GRAINS AND PULSES
Known as “tua dum” ถั่วดำ in Thai, these beans have to be soaked overnight prior to use. Black beans are most commonly used for traditional desserts and it is relatively uncommon to use them in curries or savory dishes.
Popular Thai dishes with black beans:
Black beans with coconut milk (“tua dum kaheng buuad” ถั่วดำแกงบวด).
Glutinous rice (also known as “sticky rice” or “sweet rice”):
Known as “khao niao” ข้าวเหนียว in Thai, glutinous rice comes in two colors (white and black) and two types of sticky rice (long grain sticky rice and short grain sticky rice).
Sticky rice is a staple in northern and northeastern Thai cuisine (such as for instance in the cuisine of Isan, a northeastern region in Thailand) and citizens in these regions consume it almost every day with savory accompaniments. Glutinous rice is traditionally cooked in a traditional Thai glutinous rice steamer basket known as “ri ku phi miphi” หวดไม้ไผ่ in Thai.
Throughout the rest of Thailand however, glutinous rice is popular as a sweet dessert. Popular dishes with white sticky rice include “sticky rice with mangoes” (“khao niao mamuang” ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง), “sticky rice with durian” (“khao niao thu-rian” ข้าวเหนียวทุเรียน) and “banana leaf sticky rice” (“khao tom mud” ข้าวต้มมัด)
Known as “tuo kheeo” ถั่วเขียว in Thai this is used for popular desserts such as “Thai coconut custard” (“khanom ma gaeng tuo” ขนมหม้อแกงถั่ว) “mung beans with sugar syrup” (“tuo kheeo tong namtaan” ถั่วเขียวต้มน้ำตาล) and “mung beans with coconut milk” (“tuo kheeo thomgkati” ถั่วเขียวต้มกะทิ)
Rice, known as “khao” ข้าว in Thai is a staple in food in Thailand and rice is one of the most important crops in Thailand’s agricultural industry. A number of varieties of rice are cultivated in the country with perhaps Jasmine rice (available in both white and brown) being one of the most popular types. Rice is steamed and consumed with curries or rice is fried with other ingredients to make fried rice
Rice is ground to make rice flour which is used to make dishes such as “chive dumplings” (“khanom kui chai” ขนมกุยช่าย).
SPICES, SEASONINGS, SWEETENERS AND FLAVORINGS
Black pepper is used for certain Thai dishes such as “massaman curry”.
Known as “bi krawan” ใบกระวาน in Thai, this is used for dishes such as “massaman curry”.
Calamansi limes, known as “manaw” มะนาว in Thai are essential for Thai cooking. Although regular limes could be used in place of calamansi, there is a distinct difference in taste between the two, with calamansi being considerably more aromatic and having slightly sweet tones compared to regular lime.
Used for dishes such as “massaman curry”,
Introduced to Thailand by the Portuguese in the 1600s, chilies are known as “phrik” พริก in Thai and if there is one ingredient that represents Thai cuisine, it could be chilies. Chilies are used very extensively in Thai cooking and most rural households grow their own chili plants and almost every Thai table would have a little condiment bowl of fish sauce into which finely sliced vibrant red and green bird’s eye chilies are thrown in.
Bird’s eye chilies (sometimes known as “Thai chilies”), a variety of chili known in Thai as “phrik kee noo” พริกขี้หนู are a staple in Thai kitchens, usually used fresh. These unsuspecting small-sized chilies are considerably hotter than the bigger-sized chilies and they are an essential ingredient for authentic Thai cuisine. It is possible to use other types of chilies as a substitute for the venerated bird’s eye chili, however the outcome would be less than authentic and a Thai food connoisseur may notice the difference.
Dried red chilies, mostly from the larger red varieties, are popular for red curry pastes. For instance, a standard Thai “red curry paste” known as “prig gang khua” พริกแกงคั่ว calls for dried chilies which are pounded together with other ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime zest, garlic and shallots into a fine paste.
Green chilies, (“phrik kee noo kheeyo” พริกขี้หนูสีเขียว) are popular for green curry pastes.
Coconut milk (“kathi” กะทิ) is an essential ingredient in Thai cuisine use not just for savory curries but also for sweet desserts as well. Like other countries that use coconut milk extensively in cooking, in Thailand coconut milk was traditionally extracted fresh every day; freshly grated coconut would be mixed with just enough warm water to soak the grated coconut and the milk would be squeezed out using clean hands. Milk extracted from the “first squeeze” known as “huakathi” หัวกะทิ is used for curries and desserts. After the first squeeze, warm water would be added into the grated coconut and squeezed again. This is the “second squeeze” known as “hangkathi” หางกะทิ and is used as a gravy enhancer for curries.
