William Putnam

How delicious is Thai food really?

Thailand - where food and hospitality go hand in hand


I was talking with my dad the other day, and he claimed that the four great cuisines of the world are French, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese. I could not help but wonder where Thai food fits in.

When I first came to Thailand, I was not very familiar with Thai cuisine. I had eaten at Thai restaurants, but the food served there was nothing like the food found throughout Thailand. It was too sweet, repetitive, not spicy enough, and even somewhat boring. The food in Thailand itself is spicier and more varied than I could have expected.

No matter how mundane my day is, even if I spend my time watching television and checking quotidian emails, I know my meals will be an adventure in and of themselves. I cannot go a week without spicy somtam, laap, or pak boong. And I've lived here for two years.

Everyone in Thailand is a natural gourmet. It appears to be a natural right of every Thai citizen to eat delicious and nutritious food. Flavorful Thai meals can be bought for as little as 25 baht. I find that really uplifting. No matter how horrible someone's day is, that person at least knows that he or she will be able to have several delicious meals.

There's nothing better than sitting at a roadside stall eating a freshly-cooked meal. Who cares if the restaurant is next to a dumpster in a polluted area? It tastes good, and that's all that matters.

The mixture of flavors and seasonings makes western, and even Chinese food seem bland. Not a day goes by when my taste buds are not inundated with garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and chili. Thai cuisine perfectly blends sweet, spicy, salty, and sour flavors. If Japanese cuisine proves that simple, austere meals can be truly delicious, then Thai cuisine shows us that it is possible to mix strong flavors and still create a winning combination.

I am not sure what I consider to be the world's greatest cuisines, but I know that the list cannot be complete without Thai food.

Here's a supposition of mine: the Thai love of food derives from the country's emphasis on hospitality. A large number of Thai people I've met have gone above and beyond to be gracious hosts, and nothing is more inviting to a weary traveler than a good meal.

Despite many complaints about the Thai pace of life and incompetence (I have to say I agree with the detractors on this point), Thai hospitality is second to none. Most Thai people are more than willing to prepare a good meal for their guests. They take great pride in their cuisine, as they should.

There are times when I think that Thai pride borders on chauvinism. Few Thai people can bear to hear criticism of their country, even when said criticism is valid; the national anthem is played twice a day; and foreigners are constantly asked to leave the country on online message boards if they say something Thai people do not want to hear.

I sometimes wonder why Thai people are so proud. Their infrastructure leaves something to be desired and criminal anti-defamation penalties destroy any chance at freedom of speech. But then I remember the kindness and graciousness of the Thai people, and I can see why Thailand is called "the land of smiles." I will always remember Thai generosity, and I will certainly never forget Thai food.

 




Comments

Some lamb maybe, even some minced beef. Thais do not do ovens. Pastry is a mystery. Good bread is unheard of. Cheese comes from another planet. Flour is another dark secret,. The range of food is extremely limited. Fried or boiled pork ,chicken, squid and muddy fish chilli and fish sauce, lemon grass, thai basil and coriander, with a bit of BBQ and salt. That's it. Nutmeg, Mace, Dill, Rosemary, Thyme, Cumin, Sorrel, Parsley and all the other herbs and spices, forget it. The watchwords are fried or boiled..Braised, baked, grilled or roasted have no place in Thai cuisine.

By Gary, Phimai (7th February 2017)

We all have our own taste. Thai food to me is one layered with no depth. Tom Yam the food Thais what you to eat smells like toilet cleaner, prawns cook to the texture of rubber...
Basically Thai food is lots of chilli, sugar, fish sauce and over or under-cook it. No, depth, no understanding of flavours ...

By John, Bangkok (25th October 2014)

I totally disagree with Mark. If you have yet seen enjoy Thais eating, you were in a wrong place I guess. We are one of the most fussy eater... in term of the taste bud.

By Tao, BKK (25th October 2014)

i like thai food and eat it most of the time... but it's a shame the way they pile msg on everything they cook.... this makes me wonder if the food would taste any good with out it.
as far as being hospitable.... this land of smile sure isn't as smiley or safe as it used to be years ago (i have lived here for 12 years) all you need to do if you don't believe me... watch the thai 7 am news and you'll know what i mean..
meanwhile enjoy what this country has to offer and stay safe! ;)

By leo ellul, phuket (30th September 2014)

I agree with Mark food in Thailand wether Thai or foreign isn't very good

By John, Bangkok (24th September 2014)

I, for one, completely agree with you, William. Thai food and hospitality have got to rank among the top picks. I hope the day never comes that I forget the good side of life in Thailand, even with all the negatives that some tend to dwell on.

Personally, I could eat som tam and stir fried noodles every day and never get tired of any of it... and I do. The lack of consistency adds to the adventure of it all, which is half the fun! Perhaps that's part of what is so great about Thai food: it is almost impossible to make it taste bad, even with an idiot like me cooking.

By Sam, Chatuchak, BKK (24th September 2014)

My view and experiences of Thai food having lived here for 15 years is the opposite of yours.

Thai people eat Thai food because they have to. In all my years of eating here, I've yet to see that many Thais actually enjoying what they eat when they sit down to traditional Thai food.

And that's because it's really not that good. Chucking in MSG, fish sauce, oyster sauce and a fried egg is NOT 'cuisine.'

Thais get much more excited about the prospect of eating from fast food restaurants and processed Thai food chains such as MK or Oishi. In fact - if you ask me, their treatment of all food borders on disrespectful. They eat hot food cold, they eat dishes out of sequence and even separately from each other. Service in restaurants varies between indifference and ineptitude. There is also a total lack of consistency from one day to the next - one restaurant to the next and even one exact same dish to the next!

By Mark, Thailand (23rd September 2014)

French food? Outside of bisque I've never been terribly impressed. And the French are hardly renowned for being hospitable.

I'd placeThai somewhere in the top 5, along with Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Indian.

And I do care if a meal is eaten next to a dumpster in a polluted area.

By UrbanMan, Near An Aircon (22nd September 2014)

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