“Thai Food” by David Thompson

We were very interested recently to receive a copy of “Thai Food” by David Thompson. At almost seven hundred pages this weighty publication is an incredibly comprehensive guide to all aspects of Thai cuisine.

Thompson certainly knows his subject. He is the accomplished chef behind the famous Sydney restaurants Darley Street Thai and Sailor’s Thai. In July 2001 he opened nahm at the Halkin Hotel in London. Seven months later it  became the first ever Thai restaurant to gain a Michelin star. He is currently working with the Suan Dusit College in Bangkok on the preservation of Thai culinary heritage.

thai food by david thompsonThe author begins by giving a history of Thailand’s development as a nation that is almost a book in itself and considers the evolution of Thailand’s unique cuisine within this historical context.

He explains the fundamental difference between Western and Thai cuisine in that whilst western dishes aim to create a dish based on one or two key elements or flavours a Thai recipe builds up a large number of individual, often very pungent, elements that ultimately balance each other out to form an even and perfectly weighted whole. All Thai cuisine is built around what are held to be  the four fundamental tastes; hot, sour, salty and sweet. Any Thai dish will contain a combination of the above with one or more of these elements coming to the fore. In this way the classic Thai Tom Yam Soup concentrates on salty, sour and hot tastes whereas the gentler Lotus Stalk, Mackerel and coconut soup should be sweet, salty and sour.

The book continues by offering a detailed and authoritative description of all the exotic ingredients used in Thai cooking and gives helpful hints on useful substitutes for hard to obtain items or explains how to make some of the more obscure items used.

Only then, after this comprehensive groundwork, does the book get on to the recipes, of which there are a huge number. They are broken up into different types of dish so Relishes, Soups, Curries, Salads and Side Dishes all receive a chapter and a useful chapter addresses how to go about setting a menu of several harmonious dishes. Finally comes a section on snacks and street food and desserts.

What we liked most about the recipes was that instructions are simple and there are plenty of notes on alternative ingredients and treatments. In fact Thompson states repeatedly his belief that a recipe is only a guide and encourages experimentation based on an underlying understanding of the required basic essence of any dish.

A lot of the recipes he features are very old and many come from notable members of the Thai nobility. This reflects the author’s conviction that Thai cuisine reached its very peak in the Royal Thai Cuisine served at the court of the Thai Royal family around the end of the 19th century.
But many more rustic recipes are included reflecting the culinary traditions of the whole country from the milder food of the North, the different culinary traditions of the until-recently remote Issan plateau to the  hot and spicy cuisine of the south.

So we found the book to be a success as a detailed description of the Thai cooking tradition but also, most importantly in a recipe book, as a source of good recipes that allow you to have a good chance of producing for yourselves some of the delicious and mysterious foods that you will encounter on  a trip to Thailand.

Thai Food by David Thompson is Published by the Penguin Book Group.