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Roger McShane

The complexity of Thai food

53 posts in this topic

I just received my cookbook club flyer and found featured in it a Thai cookbook by David Thompson (called, appropriately, "Thai Food"). It is a monstrous 672 pages. I am looking for a good Thai cookbook. Is this a good place to start? Any other suggestions?

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I think it's difficult to make a general statement that Thai food in America doesn't compare to Thai food in Thailand. There's great Thai food here, and terrible Thai food in Thailand. It depends where you go.

A lot of Americans get their Thai food from suburban places that definitely alter the food for American tastes. Many more go to "high-end" Thai places that can't resist trendy fusion infusions.

I think a lot of the reason people think Thai food is so much better in Thailand is because they're eating it in Thailand. (And I'm curious whether folks are talking about eating at nice restaurants in Thailand, or getting a bowl or curry or noodles or soup on the street -- I assume it's a mixture). It's like the folks on other threads who make the generalization that you can't find espresso in America that's as good as you get in Europe.

I recently went to Sripraphia (I think that was it, in Queens), and it was great. As good as most of the food I remember eating in Thailand. Better than a lot of it. I order Penang Beef almost everywhere. A lot of it -- in the US and in Thailand -- is excellent. I'd like to bathe in it. Some of it -- in the US and in Thailand -- sucks.

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I just received my cookbook club flyer and found featured in it a Thai cookbook by David Thompson (called, appropriately, "Thai Food").  It is a monstrous 672 pages. I am looking for a good Thai cookbook. Is this a good place to start? Any other suggestions?

I'm not familar w/ that book...but a few good ones (I believe all are in print, easily obtainable from any bookseller and many libraries):

Dancing Shrimp by Kasma Loha-unchit

It Rains Fishes by Kasma Loha-unchit

Cracking the Coconut by Su-Mei Yu (she has some rather stubborn, some say suspect, views on Thai food but the recipes and pics are pretty good...just ignore her ranting on making your own coconut milk and take some of her absolutes with a grain of salt)

Real Thai: The Best of Thailand's Regional Cooking by Nancie McDermott (no pics - good simple recipes, though...the author has several other books I'm not familar with)

And although I've not read it, judging from the rest of the series, I would imagine that Thailand: The Beautiful would be a decent buy...for the pics if nothing else.

Finally, not solely focused on Thai, but cuisine from the entire Mekong region:

Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid


...I thought I had an appetite for destruction but all I wanted was a club sandwich.

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The Taste of Thailand by Vatcharin Bhumichitr (Atheneum, NY, 1988) has good recipes. Don't know if it's still in print.

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i always liked "thailand: the beautiful cookbook." yeah yeah, it's a coffe table book, but the recipes and information seem spot on.

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The whole noodle/salad comment by LaurieA-B is interesting. At the Thai restaurants I really like, usually its the salads/larbs which take me over the top. I rarely eat noodle dishes at Thai restaurants, since a good curry is inevitably the number two dish after the salad or larb.

Admittedly the salads and larbs are more beef/chickeny, with maybe an occasional Papaya, but that's the Americanization right there.


Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Tomorrow we will go to my favorite Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities. It doesn't hurt that the owner is the husband of the nanny I had for 10 years in Bangkok. We have called ahead and let them know that we will come, and to please cook an appropriate menu. I would be willing to bet that none of the items will be on the menu.

As I have discovered over the years, the average Thai restaurant features items that the average American is somewhat familiar with, or at least won't be disgusted by (I wouldn't think of eating a fish that didn't still have the head on it, but most Minnesotan's would disagree).

For those of you that are dissatisfied with your local Thai restaurants, have you ever spoken with the chef and asked her/him to suggest some things that aren't on the menu? We regularly do, even when we aren't at our favorite spot, and often get dishes that closely approximate some of my Bangkok favorites. It really helps if you have a guest with you that speaks fluent Thai and has great taste in food...

Although many posts on this thread have referred to "authentic Thai Food," I have noticed over the years (10+ years living in Thailand and many subsequent visits) that Thai food can be very regional and very personal. Just as it is hard to describe to someone what "traditional American potato salad" consists of (mayo or miracle whip -- a midwestern attrocity, I think; pickle relish; celery; what kind of mustard, any vinegar? -- I think you get the idea), I never recall having Pad Thai in Thailand from two different vendors that was the same -- the combinations of "saucing ingredients" varied so much. I think the only given was rice noodles and the garnishes.

