Russia has potatoes, South Africa has wheat and Asia has rice. Of course, with the sophistication and expansion of global trade, these definitions are becoming somewhat less distinct in the rest of the world, but in Asia and Thailand? Rice is most undeniably the staple food crop. You can see it everywhere, from the marketplaces where great hessian bags of rice are sold, to the breath-taking vistas of emerald rice paddies laid out like a patchwork quilt of greenery.

So, why rice? Quite simply, the lush and tropical climate and waterlogged fecund soils of Southeast Asia are highly conducive to the growth of this food crop. Generations of knowledge, teaching and experimenting has resulted in the vast array of rice cooking techniques that can be enjoyed today! In the West, a bowl of rice is about as imaginative as a hard-boiled egg, but in the East… a bowl of rice can be steamed, sticky, gelatinous, brown, white, jasmine, vermicelli or pudding. Furthermore, rice is used in the creating of an incredibly host of products, including vinegar, soups, wine, liquor, pasta, bread, milk and just about everything else that can be rendered from flour!

So, make a point of exploring the many wonderful types of rice dishes and preparations and remember this: if the cuisine of Thailand can be likened to an art, then rice is undoubtedly the canvas!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Thai Drinks

So you are familiar with typical Thai food such as noodles, green curry and rice dishes, but what about drinks? Non alcoholic Thai drinks within Thailand are refreshing and often sweet. The following provides some examples of what the locals typically drink throughout the day, with meals and in the evening to relax.

Iced Tea, in Thai the name is 'Cha Yen'. The tea is made with red or black tea leaves. The leaves are boiled and then the mixture is sieved, leaving the leaves behind. To balance the flavours making it more refreshing to drink, additional ingredients are added such as tamarind, orange flavoured blossom water, star anise and sugar. Some Thais also like to add a food colorant to the tea to make it yellow or red. Ice is then added and sometimes part blended in.

Lime Ice Tea. This is similar to the basic ice tea, however, fresh lime and often mint is also added.

Iced coffee can be found everywhere from local street vendors to upmarket coffee shops. The coffee is usually very strong and is mixed with cow's milk, or more typically soy milk. Again, the drink is served with lashings of ice; however, it is now becoming common for the drink to have an extra western twist such as iced cappuccino.

The three alcoholic drinks that are most readily available in bars throughout Thailand are the following: Sang Som is a Thai spirit which tastes like a mild whiskey. It is ruby in colour and is usually drunk with cola or lemonade. Thais however, will usually drink it with ice and no mixer.
Chang Beer can be found in literally all bars and has an alcohol content of 5%.
Singha Beer is a popular beer with an alcohol content of 6% and is pale in colour.