Can anyone tell me about Thai cooking or recommend a good web or book resource?
December 15, 2004 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone tell me about Thai cooking or recommend a good web or book resource? (MI)

Southeast Michigan has a plethora of really good Thai places and I have really come to love the food. I would like to cook Thai but don’t know where to start. I am not really interested in recipes (I can find those) so much as the feel of Thai cooking. What goes with what, and what things to look out for. A recent ask MeFi about Indian food was just the sort of thing I am thinking of.
posted by arse_hat to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The key thing about Thai food seems to be finding a balance between the four tastes: salty, sweet, spicy and sour. While other cuisines focus on one or two, Thai food seems to seek to meld all four.
My favorite Thai dish, for example, the grilled beef salad, has fish sauce, sugar, chilies and lime juice - the classic foursome.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:41 PM on December 15, 2004 is the best source for Thai ingredients I know of. Many good recipes too. Great service. I got one of the mortar and pestle sets and it has never let me down for curry. Beats the hell out of ceramic. As I read your question, I guess this isn't quite an answer, but the site may come in handy.
posted by ontic at 11:13 PM on December 15, 2004

The most comprehensive resource on authentic Thai cuisine I've seen is Thai Food, by the Australian chef David Thompson, who has made Bangkok his second home. I bought it on the recommendation of the American chef David Rosengarten.

Its 672 pages include a treatment of Thai history, culture, religion and the role of cuisine in the culture. It also has plenty of information about ingredients, and scores, if not hundreds, of recipes, both from the royal palaces and the streets, as well as stunning food photography. With bibliography and comprehensive index.

It's available hardbound from Ten Speed Press. The publisher's list price is $40 U.S.; you may be able to find it elsewhere for less.
posted by key_of_z at 12:15 AM on December 16, 2004

I'm a total cooking novice, so my advice is way more halfassed than what you're probably looking for, but I've discovered that most Asian grocery stores sell Thai curry mixes and soup bases that are actually quite tasty. Preparing real meals from scratch is much more fulfilling, I'm sure...but if you want something fast and easy and delicious and don't know what you're doing, they might be worth looking into.

Also, here's a short list of things that make Thai soup totally amazing: lemongrass, galangal (a very harsh astringent type of ginger), an abundance of hot chilis, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, cilantro, lime, and coconut milk.
posted by introcosm at 3:39 AM on December 16, 2004

The balance that cunninglinguist mentioned is definitely key, as well as the ingredients that inrocosm mentioned. To that list I would add Thai Basil, it's distinctive flavor makes fresh spring rolls and various other dishes have that uniquely Thai feel. Scallions also top off many dishes.

Also note the textures in Thai food. When you order Pad Thai, the contrast of rice noodles, bean sprouts and peanuts is a pretty neat sensation. We tend to notice flavors more than textures, but unique food has to feel right as well.

In terms of practical advice when cooking Thai food, be comfortable with stir frying, as many Thai dishes are prepared this way. Also, never cook too much at once when preparing noodle dishes. If you are preparing for multiple people, do the dish in multiple batches, you will have much better results.
posted by spaghetti at 4:16 AM on December 16, 2004

Please let me horn in on this question with a related one:

Is there an easy "sauce in a can" solution for producing fake Thai food? I'd love something that you just glop over a stir-fry, and tastes like pnang-y stuff?

Some of those "mixes" require so many additional ingredients which I invariably don't have on hand (coconut milk, fish paste, etc.)

Yes, I know I'm a barbarian, but regardless...
posted by jpburns at 5:32 AM on December 16, 2004

What you want is the eGullet Culinary Institute. Look at this online Thai cooking course. It's done by committed amateurs with a passion for the subject, like all of the eGCI courses.

Best thing is, it's linked to a community of stone freaks about food. Anytime I have a question about cooking something odd, sourcing, or even the old "where can I find NYC pizza in the Seattle area" type questions, eGullet is the place to go.

I mean, I asked the Seattle board there where I could find Chaokoh coconut milk by the case and Maesri curry paste in small cans (two essential staples of any Thai home cook, in my opinion) near I-5 on the way north from Sea-Tac. I was flying in and heading north to cook for a bunch of people and didn't want to schlep 50 lbs of cans.

Day and a half later, I had my answer, and it was beautiful. 16 cans of Chaokoh for $13. Can't beat that with a stick. Maesri in the small (single-curry) size for $.75. Meaning a beautiful massaman, red, green, penang etc. curry for about $2 before add-ons (veg and proteins like chicken, beef, tofu etc.)

And it's at least as good as a middling Thai resto. Most of them are using the Chaokoh-Maesri combo in back anyways. It's the super Thai places that are pounding their own curry pastes, or at least using the fresh stuff flown in from Thailand.
posted by sacre_bleu at 5:45 AM on December 16, 2004

EGullet has a 19-page, 540-response thread on larb, the iconic Thai minced-pork salad. I mean, these people are freaks. My kind of freaks to be sure, but freaks nonetheless.
posted by sacre_bleu at 5:51 AM on December 16, 2004

Hehe, my kind of thread.

balance between the four tastes: salty, sweet, spicy and sour

You forgot the last one: hot, which makes it five flavours.

(If you live in USA, I forgive you. You folks don't know that one yet. ;)


David Thompson's book is good, but hell it's a long, long book. I recommend it as your second purchase. If you want a better first book, I heartily recommend It Rains Fishes. Just 30 recipes, but an awesome lesson on the fundamentals of the cuisine and how to mix flavours.

If you have any immediate questions, however, just post them here.
posted by madman at 10:02 AM on December 16, 2004

Eeks, I will slowly pull my foot out of my mouth:

salty, sweet, spicy and sour

You mentioned "spicy", which is hot, I guess, but left out "bitter". So that's: hot, sour, sweet, salty, bitter.

OK, off to bed I go for now. Have some new menus to plan.
posted by madman at 10:04 AM on December 16, 2004

Is bitter considered separate from sour?
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:22 AM on December 16, 2004

I would definitely consider them different.
posted by arse_hat at 12:02 PM on December 16, 2004

sacre_bleu, eGullet is great! Can't belive I didn't know about this.
jpburns , for shame! For shame! ;-)
It's too late for christmas but I will add the books to my birthday list.
posted by arse_hat at 12:11 PM on December 16, 2004

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