Fragrant curries, spicy papaya salad and aromatic soups – Thai cuisine has it all.
Let’s take a look at some favourite dishes and where to eat the best versions of them in Dubai!
Thai cuisine is one of the healthiest cuisines of the world, due to its extensive use of vegetables and steaming versus the frying and meat-heavy diets of other countries. In addition to this, the Thai kitchen uses a lot of fresh herbs which are all said to have medicinal benefits in addition to bringing specific ranges of flavours to the dishes. The herbs and combinations of ingredients also make it a very aromatic cuisine, which is an important measure of your cooking skills in Thailand.
Specific to the Thai cuisine is the concept of khluk – which means that some of the flavours and textures are mixed on your plate, with rice, rather than in the wok or pan. To add to this, when you order Thai food you normally get a selection of condiments and sauces to further diversify and customize the range of flavours on your plate.
Staples of Thai cuisine include ginger root, coriander (cilantro), lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, shrimp paste, fish sauce, chillies, palm sugar and tamarind. There are a lot of vegetarian dishes, that can include tofu, as well as dishes that contain chicken, pork and beef. Because of the many rivers, lakes and water bodies as well as the extended coastline, seafood is a big part of the Thai kitchen. In addition to fish and shrimp being part of some popular dishes, almost every Thai dish uses shrimp paste and/or fish sauce as a base.
Every meal includes rice, and Thailand produses many different types of rice. The most common are the fragrant jasmine rice, and sticky rice which due to its starch content becomes very lumpy once cooked. Rice flour is used to make most of the noodle types that you can find in Thailand.
Health Benefits and the Palate
Thai cuisine is a refined art in itself. The Thai believe that if a dish contains every flavour – sour, sweet, bitter and salty, it is not only delicious but also has medicinal qualities.
The Thai kitchen uses a lot of ginger, ginger root, lemon grass and sweet basil, and these ingredients are said to aid digestion, relieve stomache issues and stimulate your appetite. More bitter flavours come from bitter melon and eggplant which are said to reduce fever. Lime, tamarind and mango bring the sour flavours to Thai cooking, which supposedly help with coughs. Finally the sweet, creamy and salty flavours from banana, coconut and shrimp paste are said to be good for your muscles.
Who would have thought that even a simple noodle dish should contain sour, salty, sweet and bitter flavours. Pad Thai are stir fried rice noodles with fish sauce, lime juice or tamarind paste , peanuts, fried egg, and can include chicken, shrimps or tofu.
Originally an Indian type curry, the Thai have adjusted this over time with typical Thai ingredients such as coriander and sweet basil. At the same time it also includes coriander seed which is not commonly found in Thai dishes, pointing to the dishes Indian heritage. It is commonly made with lamb and also includes peanuts.
This spicy and sour global soup favourite is commonly made with seafood or chicken. Once all the herbs are crushed and mixed into a paste they are stir fried in oil. The fresh ingredients are added and slowly water is added to make the soup.
Gai Haw Bai Toey
A lesser known personal favourite is chicken in pandan leaves. The chicken is marinated in a mix of spices and then wrapped in pandan leaves. The little wrapped bundles are then steamed and served fresh with a dipping sauce made with different soy sauces.
Som Tam is green papaya salad, which to people who haven’t eaten Thai food before is a bit strange, as its an appetizer or one of the dishes served as a main course, and not a dessert like fruit salads tend to be in Western countries. Unripe papaya is shredded and mixed with the traditional range of sour, sweet and salty flavours such as lime, palm sugar and fish sauce. It’s usually served very spicy so beware!
Another personal favourite is the pomelo salad, also served as an appetizer or one of the main courses for sharing. Made with chunks of pomelo, garlic, lemon grass and shrimp paste or crab paste
The green colour of the traditional green Thai curry comes from the green chillies used in the preparation. The base is coconut milk, which is the common base for Thai curries, and it usually involves prawns or chicken and eggplant as well as kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, shrimp paste and peppercorns.
Mango Sticky Rice
A hugely popular dessert, even outside Thailand, now comes as a cheesecake in modern Thai eateries. The sticky rice is cooked in coconut milk making it rich, creamy and velvety and it is served with mango slices for some sweet tanginess.
Where to eat these amazing dishes
If you have a few extra bills in your wallet and are headed to Bangkok, consider splashing out at the best Thai restaurant in the world – Nahm. With one Michelin star, Nahm is housed at the COMO Metropolitan, a beautifully designed hotel. Don’t expect any of the dishes we mentioned above on the menu, as this is a more modern, fusion version of Thai cooking.
What about Dubai?
You can of course always take a mini Thai stay-cation in Dubai by booking a few nights at Dusit Thani or Anantara so you can save on the flights and still enjoy wonderful Thai cuisine at Benjarong , which has a beautiful wooden setting and Mekong.
Other great Thai options in the city are Busaba in JBR who do a nice mix of traditional dishes and some modern twists on all-time favourites. Another less pricey option is Lemongrass at Lamcy Plaza in Oud Metha, famous for their green curries. Smiling BKK is a long standing Dubai favourite which serves amazing red curries and tom yam in Al Wasl Plaza.
Pai Thai is a go to not just because of the classic, consistent cuisine and live music but also because of its romantic, beautiful setting. Thai Kitchen at Park Hyatt is also a very popular choice with a menu showcasing Thai classics, prepared in an authentic style, and a great long list of Thai inspired cocktails!
If you are looking for a party with some tropical Thai flavour, consider heading to Tong Thai at JW Marriott Marquis for some great Thai food with some inventive twists as well as great deals on delicious creative cocktails.
A very elegant option for a special date night is Thiptara at The Palace Downtown. The Palace is a beautiful location, add to that the fountain views and romantic lighting and a creative twist on Thai cuisine and you are set for an amazing evening.