Thai Recipies


By Guest Blogger Paul Muir
Tom Yum Kung
I have been following Paul Muir's blog for a while now and enjoy not only his recipes but also the history behind the food.  Therefore when I asked him to be my guest blogger for this week I looked forward to getting his recipe and maybe a bit of background information.  What I got was not only a fantastic Tom Yum Kung recipe but also a full blown history of Thai food explaining why it is one of the world's great fusion cuisine. 

Serves 4

12 large Malaysian giant river prawns (medium size)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 lemongrass stalks, white part only, bruised
3 thin sliced galangal, peeled
8 cups (2 litres) chicken stock (homemade)
6 -8 Thai bird's eye chillies, brised
6 Kaffir lime leaves (fresh only) torn and bruised
2 tbsp fish sauce
Good handful of straw mushrooms
12 cherry tomatoes
Small handful of coriander leaves for garnishing

1. In the sink, peel the prawns, leaving the tails attached. Remove the heads from (9) nine of the prawns, leaving (3) still attached, so to make the finished dish look more interesting. DO NOT throw away the shells or heads, they will be used later.
2. In a large bowl or wok, heat the (1) one tablespoon of vegetable oil to medium heat. Add the prawn shells and heads for about 4-5 minutes, stirring and gently crushing the heads with the tip of a wooden spoon until the shells and heads turn bright orange.
3. In the sink clean and devein the prawns with a sharp paring chef’s knife. Be careful not to cut too deep into the flesh of the prawns back.
4. In the pot with the prawn shells and heads, add only (1) one of the lemongrass stalks, galangal, and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a slow simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Now, strain the liquid from the pot through a fine sieve. Discard the solids and reserve the liquid.
6. Bruise the remaining lemongrass stalks with the back of a chef’s knife to release the oil inside and put in the pot with the reserved liquid, chilies (bruised), lime leaves (torn and bruised), fish sauce, mushrooms, and cook gently for 2-3 minutes.
7. Add the prawns and cook for 4 minutes or until the prawns are pink and tender. Take off the heat and add the cherry tomatoes.
8. Now for taste, add the lime juice and check seasoning, adjust the flavor to YOUR LIKING with either more fish sauce or more lime juice.
9. Garnish with coriander leaves, and serve the soup hot. Remember that in Thailand they do not serve the rice hot like in the west.

History of Thai Food

The food of Thailand is startlingly bold and imaginative. Carefully crafted to appeal to all senses, it combines beautiful presentation with fragrant aromas, contrasting yet complementing flavors and textures, and often fearsome chili-heat.
Although Thai food appears unique it is in fact one of the world’s great fusion cuisines. The country may never have been colonized, but Thai cooks certainly absorbed foreign influences. As in much of Asia, Chinese culinary techniques are very strong, particularly in the form of noodle dishes, soups, and stir-frying to steaming. Indian spices give fresh-tasting Thai curries their deeper, toasty notes, while the flavors of Southeast Asia are tasted in satay and coconut curries. Even Thai chilies are not indigenous, but were introduced by the Portuguese in the 16 th century.
Thai cooks, many of them attached to the Royal Court, transformed these new ingredients and cooking techniques into something distinctly Thai by combining them with ancient seasoning of garlic, pepper, coriander root, lemongrass, pungent herbs, sour kaffir lime, tamarind, galangal, Asian shallots, coconut, palm sugar, fish sauce, and shrimp pastes

These flavors are not, by any means, subtle, but Thai cooking blends them into graceful dishes where no one taste overpowers the other. Above all, Thai cooks value balance, and it is the combination of sweet, sour, salty and hot tastes that makes the food vibrant. With seasoning so important, it is no surprise that the mastery of Thai cooking lies in the labor---intensive creation of its curry and soup pastes, which heavily contrasts with the cuisine’s quick cooking techniques.
The incredible aroma of a hot bowl of Tom Yum says much about Thai food. One of its distinctive characteristics is the use of fresh seasonings to impart a lemony essence and floral flavors. In Thai cooking, garlic and shallots, along with the aromatic root seasonings of ginger, turmeric, and the peppery galangal, is the foundations of many dishes. Fish sauce and shrimp paste add a salty taste, chili some heat, and coconut and palm sugar bring sweetness. But it is the sour yet refreshing citrus notes of lime, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass that balance the dish.
Although Thai cuisine is often described as lemony, in fact, lemons do not grow at all in a tropical climate. Instead, the juice of small, sour Thai lime is often added to cut the sweetness and oiliness of dishes. An alternative to a sour Thai taste can come from tamarind or vinegar. The bitter juice of the kaffir lime is very rarely used in Thai cooking, but its leaves and bumpy rind are used for their musty, limey fragrance and to hide the smell of the fish sauce or shrimp paste. Lemongrass, bruised with the back of a chef’s knife to release the oils and yet add more fragrance into the curry pastes and soups.
A visit to bustling, cosmopolitan Bangkok can make Thailand appear very urban, but in many ways the country remains predominantly an agricultural society. The food most people eat everyday therefore reflects the simple, labor- intensive lifestyle of the paddy fields. Many families cook in an outside kitchen; the simplest meal is rice, grilled fish and a chili dipping sauce (nam phrik), and chili relish.

