The land of smiles is known for its white sandy beaches, busy nightlife and shopping districts but what most people come back with is a craving for its food. Clean, fresh and fragrant, Thai fare is, if not always, spicy. A variety of green and bird eye chillies are chopped, sliced or smashed then used in dishes ranging from green curries to papaya salads. The trick is to avoid biting onto the fiery peppers but it’s best to have a glass of Thai iced milk tea on hand to remedy a numb tongue.
Aromatics is yet another crucial element in the cuisine. Chefs are generous in their usage of herbs, spices, garlic, shallots and fish sauce that all come together nicely in a potpourri of smell and tastes. A prime example would be Tom Yum Goong, which is a spicy and sour broth made with prawns, mushrooms, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal to name a few.
Often, to neutralize the spiciness of the food, dishes come with a serving of rice. A plate of steaming white rice is commonplace at most Thai dinners, which is not a surprise given that the country is the world’s second largest exporter of the grains. You’ll also find it in desserts such as mango with glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and sugar. The crop plays such a big role in the economy that it has a designated public holiday – in May, the country celebrates the beginning of rice growing season with a Royal Ploughing Ceremony.
A full appreciation of Thai dishes first calls for an educational field trip to where the produce is grown. Plan a day trip to an organic farm or immerse yourself in the agriculture-rich history of the country by staying there instead!
Organic Agriculture Project
At the Sukhothai Airport in North Thailand is a unique form of agritourism where you’ll find an organic rice farm, cattle pens, orchards and a lotus pond over 158 acres of land. Choose from different levels of participation from a day trip for a quick visit and demonstrations to a three-day program to experience hands-on the labour that goes into the property’s upkeep. Most processes are done manually or with the help of buffaloes such as raking the land, milling rice or making organic fertilizer. For an authentic experience, opt for the homestay on the compound where you’ll stay close to the project staff’s living quarters. The Organic Agriculture Project also produces a collection of chilli sauce, picked mushroom and a variety of unpolished rice so there’s no lack of souvenirs to bring home.
Organic Agriculture Project
Klong Krajong Swankhalok, Sukhothai Thailand 64110
Pun Pun Organic Farm
Also situated in the North is a more modest farm and learning centre founded by husband and wife, Jon Jandai and Peggy Reents, who are both advocates for earthen building (which is the skill of creating livable structures with natural materials) and agriculture. An initiative of the farm is to help continue the distribution of rare and indigenous seeds to other communities, while another is to equip visitors with the knowledge of creating a sustainable building with readily available materials in the environment. The produce grown on the farm goes into making vegetarian-friendly food at Pun Pun’s two restaurants in Chiang Mai City.
Pun Pun Organic Farm
Ban Pao sub-district, Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai
Baan Rai I Arun
Down in the South is an even smaller farmhouse in the Ranong province, which has the fewest inhabitants in all of Thailand. An advantage of that is you’re promised a tranquil stay here when you check into one of the five houses overlooking the neat rows of vegetables. From a narrow two-storey house to a three-storey house with an open bedroom on the highest floor, each house is built differently. The family-owned farm is also open to visitors in the day to shop for organic produce or to for a sandwich at the café.
Baan Rai Ai Arun
Kapoe district, Ranong
Tel: 66/ 96-938-2981
The next step to understanding the cuisine is, well, to try all variations of it from home-cooked meals to a Thai adaption of Chinese food.
Take a Thai cooking class
There’s no better way to learn about the ingredients in a dish than to cook it on your own. You’ll be introduced to commonly used herbs and spices in Thai cooking as well as get to taste or smell the raw ingredient before it’s thrown into a pot of Tom Yum Goong. A half or full day lesson will usually entail a trip to the wet market, the perfect place to watch as locals go about their daily businesses and to discover native species of seafood.
Go for a fruit buffet
In the harvest months of May to July, orchards in the Eastern provinces of Rayong and Chantaburi open their gates for an all-you-can-eat fiesta starting at 1,200 baht. Pick from a spread of tropical fruits such as durians, mangosteens, mangoes, rambutans and guavas right off the trees.
Indulge in street food in Chinatown
Don’t stick to the usual Thai fare, try Chinese street food at Yaowarat Road in Bangkok or known as Chinatown. Immigrants from China have a long history with in the country, especially in the royal family of the current Chakri Dynasty; King Rama I who founded the empire was of part Chinese ethnicity. Today, the community is still going strong as you’ll see from the rows of food stalls with snaking queues at dinner time.
Eat your way through Bangkok with a food guide
If the maze of street hawkers is too intimidating for you, join a food tour such as those from Bangkok Food Tours. You’ll be taken through popular stalls as a guide shares stories on the significance and history of each dish.
Find out more information at sg.tourismthailand.org and facebook.com/tat.sg.