The fame of Thai gastronomy is entirely deserved, with a great diversity of dishes with a predominance of curries, aromatic and mildly spicy, and noodles, a smooth and soft pasta made with rice flour, present in many of the Thai dishes, like soups and stir-fry.
Generally speaking, rice is always present in any home, and it is common to walk the streets of the neighbourhoods to feel the hot smell of cooked rice at any time of the day, which is almost always made in electric cookers, both at home and in restaurants.
Near the markets, or even on the streets of the city, small stalls are selling cooked rice, both glutinous and normal, in small plastic bags, serving as side dishes for curries, stews or fried fish or meat, and sold in the form of small kebabs.
Sticky rice, or glutinous rice, serves as an accompaniment to many Thai dishes, also serving as a dessert, where it is eaten together with pieces of mango, and often drizzled with sweetened coconut milk, making a good combination. In some markets it is still possible to find this type of rice, which after being cooked is introduced into a bamboo trunk which is then grilled over charcoal; it can be just plain rice or mixed with beans, alfalfa seeds, bananas, meat… the choice is always risky because most sellers don’t speak English and even the sounds I try to pronounce to express my choice for vegetarian food are not understood, most of the time.
This type of long grain rice with a sweet taste, originally from the Issan region (northeastern Thailand), where it adapts well to poorly fertile soils, after being cooked it maintains its firm consistency but is easily added which allows it to be dipped in sauces, it is left to soak in water overnight, so that in the morning it is ready to be cooked.
Very popular, especially among foreigners, is the so-called “fried rice” which is nothing more than previously cooked rice that is stir-fry in the wok, with some pieces of vegetables and flavoured with soy sauce and fish sauce. Far from being my favourite dish, I consider the fried rice as “last resort” option, as the vegetarian option don’t show much nutritional value apart from a lot of carbohydrates and fat!!
It can be considered that the curry paste is the basis of almost all traditional dishes of Thai gastronomy, and can be made with different ingredients, but it usually has ginger, garlic, salt, chili, curry leaf, lemongrass… finely crushed and crushed to form a paste to which salt and spices are added that can be kept for several weeks. According to the dish to be prepared there are several types of curry pastes: green, red, massaman, panang… which are sold in the food markets all around the country.
Another constant is the noodle soup, prepared in less than a minute and very popular as street food, where small stalls only need a large pot with a steaming broth, which when uncovered fills the air with soft aromas, which pieces of green leafy vegetables, meat, or tofu are added to the dish, with the addition of fresh rice noodles, which are instantly ready to eat.
MSG, Monosodium Glutamate. This is the true plague of Thai food that competes strongly with sugar, and is present in almost all dishes, both in restaurants and in street food, which consists of a chemical used to enhance the flavour of food, but controversial use as it is not well tolerated by everyone and can cause gastric problems.
The “pad thai” is undoubtedly the most popular, perhaps because it has become popular with tourists and because it is cheap and easy to make, which makes it present in all restaurants, markets or street stalls. based on sautéed noodles with soy sprouts and a few vegetables, and sprinkled with crushed peanuts. Despite having an egg, it is a good option for vegetarians, but small dried shrimps often appear that ruin this option.
In general, Thai cuisine is not very “friendly” for vegetarians, as many of the dishes often have pork, chicken or shrimp, including noodle soups that are often made with meat broths; even more difficult is for vegan, where the presence of egg is almost mandatory when ordering something vegetarian.
But in the bigger urban areas, the vegetarian diet is getting popular and with a bit of internet research is not difficult to spot a vegetarian or even vegan restaurant. However, the prices are certainly higher than what you can find in street-food.
Tofu is also a presence in Thai cuisine, certainly an influence from neighbouring China, and is seen as one more ingredient in the local dishes, and not necessarily an alternative to meat or fish.
As most of the food is cooked at the moment it’s not difficult to order a vegetarian version of a dish, yet nothing is a guarantee about the use of some “mysterious” sauces that most of the time contain animal products.
There is no strict timetable for meals, nor a specific type of food for each meal, and a soup of noodles or a piece of fried chicken with rice can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Although it is not too cold, this time of year is corresponding to winter, and temperatures drop significantly during the night; and how could it be that chestnuts appear to remember winter in Portugal … but these are smaller and steamed!