And, yes, I do tend to avoid noodles in a Thai restaurant in the U. S. Nothing compares to the baa me off a cart in Bangkok.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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At this level, contrary to what many people suppose, the heat addicted person can discern many MORE flavors than those who can't handle the heat.  Each of the chiles and spices have their own unique flavor, and once heat is no longer an issue these tastes that were previously hidden behind the burn are now very evident.

This is definitely true. The first time I had Thai food I thought "what am I supposed to taste other than PAIN?!?" as I was not at all used to eating hot food. After a while I found myself really enjoying the depth and complexity of jungle curry which is usually quite hot and would have floored me if I'd had it without being used to it.

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Korean people usually "wean" their kids onto spicy food. My friends all grew up having their kim chi dipped into water before eating it (to wash off some of the spicyness) as children. And gradually became able to eat the whole thing.

My niece who used to scream spicy at me and stick her tongue out for me to wipe with my napkin if I gave her anything with any remote scent, let alone taste, of red pepper or ginger on it, has started to love pizza with very spicy sauce (she is now five). When she says that she loved it, I tell her, "but it's spicy and you hate spicy. If you like the pizza that means you now like spicy." And she puts her nose in the air and says, "IT"S NOT SPICY."

I love thai food but you are right, it is very regional and so not all thai food tastes similar. I've had a couple of northern dishes that were blander and am not so entranced by those. But the dishes I've had in the south of Thailand.. SERIOUS YUM!

Lotus of Siam is no longer run by the woman who made it so great (in fact, I don't know if it exists at all in LA anymore).

She's now in Las Vegas and boy is her food amazing. She makes a rice salad that looks like it's made out of uncooked rice that was deep fried. The texture and flavour is unlike anything I've ever had.

And Sripaphai in Queens is the second best I've had in America.... although I've never been to Arun's in Chicago. Is Arun that great? Or is it more about the presentation?

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arun is nothing like sripriprahaihahiha. i found it very americanized. nice little rabbits made from carrots on the plates though.

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I ate at Lotus of Siam in Vegas a year or two ago. It is in a very seedy strip mall that is surrounded by a number of other ethnic restaurants. It is indeed quite good -- far better than anything I've had anywhere else, but that's probably not saying much.

I didn't take notes at the meal, as I was dining with a client who might not understand why I would want to write down what I was eating. I recall having a rice salad with ginger, chilies, scallions and Thai sour sausage. The rice was slightly crunchy and the other ingredients created a great contrast of flavors.

We also had fresh water tiger prawns, which I vaguely recall didn't knock my socks off.

We also had a crispy catfish dish -- it was a whole fish, deep fried served with chilies, cilantro and some other items -- peanuts??

We had one of their curries -- very flavorful and spicy. I recall the freshness and sharpness of the flavors. Obviously, they make all their pastes themselves.

We finished with their coconut ice cream with sticky rice. I've had this dish a number of times, but their rendition was great. The ice cream and rice complemented, rather than competed with, each other.

The room is nothing to get excited about. You also need to push the waiter to the Issan items, as it appears they tend to occidentalize their menu somewhat (which was appropriate for my client).


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I just received my cookbook club flyer and found featured in it a Thai cookbook by David Thompson (called, appropriately, "Thai Food").  It is a monstrous 672 pages. I am looking for a good Thai cookbook. Is this a good place to start? Any other suggestions?

I'm not familar w/ that book...but a few good ones (I believe all are in print, easily obtainable from any bookseller and many libraries):

Cracking the Coconut by Su-Mei Yu (she has some rather stubborn, some say suspect, views on Thai food but the recipes and pics are pretty good...just ignore her ranting on making your own coconut milk and take some of her absolutes with a grain of salt)

Real Thai: The Best of Thailand's Regional Cooking by Nancie McDermott (no pics - good simple recipes, though...the author has several other books I'm not familar with)

Finally, not solely focused on Thai, but cuisine from the entire Mekong region:

Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Hot Sour Salty Sweet is a wonderful book, expensive but worth the price! They aslo have a good section on Thailand in their Seductions of Rice book.

Real Thai is the book I turn to when I can't find something above mentioned book, also very good.

I don't have Su-Mei Yu's book but I made her entire menu (satay, peanut sauce, radish salad, cucumber salad) from the Aug/Sept 2002 Fine Cooking and was very impressed.