Rice being harvested in Central Thailand
The central plains of Thailand are dominated by rice paddy fields, and the fertile land of the country’s heart beat allows many families there to be essentially self-supporting. Even a small farm can provide rice, vegetables, a few herbs, fruit, fish from the canals (klongs), and frogs and insects from the fields. With enough to sustain themselves there is little need to hunt, with the diet supplemented by a little meat from pigs, chickens and ducks. all over Thailand there is a plentiful supply of food; fish from the southern coastline, rice in the north, and Thais can pick corn, coconuts, pineapples, and harvest rice.
Like many Asians, the Thais consider a meal a meal only if it is served with rice (khao). Rice and food are synonymous and, with the exception of snacks, Thai dishes are generally thought of in terms of the flavors and nutrients they add to plain rice. Rice makes up the biggest proportion of the meal, a first mouthful is savored before any of the other dishes are tasted, and then just a little of each dish is added to flavor it.
The long-grain jasmine rice grown in Thailand is one of the most highly regarded in the world, the Thais themselves calling cooked rice (khao suay), ‘beautiful rice’. Treated simply, the rice is usually steamed to a fluffy yet not sticky texture and releases a delicate aroma, though not a floral one, the jasmine referring to the appearance not the fragrance of the rice. It provides a neutral palate to balance the power of Thai dishes.
Thailand is also one of the few countries to value sticky long-grain rice. The rest of Asia rarely uses sticky rice, and then mostly for sweet dessert, snack dishes. Only in the relatively infertile mountains of northern Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos where it flourishes is this ancient grain used as a staple.
Black sticky rice is also popular and while other cuisines shun black food, the Thais have embraced this earthy tasting rice, which combines so well with sugar to become a sweet dessert dish.
At the table, Thai rice is served much hotter than other Asian countries, and usually kept warm, covered, spoonful’s served out onto the plate only when needed. Sticky rice is traditionally served in a bamboo basket to keep it warm and moist, and is always eaten with the fingers, rolled up into a ball and dipped into sauces or consumed with dishes. Sticky rice is also transformed into sweets, usually combined with coconut, as in the banana leaf parcels of sticky rice sold on the streets.
Despite the majority of Thais being Buddhists, very few Thais are vegetarian. Instead most observe a distinction between killing an animal themselves and eating it, with fishing deemed perfectly acceptable. Thais have never been great meat-eaters or hunters. In such a fertile environment food is easily foraged from the land, river and sea, so protein is more likely to come in the form of fish, tofu, and nuts.

Snakehead Fish packed with lemongrass
and kaffir lime leaves ready for steaming
Thailand’s long southern tail offers kilometers of seafood-rich water, relatively inexpensive and eaten at almost every meal, especially in the south. Even in the landlocked north, the country is endowed with plentiful fresh-water fish, in its extensive network of streams, rivers, ponds, even rice paddy fields, especially during the monsoon season.
Fish tends to be served whole in Thailand, simply steamed or grilled with chili, lime juice or ginger. It is also roasted, wrapped in banana leaves, or deep-fried and smothered with a sauce. Seafood is also notably used in Thailand’s hot and sour salads (yum). Thai dishes also have their distinctive taste from the sea in the form of seasoning like shrimp paste and fish sauce.
As the Thais eat almost no dairy products, the creaminess of their savory dishes, rich sweets comes instead from the coconut, a fruit available and scattered with abundance across the whole country.
The coconut is one of the most versatile foods in the world. Unusually, Thai cooking doesn’t make much use of animal fats so coconut cream, the main source of fat in the Thai diet, also replaces oil or butter in many recipes. Curry pastes and fresh seasonings are cooked in the oil that separates out from the heated coconut cream, then meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables are added to the soup.
Fresh coconut cream isn’t in fact the liquid found inside the nut, but is made from grated coconut meat steeped in hot water and ‘milked ‘to produce a liquid with a rich, thick consistency. This cream contains little water so that it can be cooked to a high temperature. Its thinner relation, coconut milk, is taken from a second soaking. The coconut meat is also grated for cooking some dishes.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Thai cooking is its use of fresh herbs. Herbs certainly contribute flavor, handfuls tossed into dishes to give a pungent essence.
In most Thai recipes, coriander is the essential herb. Unusually it is the roots that are prized for their aroma and heady taste, pounded with garlic, salt and peppercorns as a foundation for many dishes. The refreshing leaves and stems are added to almost all soups, salads and fish dishes.
Thai cooks also use three varieties of basil, all quite different from European basil. Thai sweet basil has a basic flavor, its aniseed pungency sweetening soups and red yellow curries. The strong aroma of holy basil, sometimes called ‘hot basil ‘because of its peppery spiciness, is accentuated when cooked and used only in strong dishes. There is also a delicate lemon basil thrown into soups and seafood. Spearmint is added fresh to seafood or minced meat salads, it’s cool fragrance and taste a contrast to the chili-heat of these dishes.
Thai soups are not quite what you might expect from the name. A unique component of most meals, they are neither the individual bowls of chicken noodle or minetrone soup found in western cooking nor the digestive broths of Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Instead, a Thai soup (tom), is brought to the table with all the other dishes, to form a harmonious, balanced meal. Ladled into small bowls, the occasional spoonful is sipped during a dinner to counterbalance the other flavors. Thought of only as part of the whole, never as a dish that stands alone. Thai soups can vary enormously, some bursting with spicy, strong flavors, others almost delicate, balancing the sharp tastes or cutting the richness of other dishes.
To many people outside of Thailand, Tom Yum is one of the best known Thai dishes, a hot prawn soup (Tom Yum Kung) aromatic with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. To the Thai’s (tom) which literally means to ‘boil ‘and (yum) to ‘mix’. A Tom Yum, with its intense combination of heat, astringency and a sweet fragrance, is a liquid version of the most essential elements of Thai cooking and appear to have originated in China.

