Thai food has become increasingly popular in the western world, partly because of the huge range of flavours and satisfaction given from eating wonderful Thai food. Hosting a dinner party with friends and family can be a fun and inexpensive alternative to going out to a Thai restaurant, which sadly have the reputation for being at the expensive end of things. Cooking Thai food if fun, quick and easy. Today I plan to show you a few steps to plan the food for the best Thai dinner party possible.
What do you need to know about Thai meals?
Thai meals are designed around the diners. There are supposed to be a number of dishes, to be shared amongst everyone. This way everyone can try a little of everything that is available, rather than being confined to one main dish each! It also means one can avoid what one doesn’t like the most too. This is perhaps one of the biggest differences when East meets West.
Thai meals are like feasts. The food and company is to be enjoyed. Mealtimes are a great focal point for friends and family. Thais love to communicate through food and so will prepare a range of dishes that complement each other well.
Rice is the usual accompaniment for Thai meals. Although noodles are obviously eaten, they are usually prepared as complete dishes, unlike rice. So you can just focus on serving rice with your dishes, unless you are preparing a noodle dish specifically, for example Pad Thai or baked glass noodles with prawns.
So the first Dinner Party Secret is to cook several dishes which work well together. We’ll now look at this Secret in more detail.
What makes a typical Thai meal?
- Rice – of course, rice. You can choose to eat white jasmine rice or Khao Glong which is Jasmine rice (same grain) without removing the hull, bran layer and cereal germ. It can be in red, black gold, brown or purple colour. I love this type of rice as it tastes quite crunchy but they are not as hard and dry like western brown rice. Some dishes are nice to eat with sticky rice such as some dishes from North East of Thailand (Esarn dish) such as papaya salad (Som Tum) or Pork spicy Salad (Larb or Nam-Tok Moo). However, if you have these dishes on your menu, it would be preferable that you serve both normal rice and sticky rice. Sticky rice can’t replace the rice and you don’t eat it alongside a curry or stir fry. Fried rice is also another type of rice dish that we serve with the meal.
2. Dishes with liquid or broths – Curries and soups are good examples of this. You can serve more than one liquid dish at your dinner party but they need to be of different thickness or style. For example, you can serve chicken green curry (coconut based curry) and Prawns Tom Yum soup together or you can serve Chicken Red curry and Gaeng Jeut, a minced pork, vegetable and seaweed soup.
3. Non-soup dishes – These include stir-fries, grilled dishes and deep fried dishes. You can choose one of them or you can put them together. No rules for these as long as you don’t serve multiples of them the same class, such as serving fried fish with fried chicken. Personally I think that it will be a bit too much fried food, but there is certainly nothing to stop you from doing this. Just be aware that some of the balance of the meal may be lost.
4. Thai Spicy Salad dish – must be included , don’t ignore! Thai spicy salads are full of flavours such as sour from fresh lime juice (not lemon!), salty from fish sauce, aromatic from some herbs such as mint and coriander, fresh from raw vegetables such as onions, red onions, shallots, tomatoes, and cucumber. And of course, there will be something hot and spicy in this dish, such as from fresh bird’s eye chillies or chilli flakes. The characteristics of a Thai spicy salad is light and fresh. In the spicy bit, you can season it up to your taste. You can even leave them out for your guests to add them later. We normally garnish the dish with some raw vegetable such as cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and lettuce.
5. Vegetable dishes – This can be counted in the earlier categories or you could prepare specific dishes. For example, a non soup dish: stir-fried mixed vegetables or stir-fried morning glory. One dish of this nature for you table will be fine. Examples of soup-based dishes include: mixed vegetable soup or Thai spicy mixed vegetables soup (Gaeng Liang) which is a type of non-coconut based curry. It is light and full of vegetables in the soup.
Thai people also love to eat raw or steamed vegetables with Nam Prik, which is type of chilli paste served as a dip. Examples include Nam Prik Ka Pi (spicy shrimp paste dip) from central Thailand and Nam Prik Ong (spicy meat and tomato paste dip)- from the north of Thailand. I love these two dishes. They are very nice and fresh.
6. Spicy dish – There reality must be at least one dish in a Thai meal that is spicy. It doesn’t have to be an endurance challange, or a gauntlet thrown down to your guests – although that can be quite fun too – but the gentle heat and burn of chillis is important to the Thai taste. Something very spicy at the table certainly makes me very happy when I sit down to eat! It’s important to remember that we don’t want to over-power the other flavours to the point of not being able to taste anything at all. You can have as many spicy dishes as you want at your dinner party, so long as there are a couple of not-spicy dishes to help balance.
Now you understand this secret of the Thai meal, a quick note that all the dishes are to be served together – so there is some time pressure involved in preparing a Thai dinner party. The Second Secret is therefore timing.
Many dishes have a ‘best enjoyed’ window. Stir-fries are best eaten straight from the wok, fried fish should not be dripping with oil. A salad wants to be crisp and fresh, not wilted from sitting in a dressing too long.
When I prepare for a Thai dinner party, I will make the curries and soups first. They can be left to gently simmer and develop in flavour whilst we cook the other dishes. They could even be prepared earlier in the day, and re-heated later in their cooking pots, not the microwave. In fact, many Thai curries call for the coconut milk to split during cooking, so this strategy is actually advantageous here.
Next, I will prepare the deep fried items. Fried fish, fish cakes or chicken wings for example can be left covered in foil for around 5 minutes. But something like a Thai omelette is best served straight from the pan.
I would then prepare any salad dishes whilst the frying is happening. A dish like this takes perhaps 2-3 minutes to assemble. Like most Asian cooking, most of your time is spent in the prep work, chopping vegetables, seasoning and marinading meat.
And lastly, I will cook the stir-fries. This allows them to be piping-hot, straight from the wok.
Thai dishes are served to the table in a communal fashion, with serving spoon/fork. Dinners will be served rice first, to their own plates, and can then choose to help themselves to what’s on offer. Given the nature of the dishes, Thais eat with fork and spoon. And what’s special about the spoon is it properly allows you to have enjoy the flavours and ingredients together as intended, whereas this can be much harder with just a fork. Try everything at the table. Should to your friends to pass the soup, and pass them the curry! Food is central to Thai culture – have fun, share and enjoy!
Last, but not least, what to drink with Thai food? Many people, myself included, would say lager beer is the best drink for Thai food. Lager just goes so well with spicy food in general. My husband on the other hand, like many Thai people, would say whiskey and soda!
I’m not a wine expert but from experience I can say it can be quite difficult to pair wine with Thai food as you will be enjoying so many different dishes together. As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want a wine that is too full-bodied or fine – the spiciness of the food can really change the flavour of a wine. I would avoid anything with too high a tannin count in red wine, as this doesn’t go well with acidic food. A fruity wine, with some acidity and sweetness would be great I think. Such as a Riesling, however I am not a big fan of this wine – I find it too sweet. I therefore suggest a pinot gris or pinot grigio. A Shiraz is yummy with a Mussaman curry.
Hope this brief introduction has been useful. Please leave any questions in the comments are more importantly, tell us about your Thai dinner have. Have fun and enjoy!