Food

Hot?

Thai food is interestingly spiced, with a bewildering variety of flavours, and liberally laced with lemon-grass and chilli, but it doesn't have to be overwhelmingly hot. The Thai for "not hot" is "mai phet". Curiously, one of the hottest dishes is tom yum soup. You will need a large portion of plain rice to eat with this!

Varieties

Most foods are either based on a sort of noodle stew, or served with separate steamed rice. The noodle dishes are snacks, eaten at any time of day, while those served with rice are usually served, like Chinese or Indian food, as a number of contrasting dishes to be shared by several diners.

How to eat it

The traditional utensils are spoon and fork, as the knife, an instrument of slaughter, is not acceptable on a Buddhist table. Spoon the food onto your plate, use the fork to place some on a heap of rice and eat it with the spoon. Chinese-influenced dishes may be served with chopsticks or a Chinese-style soup-spoon.

Condiments

The Thai cruet is quite unlike the traditional English salt-and-pepper. It usually contains ground chilli, chilli in fish sauce, chilli in vinegar, and sugar - and there may well be a separate bottle of fish sauce instead of our salt. The sugar is provided not for its sweetness but to reduce hotness, and the fish sauce for salt.

Where to eat

It's well worth eating out: hotel cuisine is often a bland mix of indifferent Thai and worse European dishes. Eating out is cheap, and there's a wide variety of restaurants, from up-market air-conditioned ones down to roadside stalls. Don't be afraid to try Thai open-air food from roadside stalls. Most of it is freshly cooked before your eyes, and you're more likely to suffer from excessive chilli than anything worse. The local night market is the best place to experience this kind of eating: just watch what others are doing and pick a meal, maybe from several stalls. Finish off with a roti pancake, kneaded from a solid lump of dough to a wafer-thin sheet while you watch, cooked on a charcoal-fired hotplate, and finally doused with condensed milk and your choice of other fillings.