Thailand and Vietnam lie on a common peninsula south of China and east of India. It ishome to Laos, Burma, and Cambodia. The climate is hot and moist. Much of the land is incredibly fertile - especially the huge delta at the mouth of the Mekong river. At almost 4200 km (2600 miles) this is one of the world's largest rivers. The river divides Cambodia from Vietnam and Thailand from Laos, but it also knits together a lush and verdant region.
Agriculture produces an abundance of rice and vegetables the year 'round. And the area's many rivers and the ocean provide much fish and shellfish. The food is fragrant with ginger, coconut, pepper, coriander, kaffir lime, lemon grass, Thai basil, and a hundred other exotic flavors and aromas. There is a kind of natural richness of flavor to foods that can be found no other place on earth.
As do Indian and Chinese cooking, Thai cooking depends heavily on rice. Indian flavors are present in the curries. Chinese flavors pervade many other dishes, especially the hot ones. In fact, the Thai tribal people are a major group in parts of the south central Chinese region of Hunan.
Victor Sodsook, in his book on Thai cooking, tells how he spent hours of his early childhood at his mother's side pulverizing garlic, ginger, and spices for curries and other sauces in a large mortar. Today he operates his own restaurant writes cookbooks, and gives Thai cooking classes. The first cooking session is to do exactly the same thing pulverize spices; for there is something magical that happens to you when you stand there with the the spices wafting up in front of your face. You develop a kind of sensual connection with the food that changes the way you approach cooking.
Sodsook's book is uncompromisingly Thai. I consider this vastly superior to the alternative. My main complaint with it is tha each dish seems to contain at least one ingredient not in my own kitchen. I would have to cook Thai food several times a week to warrant the investment in raw materials. Most problemmatic is fresh lemon grass for which there is no substitute. I cannot get that at the nearby supermarket which does, by the way, occasionally have prickly pear cactus fruit. Make a commitment to eating Thai food, and this cookbook is the first to turn to.
Also on my shelf is Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. If there is a book that can cultivate a reader's respect or even awe of a region's culinary culture, it is surely this book. The book has visual impact. And the writing is masterful. It seems a little too beautiful to use in the kitchen, and I forget to turn to it regularly.
Other Thai cookbooks I have no experience with; but I think this is a kind of food that every foodie must try. If for no other reason than to discover a whole new range of flavors in sauces, it is a kind of cooking that every adventurous cook must try.
Thai Cooking Noteworthy Sites
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.