Thai food is known for its spiciness, a lot of people wrongly assume that all food is spicy and the ones that aren’t are the ones that they are likely to stick to. However, as good as the local stall or bar is at knocking up a 7-minute, 40 baht Pad Thai, Khao Pad or Kai Jiaw, we naturally crave variety and that should not necessarily mean reverting back to Western stodge at “Club Cholesterol.”
A simple adaptation, a logical progression and the removal of the childhood one-liner, “I don’t like it” will open you up to a world of new delights or at worst, experiences that would have been out of your realm.
When I moved to Phuket, about eight years ago, I didn’t like tomato or cucumber, I liked only one type of vegetable – two if you count potato – had a completely different understanding of what Chinese food really was about and preferred fish that didn’t look at me while I was eating my chips. As for Thai food, I thought Piri Piri was awesome!
Nowadays, having opted to seek new experiences and never say no, it is easier for me to list what I don’t like – it’s still those pesky boggle-eyed fish… and chicken’s feet. Seriously, what is that all about?
The great thing about spicy Thai food and how it differs from cuisine such as those from India and the sub-continent is that Thai food uses fresh herbs and spices and therefore, the spiciness is more of a flash of fire than a slow-burner that continues until the next day’s ablutions.
There are no medals for eating the spicier food than your friends, unless it is daftness medals that are needed for the all-important collection. Despite the relative cleanliness of chilli heat as opposed to a mix of ground pure spices, you can get pretty uncomfortable by overdoing it. Less is more.
Building up a tolerance, adding a few coarsely chopped chilli to your next soup dish, your next home-cooked dish, a spoonful of chilli flakes in your next bowl of noodles or the Prik Nam Pla (chopped chilli in fish sauce) will all add depth and perception to your dish and your palate.
Remembering one of the commandments of cooking: “You can always add a little more but can’t take it out” – ditto for your dish in front of you. You can of course offer a little balance with the other condiments on the table there, but let’s face it, if you’re novice to chilli then you’re likely to not comprehend the balance of other flavours and you’ll end up with something rather unenjoyable. It is also be worth dropping the idea of adding traditional Western condiments like salt and pepper to Eastern dishes – all of that is taken care of in the cooking process and the condiments that you see on the table – the one’s that everyone else is using.
The last line of defence on the path to opening new doors en route to Dante’s delicatessen are the diffusers: raw or slightly blanched long beans, cabbage and cucumber and plain or sticky rice are often the first at hand, and they do work. Other remedies include milk, yoghurt, bread, crackers and beer. These are not likely – apart from the latter – to be found on a Thai restaurant table or menu, however, but useful if cooking at home. Sugar-free gum, mints and candy are also known to lower the Fahrenheit but water does not work, all that does is spread the spice on to more taste buds.