Tom Yum Kung
Thai food is renowned as one of the hottest cuisines; its use of chilies is world renowned and feared by the uninitiated. With so much use of chilies in Thai cooking it’s hard to believe that chilies are not indigenous, but introduced to Thailand by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
There is lots of chili varieties used in Thai cooking and they use different ones to match different dishes. The much used tiny bird’s eye chili (phrik kee ngoo; mouse droppings) is famous for its heat, the Thais say it gives them power and strength. Long, or sky-pointing, red, green or yellow chilies are milder and are used in salads, stir-fries and curries, especially in northern Thailand were dishes are less scorching.
Dried chilies are also used to gives a more mellow taste to dishes, they are soaked in hot water to soften and used in Thai curry pastes, very similar to some Indian techniques. While dishes containing fresh green chilies tend to be cooked for a shorter time to keep flavors fresh, red curries made with dried red chilies are cooked a little longer to give a nutty, spicy taste and fragrance.
The contribution of the royal court to the cooking of Thai food is perhaps more significant than in any other nation. Thai royalty, by using food as a status symbol to set themselves apart from their agricultural society, elevated the art of cooking to high culture and encouraged immense creativity among Thai cooks. It was thus the aristocracy who mainly recorded Thai recipes, with even kings penning their own cook books.
Royal cuisine has, despite this, always been surprisingly similar to the food eaten by the majority of the population, the biggest difference being the quality of produce and exquisite presentation. Elegant, subtle and refined, this Thai cuisine tends to be served as part of a multi-course affair, the emphasis on smaller portions and beautiful fruit and vegetable carving, an art form passed down from the royal court to the humblest Thai in a village.
Tom yum kung as a whole dish is hard to trace. The origin of adding prawns, there is no evidence where a Thai spicy soup with prawns originates from.
We can write about many aspects of tom yum, including its medical properties, written historical evidence from poems and songs and some of the first Thai cook books, Thai royal court, religion, and the Sukhothai to Ratthanakosia periods (1157 to present)
In the case of Thai cuisine, the formation of the culinary form came about in a landscape dominated by the culture of the central Thais, and led by their aristocratic elites. Two factors played an important part in this formulation; first, the social dynamic of Thai settlement, and secondly, the emergence of Bangkok as a political and cultural center of Siam following the fall of Ayutthaya (Old Thai capital) in 1767.
Thai cuisine has been influenced by Indian curry and Chinese stir- frying techniques. In fact traditional curry pastes and Thai cuisine has its own culinary style and the most complex and refined in Asia. Thai cuisine today can be divided into seven subsidiary variations. Six of these are distinguishable regional variations, Northern or (Lanna), North-Eastern or (Isan), Eastern, Sothern, Central Plains and Bangkok. The seventh variation is the Royal Court Cuisine.
The culture of food responds to major political happenings, changes in the territorial order of regimes, great discoveries, the outcome of wars, and the triumphs and defeats of countries.
Thai cuisine has been a product of transnational interactions. During the long period of the 16th- 11th centuries the Dvaravati kingdom was influenced by Indian culture. In the 15th century, Khmer cooks introduced Indian food patterns such as curries and boiled sweets.
There is evidence of human interaction starting in the Sukhothai period (1157-1438 A.D.) and the capital of Ayutthaya (1350-1767) and its succession of kings both weak and strong, until the fall of the Thai capital of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767. One of the generals of the last king of Ayutthaya, known as Phya Taksin, succeeded in driving the Burmese out of the country. He became the king of Thailand and moved the capital from Ayutthaya which was in ruins and mostly depopulated, to Tonburi on the banks of the Chao Phraya River (1767-1782)

The ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram at Ayutthaya

King Rama I of the present Chakri dynasty succeeded king Taksin in 1782 (Ratthanakosin period, 1782-present). So to understand the cuisine of Thailand it is important to trace back these different periods of time in history.
During the Sukhothai period it was an important commercial center for the trade of food. This era of history was the emergence of traditional (muang) administration with Indian mandala concepts of the centralized state.
Since the 13th century, concentrated Thai political settlements have been called (muang). With no clear defined boundaries, the muang were subjected to the authority of much larger muang and above this were the ruling landlords called (chao) which controlled the huge labor forces called the (phrai). This can also be seen in the vocabulary of Thai cuisine in which rice for noble (khao chao) and rice for the commoner (khao phrai). This can be traced back in history to the ancient Mons in the Chao Phraya River delta and comes about by the rulers importing good quality rice from foreign traders for their consumption, leaving the commoners to eat the inferior rice. So it was the Chao that came to control most of the trade that came to Siam from other parts of Asia. Many of these traders settled on Siamese shores. In the early days of the capital Ayutthaya there were settlements of Chinese, Viet, Cham, Mon, Portuguese, Arab, Indian, Persian, Japanese and Malay. This was a bubbling pot of culture and trade that heavily influenced Thai cuisine. Some of the curry pastes that evolved in the Sukothai period are very similar to that of the present day Massaman Curry.
In this period aquatic animals, plants, and herbs are extensively used, the origin of the Thai diet which begins with water borne communities consuming rice and fish. This can be seen clearly on King Ramkhamhaeng’s (1279-1298) famous stone inscription, so it’s clear that at this time rice and fish are major ingredients in the then Thai cuisine.
It was under the rule of King Narai in 1685 that the cooks were cooking Chinese, French, Japanese, Persian, and Portuguese dishes. At this time there was one very important addition to Thai cuisine, the chili, introduced to Ayutthaya by the Portuguese and was included in many dishes to add more spice (heat). In that time before chilies were introduced the spice (heat) used in dishes was pepper.
King Nari was noted by the Persian Ambassador as having a keen liking for Indian cooking and this became part of the Royal kitchen at the time.
Largely ignored in historical records is the trade and interaction between the Thai muang and its hinterland which was less obvious and based on basic culinary skills and ingredients, but is revealed in Thai language, The Thai word for snack is (khanom) and dervived from old Khmer, and language from Lao. So rural people (Chao Chonabot), stand in great contrast to the Thai muang which are developing more complex cuisines. A constant with both the Chao Chonaba and the muang can still be heard today with the common expression like that of “kin khao, kin pla” which means “eat rice, eat fish” which can be used as a reference to food or as a polite greeting to somebody. It is very common to hear an older Thai person great somebody or you with “kin khao reu yung?”(have you eaten rice yet?)
By the 15th century, Ayutthaya had become a seaborne trading city, having close proximity to Siam, it was first influenced by the Chinese (Chin) which stretched back to the 13th-14th centuries. By the 15th century, Ayutthaya had become a crossroads between Chinese and the Indian Ocean trade. Another important thing that happened in this period was the introduction of the iron wok, spatula, and the techniques of stir-frying from the Chinese, particularly from the Hokkien dialect group. In Siam there are reportably five groups of Chinese that settled in Siam. The Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, Cantonese, and Hakka, all referred by the Thais as (Chin). The Chinese are a very important part of the rise of Thai cuisine, first dominated by the Hokkien from the 15th century onwards, and the other being the Teochew, which are interwoven with the rise of Bangkok in the early 19th century. After the fall of the Ming dynasty and the rise of the Qing (Manchu) in 1644, a large number of Hokkien fled China and joined the Hokkien community in Ayutthaya. Many were ennobled by the Ayutthaya king’s during those times, and a network of alliances were established between the Thai court and the Hokkien community.
At the time it was very clear that the trade was in full swing, with the Chinese market (talat chin) in Ayutthaya offering meals that were not available to the court of King Nari, Simon de la Loubere (1642-1729), observed that the Chinese can eat anything, even cats, dogs, horses, and mules.
But it can be said that the Chin were not as strong a link to the nobles as the ‘Farang’s” and the “Khaek’s”. In the Thai language of that time and still very much used in Thai language today it seems the Thai word ’Farang’ is used to indicate every white-skinned foreigner and could come from the medieval Arabic word (fangi) or a French word ‘frac’. The word for guava in Thai is also farang! This fruit was introduced by the Portuguese about 400 years ago, and ‘Khaek’ is used to indicate to Indians, South Asians, Middle-easterners, Persians, Indo-Malay’s and most Asian Muslims. In the early Thai cook books farang referred to Portuguese influence, and khaek to Islamic, Persian accent.
The first farangs to arrive in Siam were the Portuguese, who established an embassy to the court of Ayutthaya in 1511, following their capture of the port city of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. It is documented they began to settle and build a trading station in Ayutthaya during the reign of King Chairacha (1534-1546). Soon came the Spanish, Dutch, English, Dannes and the French throughout the 16th century and early 17th century. This period shows a strong link between the Portuguese traders and the Ayutthaya court and many new ingredients and cooking techniques into Siam.
After the fall of Ayutthaya (1350-1767) came the new settlement of the capital Thonburi (1767-1782) on the banks of the Chao Phraya River (River of Kings). The raise of King Taksin, and the turning point of the Hokkien, who enjoyed enormous favors from the Ayutthaya court, while the Teochew community were located outside Ayutthaya’s city walls in the port area of ‘Bann Suan Plu’. After King Taksin established Thonburi as his royal capital, he grew in favor of the Teochew by giving them land on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Royal Palace. During this time, many Teochew families rose to prominence which encouraged more Teochew to migrate from China and the Hokkien-Teochew divided which can be seen today with the location of the old Hokkien temples which are in Thonburi, while the old Teochew temples are on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River.
Thai cuisine reflects the way people have an identity with the cultural landscape. Initiated by the royal court and two-centuries in the making show how the Thai culinary culture views itself in terms of social classes, gender roles, and importantly national identity.
A social site that is important to add, is the role the temple (Wat) played as a religious center of the community and its important to add that most Thais practice the form of Theravaada Buddhism which does not prohibit or discourage the eating of meat except as a voluntary practice. These temples were grounds for cooking techniques, raw ingredients collected from the countryside and those acquired through trade. Through the daily giving of alms to the monks for merit making (tham bun) gave an ongoing communication about food from the surrounding communities. This can be seen in the North-Eastern parts of Siam which is now referred to as an area called Isan and has close borders with Lao; even the language spoken is different today as the language spoken in Bangkok.
In the Thonburi period came about the formation of written evidence in the way of cookbooks, poems, and songs about the diet of the era.
One of the first cookbooks gave birth through the Royal Court and was published in 1908 by Lady Plian Phasakorawong (1847-1912), the cookbook was called ‘skillful women cooks’(Mae khrua hua pa) perhaps a celebration by Lady Plian to the role of women cooks in the Siamese court, stretching back to the time of Ayutthaya.
The Thonburi farang community centered around the Santa Cruz catholic church built in 1770 and the Khaek, Islamic community of Klong (canal) Bang Luang, which still has a Sunni mosque today. This area grew with the exodus out of Ayutthaya in 1767 and many surviving nobles close to the Bunnag family settled in this area of Thonburi and its possible that Lady Plian discovered some culinary delights along the waterways of Klong Bang Luang. Like the Thai dish (Kaeng Mussaman), the word Mussaman means ‘Muslim’ (Curry of the Muslim). Today Klong Bang Luang is known as Ýan talat khaek’ (Khaek market) and one of the reasons many Muslims settled in the area was the market selling Halal produce. First settled by the Persians, the area was also populated in the 20th century by Malay Sunnis from Pattani after the sultanate of Pattanni was annexed by Siam in 1909.

Buddha Loetla Nabhalai portrait.jpg
King Rama II

In 1811, King Rama II appointed eight committees to the task of surveying all arable land in the central plains area. He ordered that all land must be cultivated and anyone found to own large stretches of uncultivated land would be required to hand it over to the state. All the landowners were obliged to pay a land tax, which was usually paid in rice-a tax known as “Khawka”. As well as practical reforms, the king ordered that customary ceremonies were to be carried out before measuring land, such as making offerings to the spirits of the fields on ceremonial days and anyone caught doing so would have his land confiscated and given to others.
It was well known that Rama II was a lover of the arts and in particular the literary arts. He was an accomplished poet and anyone with the ability to write a refined piece of poetry would gain favor of the king, this led to him being dubbed the “poet king”. It was because of this special circumstance that the poet Sunthon Phu was able to elevate himself from Phrai status to Khun and later Phra. Also known as the drunken writer-Sunthon Phu authored numerous works, many included the foods of the Royal Court, which gives us an insight to that era.

