Thai people originally migrated from southwestern China to eastern Asia, dating back to the 12th century. Formerly called the country of Siam and officially changed to the name Thailand in 1948, which means "land of the free," this Asian country has endured centuries of upheaval and political unrest, much like its neighbors Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia and Vietnam. But what has emerged is not only a beautiful country rich with history and art, but a composite of cuisines which have graced the West with some of their best native food and attracts tourists and visitors from around the world.
Who can resist those dishes. Noodles or jasmine rice perfectly combined with peppers, vegetables and creamy coconut milk, topped with pork, shrimp, chicken or tofu, tossed in a hot wok, all coming together in a spicy explosion of flavors. Popular seasonings include fish sauce, lime juice, chopped chilies, garlic, dried chili flakes, galangal, coriander / cilantro, lemongrass, shallots, pepper, kaffir lime leaves and shrimp paste.
Spicy curry dishes, also native to India, served up as soup or over rice is high on the hit parade, seasoned with aromatic spices. Thai food is known for its fresh raw and steamed vegetables, including beans, sprouts, mushrooms. eggplant, broccoli, onions and lemongrass, liberally seasoned and topped off with fresh lime wedges. Their favorite fruits include mangos, mangosteen, langsat, pomelo, pineapple, rose apples, durian, tamarind and papayas. (Don't ask, just enjoy.)
Some of the more popular dishes include:
Tom Yum Goong: (spicy shrimp soup)
Som Tum: (spicy green papaya salad)
Tom Kha Kai: (chicken in coconut soup)
Gaeng Daeng: (red curry)
Pad Thai: (Thai style fried noodles topped with peanuts)
Pad Krapow Moo Saap: (fried basil and pork)
Gaeng Keow Wan Kai: (green chicken curry)
Khao Pad: (traditional fried rice)
Yam Nua: (spicy beef salad)
Kai Med Ma Muang: (chicken with cashew nuts)
Massaman Curry: (a rich, but relatively mild)
Pad Kee Mao: (also called Drunken Noodles, wide rice noodles in a savory, spicy sauce)
Khao Phat: (a common rice dish, usually with meat or seafood)
Thai Iced Tea: (with cream or milk and sugar)
And fear not, you do not need to pronounce them, you can simply point or ask your server for more information.
Perhaps because Chinese food has been a favorite for so many years, we have upgraded our sophistication and tastes to a new level with Thai food. Lighter, more savory, spicy and far less fatty, this delightful cuisine has been embraced by Americans across the country, rivaling Mexican, barbecue and Italian in popularity.
But just a cautionary note: unless you are an experienced Asian cook or have an unlimited budget, Thai food is best eaten out. And with the dozens of small restaurants (hopefully) located near you, it's wise to leave the cooking in the hands of their skilled chefs, just sit back and Thai one on.