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Ethnic Cuisine: Thailand

by Sally Bernstein

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The cuisine of Thailand, one of the most coherent in Southeast Asia, is an integrated, harmonious whole, following definite rules, selecting with care the foreign ideas it will accept and catering to the eye as well as the palate. Thai is one of the world's most exciting cuisines, and if you're willing to experiment, you'll be richly rewarded. Contrary to popular belief, not all Thai food is fiery hot; and there are plenty of tasty dishes suited to the Western palate. This hybrid cuisine has been influenced by soups and noodle dishes from China, curries from India and satays from Indonesia. Most dishes incorporate four elements: sweet, sour, salty and hot flavors.

Located in Southeast Asia and bordering the Gulf of Thailand between Burma and Cambodia, Thailand is slightly more than twice the size of Wyoming. The word "thai" means "free," thus "Thailand" means, literally, "land of the free." The people of Thailand experience either a big-city life or a quiet village existence.

The one large city, Bangkok, has well over six million people and is huge, crowded, noisy and modern. International corporations, elegant hotels, theaters, museums, nightclubs, open-air markets and Buddhist temples are all a part of Bangkok. Tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange.

In the villages large Thai families often live together and work the land, as the majority of Thailand's people make a living in one way or another from the land. Seafood, coconuts, tropical fruits, rice, tapioca, cane sugar, mushrooms, bananas and shrimp are plentiful foods.

Thai cuisine varies in different regions of the country. Meals in the north are somewhat milder than in the central plains; northeastern food is fiery hot. Seafoods are most common in the south and the Muslim communities of the deep south are partial to all kinds of curries.

Many spices and herbs are used in Thai food such as hot peppers, garlic, coriander, ginger, onions and curries. These hot tastes are often offset by steamed rice (eaten at almost every meal), mild noodle dishes, sweet Thai teas and coffees, sweet desserts and fruits.

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