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

<a class="bbc_email" href="mailto:kwagner@egstaff.org" title="E-mail Link">kwagner@egstaff.org</a></p>

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I just got David Thompson's Thai Food. It is very large and beautiful, and although I've only skimmed through it, I seriously doubt I'll ever have to buy another Thai cookbook. It really has everything, and the recipes read as if they'll work. He has a lot of northern and northeastern recipes, areas I'm especially interested in, so I'm quite happy with it.

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I am reading through Su Mei's book right now and am finding her to be very insightful about the different regions and history of Thai cooking. It's a great read.

Hot Sour Salty Sweet is on my wish list of books... it is very expensive which is what has kept me from just picking it up at the bookstore.

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I just got David Thompson's Thai Food.  It is very large and beautiful, and although I've only skimmed through it, I seriously doubt I'll ever have to buy another Thai cookbook.  It really has everything, and the recipes read as if they'll work.  He has a lot of northern and northeastern recipes, areas I'm especially interested in, so I'm quite happy with it.

oh my. i just got this book on the strength of recommendations from egullet. i'm with toby when i say that i will probably never buy another thai cookbook. it appears to be a great reference manual as well.

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I've just got it too, on the Balic's recommendation. It's absolutely lovely. And I now expect to find myself spending the next couple of weekends in Thai grocery shops...

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I've just got it too, on the Balic's recommendation. It's absolutely lovely. And I now expect to find myself spending the next couple of weekends in Thai grocery shops...

yeah, balic was my go-to guy on that one as well.

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tommy, if you have the time and are comfortable in doing so would you let me know

if there are restaurants in NJ that are serving food similar to the one discussed in the book. I'm a proud owner of David Thompson's Thai Food book, being immediately seduced by the book's beauty, but i must admit that i'm a complete novice to Thai food.

thank you

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I have the Thompson book, too, but so far I find it less useful than the Kasma Loha-unchit books and HSSS. Also, the design makes HSSS look convenient. Not that it's a bad book, but it wouldn't be my first recommendation for someone new to Thai cooking.

A real review will be in my 2002 cookbook roundup next month.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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tommy, if you have the time and are comfortable in doing so would you let me know

if there are restaurants in NJ that are serving food similar to the one discussed in the book. I'm a proud owner of David Thompson's Thai Food book, being immediately seduced by the book's beauty, but i must admit that i'm a complete novice to Thai food.

thank you

helena, start a thai food thread on the nj board. there might be a few already. i really have no idea what type of food the book discusses, but we have a few good choices in NJ regardless.

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My experience in the U. S. tells me that you are best off going with someone who can speak Thai and knows Thai food so s/he can speak directly with the chef. Frequently, ordering off the menu is NOT the way to go if you want a really great meal.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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My experience in the U. S. tells me that you are best off going with someone who can speak Thai and knows Thai food so s/he can speak directly with the chef.  Frequently, ordering off the menu is NOT the way to go if you want a really great meal.

...or go to a place located in a Thai community that caters to the Thai population...

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Having now spent some time absorbing the content of David Thompson's Thai Food book I would have to say that it is clearly the best book that I have ever seen on this complex subject.

All others pale into insignificance.


Roger McShane

Foodtourist.com

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Having now spent some time absorbing the content of David Thompson's  Thai Food book I would have to say that it is clearly the best book that I have ever seen on this complex subject.

All others pale into insignificance.

Thai Food by David Thompson was the very first book I ordered before going to the US.I ordered a lot before I even left Japan so they would be there waiting for me!

I love it! By far the best, and most comphrehensive, book I have ever seen on Thai food. I can't wait togive some of the recipes a try, unfortunately my parents house isn't stocked with Thai ingredients and I will probably have to wait until I get back home.

An absolute must for anyone who enjoys Thai food!


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

<a class="bbc_email" href="mailto:kwagner@egstaff.org" title="E-mail Link">kwagner@egstaff.org</a></p>

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Thai Food by David Thompson was the very first book I ordered before going to the US.I ordered a lot before I even left Japan so they would be there waiting for me!

I love it!

dude, are you in the US now?

oblig topical comment: i love this thompson book. i refer to it just about every weekend, if not to cook then to just browse. mine's falling apart already. actually, the binding was broke when i got it. is anyone else having this problem?

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