Krua is the Thai word for kitchen.
I lived in Thailand (Eastern Seaboard) for more than 6 years in the nineties, married, had children, ran a guest house with restaurant, and formed the following opinion…
Thai cuisine is the best in the world
Food is everywhere in Thailand. It’s an obsession. When you bump into an acquaintance in Thailand you may talk about the weather, but you absolutely will talk about food. “Have you eaten (rice) yet?” is the stock question, the answer to which would be “Not yet” or “Eaten already”. Question number two where I lived would be “Have you showered yet?”, which for a long time struck me as rather intrusive, but I learned to accept it as friendly neighbourly concern.
The food culture in Thailand is quite different from the European model I grew up with. Here, we have learnt to produce while the weather is favourable, and preserve for the scarce months ahead. When I was a small child, that meant packing runner beans in huge jars of salt, bottling all kinds of fruits and vegetables and making jam and chutney. Soon every home had a deep freeze, and BAM!, virtually all our foods were available all year round with just a small amount of forethought and housewifely labour.
In Thailand, the weather is always warm, and several crops of rice can be sown and harvested through the year with a simple system of irrigation in place. There are always fish in the sea, coconuts and papayas on the trees, herbs in the garden; all you have to do is reach out and grab them. Food is bountiful in both its raw and prepared forms. Even my meagre patch of earth which was subjected to the daily onslaught of sea-salty spray, still proffered chillies, holy basil, papayas and wild bananas enough to keep us going.
Every street from the busy metropolis of Krung Thep (Bangkok) to the tiniest rural hamlet offers some delicious culinary delight that can be eaten there and then or taken home to eat with your own rice. On the market you can not only sit and enjoy a fabulous lunch of rice and something on top, but you can also take a little filled poly bag (or five) home with you, sealed with a rubber band wound round and round. All you have to do is cook a pan of rice, and, hey presto!, a family meal of (someone’s) home-cooked food with plenty of variety. And invariably delicious too!
My favourite road-side food stand has to be the Som Tam (green papaya salad) with chicken BBQ . It’s the perfect picnic lunch, being delicious as well as easy to eat with only the fingers. Sticky rice (for no meal is complete without rice) is used to scoop up the shredded salad, counter the effects of the chillies and soak up the greasy juices of the chicken. Manna from heaven!
Living by the sea, a lot of the food available came from within it. As well as all the fabulous fresh fish and shellfish being offered for sale, some local women would make a great dish called Ho Mok Plaa, a kind of fish and coconut “custard” cooked in a banana leaf case. This is how you can make this lovely dish at home…..
These are the ingredients you will need:
2 tablespoons of Red or Panaeng Curry Paste
2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
1 can coconut milk
a handful of Sweet Basil
a few boiled cabbage or Chinese Leaves (squeezed dry)
400g White Fish fillet
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 or 2 mild red chillies
2 or 3 kaffir lime leaves
a small handful of coriander leaves
You’ll need 4-6 (depending on size) ramekin dishes or small metal bowls (the type you would make an individual chocolate pudding in) and a steamer with lid.
Line each small dish with the cabbage leaves.
Mix the cornflour with 7 tablespoons of coconut milk and set aside.
In a large bowl mix together the egg, fish sauce, coconut milk and curry paste.
Stir in the fish, cut into bitesize pieces.
Spoon the fish mixture between the dishes, filling them to 1cm from the top.
Drizzle the cornflour/coconut mixture over the top.
Steam for approx 20 mins or until set
Sprinkle with finely shredded chillies and kaffir lime leaves.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
Eat with rice.