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Thai Food that isn’t Pad Thai

My husband and I just returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia. In Thailand, we visited Lampang, Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon Mountain in Chom Thong District, and the capital city of Bangkok. We literally booked round-trip tickets within a week of watching the Thailand episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown featuring Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame (even going to his favorite haunts in Chiang Mai). Through tasting preserved fish jerky to morning rice congee to Thai-iced tea to Dtam Som Oo (Thai Pomelo Salad), one constant that is obvious in almost all Thai cuisine are the vibrant colors.

Thailand’s flavor profiles and spices vary greatly in each region: this is due to many factors including palates of its own royal Ayutthaya or Lanna empires to Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Malaysian and Indian influence. Western impact, beginning in 1511 CE with the Portuguese, also brought now common crops like the chili pepper. At Santa Cruz Church on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Thonburri district, Portuguese influence is apparent.  Narrow, winding passageways meander through the Kudeejeen Portuguese Village where a special bakery remains that conjures treats as they were enjoyed centuries ago.

Common flavors in Thai food come from garlic, galangal (Thai form of ginger), coriander, cilantro, lemongrass, shallots, pepper, and kaffir lime leaves. I could not stop consuming Pandanus (also known as Screwpine!) teas made from pandan leaves,  a tropical plant replete with tons of medicinal benefits.

Some of my favorite dishes and street snacks were the savory green papaya and salted crab salad (som tum pu pla raa), “dry” Kuaytiaw Sukhothai noodles, and the sweet Coconut Rice Pudding Cake with Scallion (kanom krok). As they say in Thai:

เสน่ห์ปลายจวักผัวรักจนตาย – “English version: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” (Meaning: When a wife cooks well the husband will love her until the end of life.)

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