                              Taken from the poem “Nirat phu khao thong”
                               In front of the wharf I saw the king’s boat-
                              Tears came to my eyes at the memory,
                              when the golden palanquin would be.
                              The king was want to compose poetry,
                              which it was my duty to recite.
                              Through the long, long Kathin ceremony,
                              to his satisfaction and my delight.

It is only in “Suphasit Son Ying”were Sunthorn Phu describes the ability to prepare ‘Tom Yum’as part of the desirable qualities that adds charm to a woman and also we can find written evidence during the reign of King Rama V (1853-1910), Tom Yum has become part of the Royal Thai cuisine. It this era Thais used mostly fish (dried fish or fish heads) in the preparation of Tom Yum. In the early days, the markets did not offer prawns in a wide variety or affordability of today.
The first “Tom Yum” recipe was recorded in Thai in 1889 and that recipe for hot and spicy freshwater fish soup (Tom yum pla mor). The recent discovery of more than half a dozen Thai recipe books, all published before 1990, has made it possible for us to savor a fine selection of these dishes from the 19th century. Two of these included “Tom yum pla mor (Hot and spicy soup with common climbing perch), and “Tom yum pla kraben”(Hot and spicy stingray soup).
The scholar and astrologer Prayoon Uroochato, born1921, said that “Tom Yum” originated during the Ratanakosin period, which began with the founding of Bangkok as the capital in 1782. Liked by foreigners and Thais alike. It is always in the top ten list of not only most delicious, but also most famous and popular foods in the world.
Thai food has now gained popularity around the world with the combination of all flavors, offering health benefits from herbs which are part of the ingredients of “Tom Yum”.
The famous “Tom Yum” has been popularized around the world. Containing medical properties with the ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chilies, the “Tom Yum Kung” is not complicated to prepare. The English word for “Tom Yum Kung” is Spicy Soup with Prawns.

Bundles of lemon grass, galangal,
lime leaves sold in a Thai market
There is no evidence where a Thai food named “Tom Yum Kung” originated from. Mr. Sujit Wongtes, a well-known Thai writer, once wrote about Tom Yum Kung that Äfter the culture of rice had been brought from India to Thailand through Andaman Sea trade and Brahmanism-Buddhism, Thai food was changed. Varieties of soup were introduced. Thick soup with coconut milk is influenced by Indian food, whereas clear soup is influenced by Chinese soup.
Neung Nillarat who was a cook in the Rama V Royal Court, talked about clear soup of Tom Yum Kung that “We have to select medium-sized fresh giant freshwater river prawns, wash the prawns, discard the legs, chop off tentacles and peel the shells from the prawns without removing the heads and tails. Use the knife edge to pull the dark vein of the prawn out. The prawns for the soup should not be cut at the back. After pouring water in the pot, adding the herbs like galangal, smacked lemongrass and heating it, peel the heads of the prawns to pull the dirt out and toss in the prepared prawns when the water is boiling with fish sauce, bird’s eye chilies, lime juice and garnish the soup with chopped coriander leaves before serving. This is how the Thai nobilities eat. The prawns can be from anywhere, but must be fresh and of medium size”. She said.
These prawns talked about came from the Chao Phraya River, and Ayutthaya province, and other water ways where the prawns are found.
The Thais call these prawns “Kung kam kram”and in English they are called the Giant Malaysian Prawn (Latin; M. Rosenbergii), most Thais would pass on the best steak, pork or even the best fillet of fish for a giant river prawn, large, male, long claws and a coloration that combines green with deep blue.
These prawns have always been expensive and needless to say, they were not eaten much by the general public. For a Thai with a low-paying job such as a laborer, they would have to work for three days to be able to pay for just one of them. 60 years ago they cost about 100 Baht a kilo.
To the fishermen that caught them, it was work that brought them a very attractive income, but to be successful required experience and great patience. A fisherman might have to sit in a little boat all day and all night before catching just one. Then came “greed. The giant Malaysian prawns disappeared from the Chao Phraya River a long time ago due to fishermen using chemicals and explosives to catch this expensive prawn, which in turn led to the prawns not reaching maturity to breed. Also responsible was the changing river environment. The river was no longer clean, and the natural environment for the prawns had disappeared.
In the prawns life cycle, when the female’s belly is full of eggs and she is ready to release them to hatch she will swim to the brackish water where the river flows into the sea and the amount of salt water in with the fresh water is about 15%. Once the baby prawns hatch they swim against the current to reach fresh water. They continue swimming to find food, zooplankton, small worms, crustaceans, algae, aquatic plants, mollusks, and aquatic insects.
There is change happening, but as normal, it’s always too late before us humans do something about it. Thailand contains many watercourses and rivers that were once full of these giant prawns; the Chao Phray, the Tha Jeen in Samut Sakhon,and the Maeklong in Samut Songkhram.
The ’Kung Kam Kram’ is on the comeback trail thanks to some communities hard work, the department of Fisheries, and individuals insights. A great success is the fishermen along the Trat River, who through the Department of Fisheries Freshwater Promotion Division followed a few simple steps, a stop to illegal prawn fishing methods, and throwing female prawns with eggs back into the river. Today the community market has these giant prawns for sale, and they are not expensive. Unlike the giant prawns in Ayutthaya , some the size of your forearm are not caught in the local rivers as you are led to believe, but there is a huge trade of these prawns flown in from Myanmar (Burma) on a daily basis. These prawns come mostly from Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River.
Once an expensive delicacy, but now almost impossible to find, there is still hope for the giant river prawn if communities work together and follow a few simple rules.
As mentioned Thai food offers health benefits from some of the ingredients used in the recipes such as herbs. Tom Yum Kung uses lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce, and coriander leaves.
Lemongrass is available year round and botanically known as “Cymbopogon Citratus”, part of the Poaceae family and is a tall perennial grass. Lemongrass is native to Sri Lanka, South India, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, and for centuries has been commonly used for therapeutic treatments. Lemongrass can be easily propagated and is commonly found and used as an essential oil. Generally there will be more color of purple and blue in the base of the plant closest to its root source. Younger lemongrass will display a sweet tropical citrus aroma. The stalk and bulb will be tender to the touch. The older the plant, the more fibrous and less flavorful it will be.
Oil is extracted from lemongrass for its high vitamin A content. It is also used as an addition to teas and herbal soups. Its medical properties make it extensively useful in Ayuruedic medicine.
The distinctive herbal citrus flavor and aroma of lemongrass lends itself well to many Asian dishes, when lemongrass was first introduced to Thai cuisine, it was used to mask meats ‘gamey ’smell. Lemongrass also has antifungal properties, and the oil is used as a pesticide, and preservative.
If you were to visit a Thai kitchen, you would most likely meet up with this gnarly-looking root and wonder what it could be called-Galangal. Though it looks a little like ginger, the skin is a different color, more red than brown, and if you were to slice it open; you would find the inside perfectly white (unlike ginger’s yellowish flesh).
In Thai cooking, fresh galangal adds flavor, sweet and a little heat. It adds depth to many dishes, and interestingly, galangal is sometimes referred to by Thai cooks as a de-fisher, since it is known to help eliminate any unwanted “fishy “smells.

