In this series of blogs, my goal will be to find the hottest dish on the menu in international cuisines. And through the lens of that one dish, I will attempt to analyze and learn about what it says about the cuisine in general.
Thai, one of my favorite international cuisines, is the national cuisine of Thailand.
Although I have eaten Thai food many a times, I decided to commence my learning by exploring Thai cuisine this week. And this time, my intent was to learn more about the food, the culture and traditions behind it.
Thai cuisine finds its roots in the amalgamation of Thai, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Vietnamese cultures. One of the reasons Thai cuisine has become so popular all over the world is the truly unique combination of tastes in a typical meal – hot, sweet, sour, salty – all coming together in a melody of the exotic on your tongue.
In order to experience Thai food in Philadelphia, one of the places I always go to is Erawan in Center City on 23rd St. The food is great, the ambience and décor is super, the restaurant is almost always crowded which is a great vote of confidence. Most importantly, the food is as authentic as it gets.
Pat who is the manager of this restaurant told me that they were the oldest Thai restaurant in Philadelphia and have been there since the 1970s. The current owners purchased the place from the original owner in 2007. Erawan is the name of a mystical three headed elephant that Thai Buddhists believe carried the Buddha.
The menu is a great combination of appetizers, soups, Thai curry, entrees, seafood, Thai noodles, fried rice dishes and desserts. Not to mention drinks like the eternal favorite – Thai iced tea.
Based on input from Pat, I decided to order Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao) with chicken which is one of the hottest dishes on the menu.
In terms of ingredients, Drunken Noodles makes use of fresh rather than dried spices. Basil, mint, lemongrass, lime leaves and chilies all come together with vegetables.and chicken. Wide rice noodles with tofu, stir fried with fresh garlic, chili, basil leaves, vegetables, bell peppers, onions and sauce. The multiple sensory delights of the heady taste, great smell of the spices and the basil all made for a great experience. I have always been a big fan of Drunken Noodles and Erawan does this dish to perfection.
I learnt from Pat that just like Drunken Noodles, Thai food makes use of fresh rather than dried spices. Basil, mint, lemongrass, lime leaves, chilies all come together with vegetables, coconut, curries and meat (chicken, pork, beef, shrimp). Rice (khao) is also one of the staples of Thai food and is eaten along with a lot of the dishes. What a heady combination – exotic and delightful.
In addition, I had also ordered Tom Yum soup and Golden Spring rolls.
The Tom Yum soup came with vegetables and tofu. Hot, tangy, invigorating – this was dancing on my tongue and going down warm inside. I learnt that the soup had lemongrass, tomatoes, galangal, lime leaves, chili, lime juice, mushrooms and cilantro. Heady combination of fresh spices and vegetables.
The Golden Spring rolls were succulent, crispy spring rolls with an inner filling of vegetables fried to perfection with a hot and sweet dipping sauce. Every bite of the Golden Spring rolls dipped in the sauce was a process of deciphering the multiple tastes that hit your tongue at the same time. And that is precisely the beauty of Thai food.
A truly satisfying meal and I certainly learnt a lot about Thai cuisine!