But there is a lot to Thai cuisine other than its Red, Yellow and Green Curries. Thai cuisine is about striking a balance between the five different flavours - sweet,sour,pungent,bitter and salty. There can be umpteen variations in the sources of these flavours but achieving a harmony between them is what makes Thai cuisine so interesting and flavourful. Many dishes also have regional variations depending on whether they come from the North, North East, Central or South of Thailand.
There aren't many restaurants which make Thai food without overloading their curries with coconut milk and even fewer ones which use authentic Thai ingredients. Many Chinese restaurants also have a Thai section which may have a couple of noodle dishes, a few curries and some of the popular soups but don't go beyond that. When I was in Mumbai I used to love Thai Ban in its 6 table version when it began on Turner Road, Bandra - we enjoyed a lot of cheap but amazing meals there. I have been again to its swankier version about 5 years back and wasn't impressed at all - and if some of these reviews are anything to go by, it isn't even exclusively Thai anymore.
In Chennai, I loved Benjarong on TTK Road - they have an excellent variety of dishes and though the fish sauce has definitely been toned down to defer to predominantly vegetarian sensibilities, you can make out that they use traditional Thai ingredients as far as possible. Lotus at The Park in Chennai will also be remembered by me as a place where I had one of my most memorable meals and probably one of the most expensive too! Their fish steamed in pandanu leaves was exquisite.
Delhi has me still looking for a good reasonably priced Thai meal; I was sorely disappointed by Ego Thai - their curries were so creamy and bland and when I asked why it didn't have the traditional pungency, the waiter offered me chilli sauce!!! Kitchen in Khan Market does a fabulous Tom Yum Soup and two curries but not much else by way of Thai, since they have a mixed menu.
Which is why, when I'm really craving Thai food, I prefer making it at home. A friend and her daughter were visiting from Australia and after deciding that they would have been plied with enough 'desi" food for the last month or so they had been in India, I decided to go for Thai.
There was a variation of the Som Tam salad, Thai Noodle Soup and Thai Red Curry with steamed rice. It was a really soul satisfying meal for me - I hoped my guests liked it too! I will start with the salad and be posting the recipes of the other dishes in subsequent posts.
Som Tam ("som" means sour and "tam" means pounded) usually refers to a raw papaya salad which is spicy, sour and sweet - what I made was Som Tam Mia Noi - where Mia Noi means a "minor wife" - something which is explained here as referring to the variation in ingredients like a husband who has many wives!
Well, after that delightful explanation - lets get down to basics. I used just cucumber and cherry tomatoes since I wasn't sure whether the 8 year old (like many her age!) would be fussy about certain vegetables. You can use carrots, beansprouts and even cooked prawns. Since it was a vegetarian meal, I substituted the fish sauce (nam pla) which is usually a key ingredient, with soy sauce and palm sugar with a bit of jaggery. Pounding the garlic, chillies and jaggery along withn lime juice really combined the flavours and I would recommend it to simply mixing them together. I also added a dash of Fab India's Salad Dressing Thai Style - topped with some crushed and roasted sesame seed and peanuts it was really delicious.
Som Tam Mia Noi goes to A Fruit A Month (AFAM) - Cucumbers, which is being hosted by Neha of easyntastyrecipes and whose original creator is Maheswari of Beyond the Usual.
Som Tam Mia Noi
Cucumber -2 medium, fresh - peeled and cut into strips or slices
Cherry tomatoes - 5-6 halved
1 green chilli chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tbsp grated jaggery
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp Thai Style Salad dressing
Salt to taste
1 tbsp roasted and crushed peanuts
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
1. Pound the ingredients for the dressing together and keep aside. Add salt carefully since the soy sauce and salad dressing will both have salt in them as well as the seasoned cucumber.
2. Slice the cucumber and keep aside for 5 minutes after sprinkling a bit of salt so that the water drains out of it - don't keep it for too long, else it will turn dry.
3. Mix in the cucumber and the cherry tomatoes with the dressing and serve - I like it chilled.