Galangal rhizome ready to be prepared for cooking

Galangal is now grown in most Southeast Asian countries, but was first harvested for use in cooking and medicine in China and Java. By the middle Ages, galangal had traveled extensively, and was already in common use throughout Europe. Referred to as “the spice of life “by St. Hidegard of Bingen (1098-1179), galangal was, in fact, one of her favorite remedies. This famous herbalist used galangal to treat everything from deafness and heart disease to indigestion.
During the 13th-14th centuries, galangal was used by the Turkic peoples (who occupied much of present-day Russia) as a tea, and by the Arabs as a stimulant for their horses. It was used extensively throughout the East as a snuff for nasal infections, and in both Europe and Asia as an appetite stimulant and aphrodisiac.
Galangal has been found effective as a remedy for indigestion, seasickness, nausea, ulcers, rheumatism, colds, flu, fevers, dementia, bad breath, diarrhea, poor blood circulation, and some tumors.
The kaffir lime tree is a tropical citrus valued for its fragrant leaves and its fruit’s peel (rind). The kaffir lime tree is also called ‘Thai makrut’ and its leaves, ‘bai makrut’.
The leaves of the kaffir lime tree are two-toned with a dual textural finish as well. The upper sides of the leaves are a glossy deep green while the undersides of the leaves are a matt green. The leaves grow in pairs from stem to stem. Sizes can vary from leaf to leaf, though they each have a teaspoon shape with pointed ends that can also be sharp, certainly a natural defense mechanism. The fragrance and essence of the kaffir lime leaf is incomparable. It has an abundant sweet citrus bouquet that lingers to the nose and touch. Mature darker green leaves are preferred for use over the younger, less aromatic leaves.
Kaffir lime leaves are widely used in Thai cooking and in Laotian cuisine. The leaves are never eaten whole, but rather steeped and later removed, or sliced very thinly. Their mildly herbal citrus flavor can be used to infuse desserts such as custard and ice-cream. The leaves can be frozen to extend their self-life.
The kaffir lime tree is native to landlocked Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and other parts of South Asia. The trees thrive in warm, humid climates and like other citrus varieties are extremely sensitive to cold and frost.
According to historical accounts, the Portuguese were the “birds” who dropped chilies into the thumbs of the Thais in the 16th century, after the Spanish initially transported them from the New World to Europe. Some accounts suggest that chilies, because of their high concentration of vitamin C, were eaten by sailors together with ginger, as a preventative against scurvy, long before it was discovered that oranges could perform the same function.
Researchers believe nearly all the different kinds of chili around the world are descendants of plants native to South and Central America. Chilies have been cultivated by Native Americans since around 6000B.C.

Thai peppers.jpg
Several bird's eye chilis on a shrub

The little bird’s eye chili in Thailand is called ”Phrik kee noo” (Mouse poo chili) and is a Thai-cultivated variety of the New World chili, now called “Thai chilies” in markets around the world. Small and slender, they are intensely hot. The smaller they are, the hotter they seem to be. In fact, there is a strain called “Phrik kee noo suan”, which is no longer than the head of a nail, but packs a big bang. Their hotness, however, is not the only quality that has endeared them to the Thai people; they have a distinctive fragrant taste that spicy food enthusiasts grow to love. Substituting with other kinds of chilies can be disappointing.
Prik kee noo chilies turn from a deep green to bright red when they ripen. The green ones may delay releasing their full potency, catching up with you when you are unsuspecting. These chilies dry easily for future use by being left out uncovered on a plate in the kitchen.
Limes (Ma nao), and not lemons are the main citrus that gives the sharp sour and zesty flavor that Thai people so love. The larger, thick-skinned, yellow lemon is a temperate-climate citrus and does not grow in tropical Thailand. There is, however, confusion in the use of English terminology among Thai people, and limes are erroneously referred to as “lemons” in Thailand. Perhaps the reason is; the first westerners to translate local language into English did not know what limes were and called them lemons since they are sour like lemons. As a result “lemon” has stuck and “lime” does not exist in Thai people’s English vocabulary. So use fresh limes whenever possible, but avoid the pre-squeezed or bottled varieties, which lack freshness of flavor.
Thai limes are smaller than Australian, American and European limes, but they are packed with flavor and juice. They are also a little sweeter and more similar to key limes. Because limes can vary in degree of sourness, as well as juiciness, the best thing to do when working with a recipe calling for fresh lime juice is to go by taste.
When buying limes, select ones with smooth, shiny skin and a good weight for their size. They should not be hard; there should be some give when squeezed to indicate ripeness and juiciness. To get more juice out of your limes, roll them on a hard surface, applying pressure to break the juice sacs, or let the limes sit in hot water for a few minutes to soften.
The anchovy is not a universally loved fish. In fact, that may be understating the matter. A lot of people hate the pungent, bottom of the ocean flavor of anchovies. The humble anchovy is a food that divides a room that is fish sauce. You may be interested that Worcestershire sauce is mainly vinegar, tamarind and anchovy!!

