Part recipe book, part coffee-table art, Thai Street Food is a wonderful celebration of, well, Thailand’s street food. And it’s even more than a pretty recipe book: Chef and Thai food expert David Thompson also includes plenty of interesting history and reportage about the street food of the kingdom.
This isn’t rambling, start-of-my-blog-recipe stuff, either. These are well-researched snippets that will teach even old hands something new. The book makes for an exceptional souvenir if you’ve visited Thailand and fallen in love with its incredible and diverse cuisine, or a gift for those who simply love the food.
Thai Street Food focuses on the dishes you'll find in markets, at street food stalls and from roaming vendors in Thailand, not on the Thai cuisine you’ll find eaten in homes (though we reckon there is a bit of crossover). It’s a huge area to reflect in a single book, but the selection is solid, with plenty of familiar dishes but also stuff even old hands might not have tried. As Thompson notes in the introduction, in Thailand “streets often seem more like busy restaurant corridors than major thoroughfares for traffic”. Sometimes more wary travellers balk at the idea of eating foods prepared in markets or on the street anywhere in Southeast Asia. But, as Thompson points out, the fact of the matter is many vendors face their customers day after day, year after year “so they can ill afford to obtain a poor reputation. And that’s why the good people of the market can expect a satisfying meal.” So eat widely when you are in Thailand, and if you love what you find, this book will help you navigate reproducing the dishes at home.
The book is sensibly divided into morning, noon and night, with a few breakout sections on curries, snacks and sweets, noodles, and Bangkok’s Chinatown. What we particularly love is how far Thompson has roamed collecting recipes. It’s not quite encyclopaedic, but it’s certainly a step in that direction. Consider: jungle curry of minced quail from Phetchaburi (which traditionally uses a kind of chilli grown by the Karen ethnic minority who live in the city’s surrounds, but you can substitute bird’s eye, Thompson says); sour pork sausages from Udon Thani (“some of the best in the world”); crab noodles from Chanthaburi (keep the tomalley, or liver and pancreas, as they impart a rich flavour, Thompson advises); chicken and banana chilli curry with assam from Satun (assam is dried Asian woodruff, but you can swap in tamarind pulp at a pinch).
Many dishes are not specifically from a given destination, as they are eaten widely, but even these will have some background notes and tips on how to replicate the dish in a home kitchen. You’ll find, for instance, stir-fried minced beef with chillies and holy basil, a standard Thai dish that has sustained us through many days travelling across the kingdom, as has good old kao man gai (Hainanese chicken rice). Crab stir-fried with curry powder is another of our faves that makes an appearance; Thompson also offers versions (and histories) of pat Thai and khao soi. If you fell in love with a particular dish in Thailand, chances are the secret to its deliciousness will be tucked into these pages. (And we appreciate there’s a good glossary and index at the back.)
Some of the recipes, it’s true, are fiddly, time-consuming or require ingredients that are particularly difficult to get outside Thailand. You may wonder whether they’re worth trying to make in practice for a home cook, especially when you consider a typical vendor makes only one dish, day in, day out for a very good reason. There are, however, enough recipes that an average cook could reasonably tackle to still make this a worthwhile buy if you are indeed buying it for the recipes. For instance: Steamed fish with chilli and lime sauce is a straightforward classic, as is asparagus stir-fried with prawns, and green curry of beef (though we’d skip whipping up the roti… )
We confess: We’ve had this book for a few years, but we’ve never actually made any of the recipes. Part of it is we just don’t think we’ll make the dishes to be as delicious as what we’ve had in Thailand; part of it is we think the street food of Thailand is best enjoyed on the streets of Thailand; and part of it is we’re lazy––lot of these dishes do require some commitment. However, we do love flicking through this book. Nothing gets us salivating and wishing we were back in Thailand faster.
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