Coriander leaves / Cilantro:
Known as “pak chee” ผักชี these are often used for garnishing, eaten fresh as part of a salad, or thrown in at the last minute to infuse their flavor and aroma into soups.
Known as “raak pakgchi” รากผักชี these are used for flavoring stocks and soups and for curry pastes such as Thai green curry paste.
Cumin (“yeera” ยี่หร่า ) is usually lightly roasted and ground up into a powder along with other spices to make curry pastes and curry powders for Thai curries. Traditionally a Thai pestle and mortar was used to grind up these spices.
Fermented shrimp paste:
Similar to “belacan” in Malaysian, Indonesian and Bruneian cuisine, “kapi” กะปิ is Thailand’s version of fermented shrimp paste used for making condiments such as “nahm prik kapi” วิธีทำ น้ำพริกกะปิ.
Known as “nam pla” น้ำปลา in Thai, this is one of the most important seasonings in Thai cuisine. These are usually made with small, low-value fish (larger fish that cold command a high price in the market are usually not used to make fish sauce). These small fish are combined with a certain quantity of sea salt, and the mixture is placed in vats which are left to ferment which may last at least a year. After fermentation the “fish water” is scooped off, poured into boiling pots and boiled over charcoal fire. A solution unrefined palm sugar and water is separately brought to a boil and then combined with the simmering “fish water”. Once well mixed, the liquid is poured into terracotta vats and left to cool which could take several days. Afterwards, the liquid is strained to remove any residues and the resulting clear fish sauce is bottle and ready for consumption.
Known as “khaa” ข่า this is a relative of ginger but its flavor tends to be milder and fresher. It is often paired with lemongrass.
Known as “kratheeur” กระเทียม, garlic is extensively used in Thai cooking, added as a flavor enhancer and aromatic for fried dishes and soups.
Known in Thai as “bai khrapao” กระเภา these are used fresh, (the fresher the better) added as an aromatic to stir fries.
The rind of the kaffir lime is ground along with other ingredients to make curry pastes.
Kaffir lime leaves:
Known as “bai makrut” ใบมะกรูด in Thai, these are used fresh and usually used to add a citrusy flavor and aroma to dishes such as “tom yum”. They could be thinly sliced, or torn into pieces or just added whole into a simmering dish. Unless thinly sliced, they are usually not meant to be consumed.
Known as “ta khrai” ตะไคร้ in Thai, lemongrass is one of the most important herbs in Thai cuisine, usually used fresh and often paired with galangal when making certain Thai food such as tom yum soups and Thai red curry pastes. It is also used to make lemongrass tea” (“cha takhrai” ชาตะไคร้).
Several varieties of tamarind are available in Thailand, with their flavors ranging from sweet, to sweet and sour, to sour. Sweet tamarind, known as “makham hwan” มะขามหวาน in Thai generally commands a higher price. It is sold encased within their pods, and is usually not used for cooking. It is consumed as is as a fruit or used to make traditional delicacies such as “tamarind candy” (“makham gao” มะขามแก้ว).
Phetchabun เพชรบูรณ์ in northeastern Thailand is famous for sweet tamarind. In rural Thailand where some houses grow sweet tamarind trees in their backyards, it is common for young children to climb the trees, pluck the pods, break them up and eat the sweet pulpy flesh fresh as a snack.
The more commonly available sour tamarind, known as “makahm” มะขาม are usually used for cooking.
Turmeric, known as “khemin” ขมิ้น in Thai, is held in high regard among Thais as a spice with medicinal properties. It is believed to lower blood sugar, and has traditionally been used in Thai folk medicine to treat skin diseases.
Turmeric is particularly popular in southern Thai cuisine, for dishes such as turmeric soups and “yellow curries”. It tends to be used fresh rather than powdered.
Unrefined palm sugar:
Known as “natal tanod” in Thai น้ำตาลโตนด, this is a natural sweetener produced from the sap of coconut flowers and has been the traditional sweetener for Thai dishes for generations. It is produced in areas such as Samut Songkhram, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi and Surat Thani to name a few.
In the evening, flowers from palm trees such as the coconut tree and palmyrah tree are cut and a bamboo container is placed underneath to collect the flowing sap. This sap flows very slowly and so the container is left overnight until it fills up. The next morning, this sap is collected. If it is not collected it ferments. The collected sap is boiled down and left to solidify after which it is broken into a crumbly mass of unrefined sugar.