An assortment of prepared fish
sauces on sale in Thailand

Thai cooking relies heavily on fish sauce, as do the cuisines of Vietnam, Indonesia and southern China. Called ”Nam pla” in Thai, fish sauce is the seasoning that provides much of the saltiness in Thai cooking, as soy-sauce does in Chinese cooking, also it has a very short ingredients list. It’s essentially just anchovies and salt (it can be made with other fish as well).
Nam pla is made by layering those two ingredients in big barrels and leaving it to ferment under the hot sum over the course of several months. The anchovies break down in their own juice, and the resulting liquid is extracted, filtered, sweetened with a little sugar, and bottled.

Phrik nam pla is served with
nearly every Thai meal

We have no way of knowing exactly when fish sauce was first used in Asia, but during the era when it was the principal flavoring ingredient of the Roman Empire, it would make sense to send it eastwards as a trade or gift item. But for this to happen, it would have presumably arrived in northern China, spread to Korea and Southeast Asia within the next 1000 years, but then faded from use in China itself. To be somewhat skeptical there is reason that Asia gave rise to fish sauce first. However it is possible that it was invented independently in two different places, the Mediterranean and China or neighboring nation.

Sa Va Tu'o'ng O't Prawn and Noodles Soup

Sa Va Tu'orn ot Prawn and Noodles Soup

I have gone Posh with this recipe.  Posh Pickles based in Cheshire recently sent me a jar of Vietnamese Sa Va Tu'o'ng O't relish to try out.

I enjoy using new ingredients also mixing and matching ingredients from different countries.  This lemongrass and chilli relish had a lot to prove being a Great Taste 2015 award winner plus Silver at the World Hot Sauce Awards.  It definitely did not disappoint with it's delicate lemony essence balanced by the chilli to give it a slight kick.

I am sure this relish would work well in a more robust dish but I wanted to see if it faired as well in a more delicate seafood dish using prawns and noodles.  I have also used a dash of mirin and teriyaki sauce which go well with seafood plus some sugar snap peas and baby sweetcorn.

The combination worked exceptionally well and it was a thumbs up from the family when I made it. I can highly recommend this relish and will definitely be using it again.

Ingredients Serves 4

350g Prawns
250g Noodles
2 tsp Sa Va Tu'o'ng O't
1 tsp Teriyaki sauce
1 tsp Soy sauce
1 tsp Mirin
75g Sugar snap peas
100g Baby sweetcorn
Sprig of coriander
Lime quartered (optional)
1000ml water

I buy my prawns from our local asian food store as they are much cheaper than the supermarkets.  I have to peel and devein them myself but this does not take long.

Prawns peeled and deveined
Chop up the vegetables ready to be cooked.

Baby sweetcorn and sugar snap peas ready to be chopped
In a large saucepan add the water, Sa Va Tu'o'ng O't relish, teriyaki, Mirin and soy sauce and vegetables.  Bring to the boil then Sa Va Tu'o'ng O't turn down and allow to simmer gentle for a few minutes.  In another saucepan with plenty of water cook the noodles for 5 to 6 minutes.

About 2 minutes before the noodles are ready pop the prawns into the Sa Va Tu'o'ng O't broth.

Once the prawns are ready drain the noodles and serve into 4 separate bowls.  Using a ladle add the prawn and Sa Va Tu'o'ng O't broth to each dish and serve with some chopped coriander and a quarter of lime which can be squeezed onto the dish.
The finished dish ready to be eaten

Thai Fish Cakes

These I serve as a side dish with a Thai curry.  We first had them when visiting a street market in Bangkok and they have been a firm favourite in our household ever since.   They are very easy to make and only take a few minutes to cook in oil.
Thai Fish Cakes
Makes 8 fish cakes
300g of firm white fish
1 tbs of red curry paste (I used a good quality Thai Curry paste such as May Ploy)
100g green beans chopped
A small bunch of coriander chopped 
Juice of 1/3 lemon
1 tsp of fish sauce 
1 free range egg

300g of firm white fish
Place the fish in a food processor and blend until the fish is a fine mixture, be careful not to allow the mixture to become pureed. 

Chopped green beans

Chop up the green beans finely and then add all the contents into a mixing bowl.  Mix all ingredients together making sure that the curry paste especially has combined well with everything else.

Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl

When all the ingredients are combined make the cakes, there should be enough for about 8 evenly sized cakes.

