With five main tastes tantalising the taste buds—salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter—Thai food creates a burst of flavours that is much relished. Thai cuisine is all about the intricacy of flavours, fine textures, soothing colours and many varieties of vegetables that give it its uniqueness. The cuisine largely depends on ingredients like galangal, holy basil, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind and jasmine rice that make it authentic and delicious.
Another important aspect is presentation. Thai food is always exquisitely presented with decorative serving platters adorned with carved vegetables and fruits. But the one thing that differentiates Thai food from Indian cuisine is the use of pastes, as against whole spices that are used in India.
Thai food in India maybe defined only through a few colourful curries that are Indianised by smaller establishments in a bid to attract customers. But Thai restaurants in five-star hotels and otherwise follow the norms of Thai cooking accurately to dish out the most authentic dishes.
It is believed that Thai cuisine has elements borrowed from coastal Indian food and this culinary osmosis is credited to the spread of Buddhism from India to Thailand. “Thailand’s geography, soil and climate produce unique ingredients that lend each dish their own element of surprise,” says Executive Chef Robin Batra of Rim Naam fine-dining restaurant in The Oberoi, Bengaluru. He also shares that the Thai turmeric, galangal, tamarind, basil, coriander and chillies are indigenous to their soil and they not only give their cuisine a blend of familiar flavours but also unique tastes.
“Even the consistency and flavour of their coconut milk is different from the Indian version, which makes their food different too. Thai food also uses ingredients like fish sauce and herbs like lemongrass which gives certain dishes an independent flavour profile,” he adds.
But are there enough options for vegetarians in Thai cuisine, considering that a lot of Thai food is non-vegetarian? Chef Prem Pradhan, Head Chef, Nara, replies, “Thai cuisine has a plethora of vegetarian options to choose from. Blessed with tropical climatic conditions, Thailand is home to several exotic fruits and vegetables. Another point to consider is the fact that Buddhism is practised by at least 95 per cent of the population in Thailand and most Buddhists are vegetarian. Thus, Thai cuisine has a variety of vegetarian options to choose from.” Keeping this in mind, Nara offers a dedicated vegetarian menu comprising everything from appetisers to mains to desserts.
Rim Naam- Bengaluru
At Rim Naam, in The Oberoi, Bengaluru the Yam Som O, a salad of fresh pomelo with Thai herb dressing, is a popular dish that patrons love. Typically consumed as an appetiser, the key flavours of the dish stimulate the palate and heighten hunger so that the meal to follow is enjoyed. For folks who are health-conscious, the salad can become a wholesome meal, accompanied by a tall glass of Thai iced tea. And the perfect ending would be mango sticky rice as dessert.
“The balance of flavours in this dish is unique. The tart flavour of the pomelo is complemented with the sweetness of Thai palm jaggery, while bird’s eye chillies provide the right amount of zing. The element of crunch comes from roasted peanuts, fresh shallots and fresh cilantro leaves that are used with their stem. The dressing is typically done with lemon juice, light soy and chopped garlic,” says Chef Batra, explaining the nuances of the dish.
Thai food is simple and its main focus is fresh and authentic ingredients, explains Chef Batra who adds that at Rim Naam they pay attention to both. “Our seafood is flown in fresh from Kochi or Chennai, and most of our ingredients are sourced from Thailand. The pomelo and jaggery used for this dish are also imported,” he says.
Bengaluru is blessed with great weather and Rim Naam’s alfresco setting simply adds to the joy of diners. Chef Batra ends by adding that Thai cuisine has a lot of vegetarian options, as Thailand grows a variety of vegetables on its soil, such as raw papaya, pea-aubergine, mushrooms, bak choy and yam.
Neung Roi- New Delhi
At Neung Roi, in Radisson Blu, New Delhi, the Porpia Phad Thai is a signature dish that patrons never tire of. In simpler terms, it’s a spring roll stuffed with phad thai, or noodles, along with chilli sauce. “The combination of the ingredients in this dish is its USP. The multiple flavours and textures in it make it a good meal to start off with,” shares Simmi Sood, the spokesperson from Neung Roi.
She adds, “Indians have become global citizens with their travels across the world. This has also made them eager to explore new cuisines. Thai food is no exception to this. But what works best is authentic flavours that are highly appreciated. Thai cuisine is extensive and there are many options for vegetarian eaters. In fact, the menu at Neung Roi has some amazing vegetarian options like Chormuang, which is one of the most popular dishes. It is basically a steamed butterfly pea flower-infused dumpling, filled with vegetables and served with sweet chilli sauce.”
Thai Pavilion- Mumbai
At Thai Pavilion, in Taj Vivanta, Mumbai, the menu is fresh and seasonal, and their signature vegetarian dish Som Tum, a young papaya salad combined with sweet and spicy sauces, is a favourite.
“This raw papaya salad is an all-time favourite Thai dish that perfectly combines sweet and spicy sauces for a mouth-watering meal. The dish also has garlic, sugar, lime juice and tamarind juice, along with freshly shredded green papaya, juicy tomatoes and peanuts,” reveals Ashrafi Matcheswala, General Manager, Thai Pavilion.
Thai cuisine is known for bold, aromatic dishes that balance fundamentally different flavours in each dish. “Overall, the five main tastes of Thai cuisine remind us of the six tastes [sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent]that Ayurveda recommends for a complete meal, and which are traditionally part of the Indian thali,” adds Matcheswala.
Talking about Indians and their love for food, she says, “Our country’s love affair with food is no secret. Moreover, cities like Mumbai have always been open to experimenting with food. Understandably then, Thai cuisine is growing to become one of the most loved cuisines in India, with its emphasis on lightly prepared dishes featuring strong aromatic components with a spicy edge.”
Patrons of Thai Pavilion also love the the Yum Ma Muang (raw mango salad with water chestnuts) and Tub Tim Grob (diced water chestnut with coconut milk).
At Thai Pavilion, some of the most delectable food options are vegetarian. Matcheswala says, “Most Thai dishes consist of rice or noodles, with vegetables and sauce on top. Meat is merely a part of Thai dishes and never its main focus. The flavours of Thai food come mainly from the sauces and vegetables, so it is easy to substitute tofu or other protein-based ingredients for meat and deliver a full vegetarian meal to any customer.”
Nara- BKC and Colaba in Mumbai
At Nara, the Yum Phak Boong Krob is a signature delicacy that has received much-appreciation. These are crispy-fried betel leaves served with chilli, lime and coriander dip tossed in with cubed tofu.
“This dish is unique as it makes for an ideal monsoon dish with the perfect amount of crunchiness that comes from the leaves. Enjoy with the dip on the side for the perfect melange of textures and flavours that will not only satisfy your taste buds but also your appetite,” shares Chef Prem Pradhan.
Rice is a pre-dominant staple of Thai cuisine and curries are a part of their meals, as also are Thai parathas and satays. A lot of crispy appetisers make their way into Thai cuisine as well. The use of spices, herbs and exotic vegetables is a part of both Thai and Indian cuisines, including tropical produce like coconut and mango that too find their way into them. “However, the use of condensed milk that gained prominence during unrest in Thailand, when milk was sparsely available, has stayed in the cooking culture. Thus, despite fresh milk being available now, condensed milk is still used extensively in Thai cuisine,” Chef Pradhan explains.
Apart from the the Yum Phak Boong Krob, the other vegetarian dishes that are appreciated by guests at Nara are Rak Bua Tord, crispy-fried lotus root chips in a sweet chilli sauce; Phad Thau Prik Kra Tiem, crispy tofu in chilli soy; and Yum Mamuang, a spicy mango salad.