Banana flowers / Banana blossoms:
Known as in “hua plee” หัวปลี Thai, this is the banana blossom from banana trees. When a banana flower is about 7-8 months old, it begins to grow flowers and all of these flowers gradually transform into bananas. One banana flower however, a male flower, does not undergo this transformation, remaining in its original flower state. Instead of letting it go to waste, this flower is plucked and prepared in multiple ways; they are fried (“thadmun hua plee” ทอดมันหัวปลี), made into soups or prepared as a salad (“yum hua plee” ยำหัวปลี).
It is believed that consuming banana blossoms help increase milk production in lactating mothers and so dishes such as “banana blossom soups” are popular for new mothers.
Known as “fag tong” ฟักทอง in Thai, this is used for dishes such as pumpkin curries and desserts.
Popular Thai dishes with pumpkin:
Pumpkin coconut custard (“sangkaya fag tong” สังขยาฟักทอง)
Pumpkin with coconut milk (“fag tong khaeng buet” ฟักทองแกงบวด)
Fish is known as “pla” ปลา in Thai. Fishing is a substantial industry in Thailand and fresh fish is abundantly available. Miles of coastal waters around Thailand, numerous rivers and lakes within the country, and paddy fields where rice crops and fish co-habit contribute towards offering a plethora of fish varieties for consumption. Some of the popular varieties include:
Snakehead (“pla chon” ปลาช่อน)
Red tilapia (“pla thabthim” ปลาทับทิม)
Nile tilapia (“pla nim” ปลานิล)
Barramundi (“pla kapong” ปลากะพง)
Grouper (“pla gow” ปลาเก๋า)
White pomfret (“
Red snapper (“pla kaphong daeng” ปลากะพงแดง)
White pomfret (“pla chalamed khaw” ปลาจะละเม็ดขาว)
Popular Thai dishes with fresh fish:
Grilled fish (“pla pao” ปลาเผา)
Crispy fried fish with tamarind sauce (“pla rad phrik” ปลาราดพริก)
Fish fritters / fish cakes (“tod man pla” ทอดมันปลา)
Prawns / Shrimp (fresh):
Known as “goong” ต้มยำกุ้ง in Thai, Thailand is a major producer of shrimp. The Penaeus vanamei (Whiteleg Shrimp) and Peneaus monodon (Giant tiger prawn) are some of the most commonly produced variety. In Thailand, fresh prawns are used to make popular Thai dishes such as “tom yum shrimp soup” known as “tom yum goong” ต้มยำกุ้ง in Thai and “tamarind shrimp” known as “goong pad makam” กุ้งผัดมะขาม.
MEAT AND POULTRY
Known as “kai” ไก่ in Thai, chicken is grilled, fried, curried or added into soups and stews.
Popular Thai dishes with chicken:
Grilled chicken (“gai yaang” ไก่ย่าง)
Chicken curry with winter melon (“khaeng gai sai fak kheeo”
Basil chicken (“phad kra phao gai” ผัดกระเพราไก่)
Duck eggs and chicken eggs are commonly consumed in Thailand
Popular Thai dishes with eggs:
Son-in-law eggs (“khai luuk keuy” ไข่ลูกเขย)
FRUITS AND NUTS
Known as “kluaay” กล้วย in Thai, bananas are available all year round in Thailand and a variety of bananas are cultivated and sold in the country.
Known as “malagao” มะละกอ in Thai, these are essentially raw, unripe papayas. Their skins are a rich green hue, the fruit will be very firm and the flesh would be almost white in color. This compares with ripe papayas which tend to be a yellowish-orange hue, the fruit would be relatively soft to the touch and the flesh would be a vibrant orange hue. Green papayas by themselves are mild and bland in flavor so it is mixed with a variety of sauces and seasonings to create an orchestra of flavors.
Known as “mamuang” มะม่วง in Thai, mangoes are a highly popular seasonal fruit, eaten fresh or used to make traditional dishes such as “sticky rice with mangoes” (“khao niao mamuang” ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง ).
Enjoyed as a snack or dessert, ripe papayas are cut into bit-sized chunks and served with a dash of lime. Green papayas on the other hand are not sweet and are eaten as a side dish.
Known as “sappa rod” สัปปะรด in Thai, these are usually enjoyed fresh for dessert or as a snack.
Known as “baahmee บะหมี่ or mee luueng หมี่เหลือง” these are used for dishes such as “baah mee moo dang” บะหมี่หมูแดง and “khao soi” ข้าวซอย.
Thailand produces a variety of rice noodles, of varying tastes and thicknesses. Rice noodle dishes include “pad thai” ผัดไทย and “kuay teow kua gai” ก๋วยเตี๋ยวคั่วไก่ .