Thai Food from Foreign Influences

Aug 18, 2014

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Thai Food from Foreign Influences by Nine

Thai food is internationally famous with such a long history.  Whether chilli-hot or comparatively bland, harmony is the guiding principle behind each dish.  Not many people know that some of the well known Thai dishes and desserts originated from foreign influences, such as curry, noodles and Tong Yip/Tong Yod/Foy Tong (desserts/sweets).

Thai Curry and its history

Curry : The origin of the curry could go back to 1700 BC in Mesopotamia, according to Curry Flavor.  While cooking of curry probably originated in India, it was also became known in England as early as the 1300’s and could be even earlier.  The word “curry” comes from “Kari” which is from the Tamil language and was later anglicised into “curry.”  Curry powder is one of the oldest spice mixes and is most often associated with Indian cuisine.

The original Indian curry did not have any peppers in it since peppers were not originated to India. Christopher Columbus brought chili seeds from the new world and traded to India.  Because of the long history and adaptation into so many different cuisines, curry can have many different tastes and colours. Thai people can have about 3 colors in curry which use different kind of chilly as main ingredient.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_single_image image=”2997″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_rounded” css_animation=”fadeInUp” img_link_large=”yes” title=”Panang Curry”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]Thai cuisine is essentially a marriage of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai.  Thai people have taken foreign influences and transformed them into a cuisine uniquely their own.  They were learning foreign cooking methods and adapting them with substituting ingredients. The ghee used in Indian cooking was replaced by coconut oil, and coconut milk substituted for other dairy products. Overpowering pure spices were toned down and enhanced by fresh herbs such as lemon grass and galanga. Eventually, fewer and less spices were used in Thai curries, while the use of fresh herbs increased.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_single_image image=”2996″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_rounded” css_animation=”fadeInUp” img_link_large=”yes” title=”Keang Keiaw Kwan and Roti”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]How was curry introduced to Thailand?  Some say Buddhist monks from India brought curry to Thailand.  Indian curry and Muslim cuisine were introduced at a palace feast in honour of King Rama I at the turn of the 18th century.  Some of these dishes are still popular today including Masaman curry.  Masaman curry contains many dried spices including cinnamon and nutmeg.

Thai curry is quite different from Indian or Japanese curries.  Its main ingredient is coconut milk.  Thai curry does not use curry powder.  There are four kinds of Thai curry; red, green, Massaman and Panang curries.  The red curry is the most popular, the green is most spicy, Massaman is a little bit sour taste and Panang is basically peanut curry.  Whereas the Indians eat curries with Roti or Naan (Indian bread), the Thais eat them with steamed rice.

Thai Noodle

Noodles – “ Pad Thai” (fried noodles) : For many westerners, “Pad Thai” or, more accurately,  “Guay Teow Pad Thai (stir-fried rice noodles Thai-style) symbolises Thai cooking.  The name gives a hint that it is possibly of Chinese origins.  The word “Guay Teow” in Chinese refers to rice noodles.  “Pad” in Thai means to “fry” food.  It is likely that some early version of the dish came to Thailand with settlers crossing from southern China, who brought their own recipe for fried rice noodles.  Certainly the cooking style, stir-frying, is Chinese, and most food historians credit the Chinese with the invention of noodles. Thai food is basically Indo-Chinese in origin.  The cooked meats and vegetables in pad Thai resemble dishes prepared by the Cantonese and Tae Chiew (Chao Zhou in Mandarin) from China’s eastern Guangdong province.  Nevertheless, the flavours and textures are pure Thai.   History could be traced that Thai ancestors may be the Chinese T’ai (phonetically, “Dai”) people who migrated from southwest China in what is now the Yunnan province.   T’ai is the largest ethnic minority there still.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_single_image image=”2995″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_rounded” css_animation=”fadeInUp” img_link_large=”yes” title=”Padthai – no meat”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]“Pad Thai” was made popular by Prime Minister Pibulsonggram (also known as Field Marshall Plaek Pibulsonggram) during World War II by codifying and perhaps even creating it.  The government gave support and encouraged to popularise it because of its nutritious recipe.  By adding bean sprouts, peanuts, eggs, and meats to the noodles, the dish could dramatically improve the Thai diet and shift people away from the more traditional dietary staples of rice with Narm Prik (chili paste), leaves, and salt.  Now it has slightly been adapted to add tofu, shrimps, fish sauce and other seasonings as well.  “Pad Thai” became a convenient food and it may be the original fast food in Thailand.  Along with many other types of noodles, one can find “Pad Thai” in the roadside food stalls or at street vendors on wheeled noodle carts.  These vendors have perfected the recipe and become artists, specialists in making “Pad Thai”.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_single_image image=”2994″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_rounded” css_animation=”fadeInUp” img_link_large=”yes” title=”Pad Thai at Pad Thai Pitsamai”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]Among the cuisines of Southeast Asia, Thai food is unique. Thai cuisine is distinct from Chinese and Indian cuisines, both of which influenced Thai cooking.  Thai cooking is completely identifiable in its own right, incorporating all 5 tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_single_image image=”2993″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_rounded” css_animation=”fadeInUp” img_link_large=”yes” title=”Noodle with Pork”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]Experience famous Pad Thai with us.   

Thai dessert

Tong Yip/Tong Yod/Foy Tong :  These Thai desserts/sweets are influences from Portuguese who were the first European to visit Thailand in the 16th Century.  The most important person in the history of Thai desserts was Marie Guimar.  She was born in Ayuttaya 1664, whose father was Portuguese and mother was Japanese (who migrated to Thailand due to the repression of Christianity in Japan).  She married to a Greek sailor, Constantine Phaulkon, who quickly became highly influential at the Siamese court as he gained the trust and respect of King Narai.  This had caused great envy amongst the natives.  So after King Narai fell seriously ill and during the Siamese Revolution in 1688, Phaulkon was arrested and put to death.  Marie was sent to prison until the new reign of King Thaisa (1709-1733) who recognised how she could contribute her cooking skills to the palace.  She was put in charge of the royal household kitchen with troops of helpers working under her.  Marie was teaching the women in the palace the art of cooking, including many desserts from her native Portugal.

She introduced the methods of baking and the use of egg yolks and flour, techniques that were unknown in Thailand at that time.  In the Ayuttaya era Thais only used eggs for savoury dishes, so using them to make sweets was an astonishment for the Thais living in that period.  Till present time, most of the desserts taught by Marie still remain in everyday Thai cuisine and explains why many Thai desserts are based on egg yolks and sugar.  The most famous being Tong Yip, Tong Yod and Foy Tong which are variants of a family of Portuguese desserts known as ‘ovos moles.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_single_image image=”2992″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_rounded” css_animation=”fadeInUp” img_link_large=”yes” title=”Thai Dessert – Tong Yip , Tong Yod, Foi Thong, Med Kanoon”][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text]Thailand was a cross roads of East to West sea routes causing its culture and cuisine to be infused with Persian and Arabian elements.  Foreign recipes have been integrated with traditional Thai dishes, resulting in unique flavour that is unmistakably Thai.

Have you ever try the dish above? We would love to hear from your story.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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