A recent assignment challenged me to identify and articulate Thailand’s most iconic flavors. The task entails looking beyond how people normally categorize food in Thailand to delve into the changing range of what’s available in the markets, restaurants and on the streets. In the initial sketch of Thailand’s semiotic palette, I came up with about five predominant flavor profiles. Tell me what you think:
1) Flavor Bombs
Why does Thai food convert so many to addicts and evangelists? Quite simply by infecting diners with love at first bite using a blitzkrieg on the taste buds by bombing them with overpoweringly sweet, sour, and spicy combinations.
2) Chinese Denizens
No culture’s cuisine is as ever-present in Thailand’s Bangkok capital as the relics of Chinese migration. The Chinese fingerprint can be found stamped on a ride array of dishes from morning porridge to all hours noodles and rice dishes.
3) Funky Fresh
Thai have a proclivity for combining dissimilar flavors. The most striking example is the use of several types of chili pastes and pairing them with blanched veggies, herbs, and even fresh fruit. This is quite common in several other snacks!
4) Bandwagon Besties
None of the previous three categories mention the most famous Thai dishes. Pad thai’s worldwide notoriety, the always sought after kow soy, and a long list of curries have been created or adapted for mass indulgence.
5) Coup d’ Taste
The emergence of redefined Thai cuisine, most easily seen in the higher end Thai restaurants, has freed haute Thai cuisine from being doomed to only inhabit hotel premises. Lately in Bangkok you can see those influences and the freedom to experiment, trickling down to more accessible restaurants.