Make some cakes from the mixture
You can then either shallow fry or deep fry the fish cakes using sunflower oil.  On this occasion I shallow fried the cakes.  Using a frying or saucepan placed enough oil in the pan so that it would just cover the cakes when placed in the pan.  Heat the oil until you can see it starting to bubble slightly.  Carefully place the fish cakes in the oil, as I was using a frying pan I was able to put four in at a time, if you are using a smaller pan you might have to do them two at a time.  Cook until browned and then place in a preheated oven about 120C to keep warm and then cook the remaining cakes. When ready either serve as a side dish with a Thai Curry or as a snack with some salad and Thai chilli Sauce.
Thai fish cakes ready to eat

Thai Stir Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts

(Excellent mid-week supper which is quick and easy to prepare)
Ingredients for the stir fry

This recipy is based on one of the dishes that  that we cooked whilst attending the excellent Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School in Chang Mai (you will find the original recipe by following the link). We were over there last November and this school came highly recommended to us by our guide on a 2 day trek we did in the Thai hills around Chang Mai.

Having attended other Thai cooking schools on previous trips I was a bit wary of going especially as we were attending as a family, including my 13 and 9 year all daughters.  But it turn out to be a great success, the teacher's English was excellent, the ingredients were all fresh from a local market which we also visited and all of us were able to prepare the meals from scratch.  The best part, which goes without saying, was eating the meals hot straight from the wok.  Having said that I still occasionally wake up in a cold sweat thinking of the large knifes and wok of boiling oil my 9 year old daughter used to cook her meals but she thought it was great.

The ingredients I have used here are nor exactly the same as what we had in the cookery school but that is the beauty of this dish is that you can improvise with what you have in the fridge.  The main thing about this dish is to get everything chopped and ready before hand because once you start cooking it comes together quickly.

Serves 4
For this dish you want your ingredients to be similar in size as demonstrated in the picture above.
500g chicken thighs cut into 5 or 6 slices (you don't want them too thick or they won't cook all the way through)
120g cashew nuts
1 onion cut in half then into slices
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 carrot pealed and sliced
1/2 red pepper sliced
1 pak-choi rip leaves to even size
1 spring onion diced
5 red dry chillies
2tbs cooking oil
3tbs oyster sauce
2tbs fish sauce
1tbs brown sugar

Using a frying pan place it on a medium heat and add the cashew nuts. Occasional toss the nuts until they have turned a golden brown then remove from the heat and allow to rest.

Place the oil in a wok on high heat and when it starts to bubble add the onions, stir gently for a couple of minutes then add the garlic and dried chillies (turn the heat down slightly or they will burn)
Add the carrots and keep stirring for another minute
Add the chicken and cook for a minute but keep stirring
Add the peppers and pak-choi, after a minute turn up the heat to full and add the oyster sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Keeping stirring gently for a further 3 to 4 minutes and when the chicken has cooked through add the cashew nuts and spring onions to garnish and serve with boiled rice.

Kaeng Kua Prawn and Fish Curry

Curry pastes is an essential ingredient for so many Thai curry dishes. There is a wide variety of pastes that can be used from the usual green, red and yellow to Kaeng Kua, Prik Khing and Massaman pastes.  Quite often there is only a subtle differences in the ingredients which affects the heat and aroma of the curry.  Many pastes are  regional and will be influenced by the meat or fish to be used.

Different types of Thai curry pastes for sale at a market in Hat Yai, in southern Thailand
Different types of Thai curry pastes for sale at a market in Hat Yai, in southern Thailand

When I started cooking I use to make all my own pastes and occasionally still do but it can be difficult to get all the authentic ingredients.  Making your own paste is extremely satisfying but time is required to get the best result as you need to grind the ingredients individually before pounding them together. Due to the time needed to make the paste most Thai people wont make their own but will buy it from the local market. They will buy the meat, vegetables and the prepared paste from stalls in the market before taking them home to cook the evening meal.

There are now some very good Thai curry pastes available to buy either in Asian food stores or on-line. Brands which I use and to look out for are either
Mae Ploy or Maesri

For this dish I have used a Maesri paste but if you would like to make your own I have included the ingredients for the paste at the end. This curry paste is best suited for fish and the flavour has more texture and depth which I don't feel the normal Thai red curry has, it is also my eldest daughter's favourite dish and we tend to have it most weeks.

There are many different methods of cooking Thai curries. I was shown this particular method by a good Thai friend.


1 1/2 tbs Kaeng Kua paste (hot, use less if you don't like your curry too hot)
400ml coconut milk
200ml of chicken stock (if you have your own better still otherwise mix a chicken stock cube  in 200ml of warm water.
1 tbs fish sauce (you can use soy sauce if you don't have fish sauce but not as good as it changes the flavour of the curry)
30g palm sugar (alternatively use brown sugar)
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
4 Thai green aubergines, chopped (each one into 4 small pieces) Not always the easiest to get hold of you can substitute with veg of your choice. I quite often use peas.
200g king prawns
200g white fish such as cod (diced 2 to 3cm)
Basil to garnish

1. Add the paste and coconut milk in a large pan, stir together and heat (high). You need to cook until the milk froths up in the pan (this will happen reasonable quickly) then add the stock. Turn the heat down to half.
2. Add the palm sugar, fish sauce and lemon juice one at a time and stir.  You now need to taste to get the balance correct for your palate.  If too hot add a little bit more sugar and lemon if not hot enough add a small amount of paste. The idea is to get a balance of taste between the salty, sweet, sour, bitter and hot or pungent
3. Add the Thai green aubergines (or peas) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add the prawns and fish and cook until the fish starts to flake.
When ready add to a serving dish, sprinkle with basil leaves and serve with steamed rice.

Ingredients for Thai Curry Paste – Kaeng Kua

12 Dried Red Chilies, roughly chopped
10 Shallots, peeled and chopped
20 Garlic Cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 Lemongrass Stalks, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp Coriander Roots, chopped
1 Tbsp Fresh Turmeric, grated
1 Tbsp Galangal, grated
1 Tbsp Kaffir Lime Peel, grated
1 Tsp Fermented Fish Paste

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