Traditional recipes

Global Ingredient: Galangal

Global Ingredient: Galangal

Like its cousin, ginger, this aromatic root boasts a warm, spicy kick but adds complexity with its floral, citrus, and pine notes. It's often grated into Thai dishes like curries and tom yum soups. Try a galangal simple syrup, perfect for a homemade "ginger" ale or fruit-poaching liquid: Combine 2 cups water, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup diced galangal; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; let steep 1 hour. Strain.

The ingredient that makes each global cuisine taste authentic

The data and economics blog Priceonomics has tried to quantify that most distinctive ingredient for the cuisines of the world. It trawled 13,000 recipes, tagged by cuisine, from the recipe site Epicurious. Here were the most characteristic ingredients for the 26 cuisines listed on Epicurious up until late 2013:

11 Super-Spicy Dishes Around the World

Many cuisines have embraced curry&mdasha general term applied to dishes simmered in a mix of spices that often includes cumin, ginger and cardamom. But the United Kingdom is actually home to the spiciest version: phall, a British take on Indian-style curry, jokingly named in reference to the word phallus (in other words, only someone "man enough" can eat it). The dish gets its heat from the (at least) 10 hot peppers (including Scotch bonnet and habanero) cooked into each batch. Photo: iStockphoto

Otak-Otak&mdashSoutheast Asia

Indonesians, Singaporeans and Malaysians feast on this spicy fish cake, traditionally served in a steamed or grilled banana leaf. What makes the finger food so spicy? Dried chiles are blended with minced fish, belacan (a dried shrimp paste), galangal (a plant root that looks like ginger but tastes like pepper), candlenuts (an oily seed similar to the macadamia nut), lemongrass, shallots and turmeric. Photo: Shutterstock

Criolli (Creole) Cau Cau&mdashPeru

Thanks to the aji amarillo (a.k.a. yellow chile pepper), Creole cau-cau is the spiciest version of this tripe and potato stew. ("Creole" in general refers to a mix of French or Spanish, African and indigenous American cultures there are also Italian-, African- and Chinese-influenced versions of cau cau.) In fact, aji amarillo is an important ingredient in many Peruvian dishes, from ceviche and salsa to causa rellena (traditional potato salad). Photo: courtesy of Pedro DaSilva/flickr

Griot with Sauce Ti-Malice&mdashHaiti

This pork shoulder dish has "Haitian hot sauce" to thank for its heat. Made with minced Scotch bonnet or habanero chile peppers, apple cider vinegar and a spicy pickled pepper garnish, the sauce was born, according to mythology, when a trickster named Ti-Malice slathered it on his meat to ward off a free-loading lunch-mate. But its spicy-tangy flavor only made it harder for the food thief&mdashand the rest of Haiti&mdashto resist. Photo: courtesy of Dawn Klinghoffer via First Look

Kimchi (seasoned and fermented cabbage), green onions, garlic, tofu, mushrooms and broth are the usual ingredients for this soup. But depending on how many red chile peppers are used, it can range from tolerable to tongue-scorching. Not only is the soup spicy-hot, it's usually served at just-below-boiling temperatures for an all-around sweat-inducing experience. Photo: iStockphoto

Pad Prik Khing&mdashThailand

This dish&mdashwhich is either made with pork and firm veggies or seafood&mdashgets its signature spiciness from prik khing curry paste, as does any Thai dish with the words "prik khing" (roughly translated as "chili ginger") in its name. But whereas the paste&mdashmade of dried red chiles, shrimp paste, onions, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime peel and galangal&mdashis usually only used sparingly in other dishes, it is the foundation of this signature curry. Photo: Shutterstock

Jamaican Jerk Chicken&mdashCaribbean

If you're eating Jamaican jerk chicken (or pork, shrimp, shellfish, etc.), then you're eating meat rubbed in the Caribbean's favorite spice mix. While it's usually made with pimento (allspice) and Scotch bonnet peppers (which really bring the heat), habanero, cayenne and jalapeño peppers may also used to achieve its distinct flavor. Photo: Shutterstock

Shrimp Creole&mdashLouisiana, United States

This popular tomato-based Creole dish&mdashfeaturing shrimp, celery, onions, peppers and garlic&mdashgets it spiciness from cayenne, also known as red pepper, but occasionally hot sauce is added as well. Creole cooking is not to be confused with another well-known cuisine in the region: Cajun, though the terms are often (mistakenly) used interchangeably. Photo: Alexandra Grablewski/Getty Images

Sik Sik Wat or Doro Wat&mdashEthiopia

Cayenne pepper and berbere, an Ethiopian spice mixture made with chile pepper, paprika and fenugreek, give these beef and chicken stews all their heat. Though the spice is very similar to what we know as red pepper paste, the unique mixture is distinctly Ethiopian. A variety of Ethiopian stews, including Sik Sik Wot are usually served atop Injera bread, a spongy crepe-like pancake that you rip into pieces and use to scoop up the food. Photo: courtesy of Michelle L. Chang/flickr

Sichuan Huoguo (Sichuan Hot Pot) is a distinctly spicy style of Chinese hot pots, which can be most closely compared to fondue. The dish gets its spiciness from Sichuan pepper oil (huajiao in Chinese) that's added to a broth, which is then heated at the table so diners can cook an array of raw ingredients such as beef, fish, tofu and vegetables, in it before eating. Photo: Travel Ink/Getty Images

Hot Wings&mdashUnited States

Hot wings are served at bars and pubs all over America. But while most eateries make their sauce using jalapeño or cayenne peppers, some restaurants go above and beyond. Case in point: Jake Melnick's Corner Tap in Chicago and Binga's Wingas in Portland, Oregon, whose cooks make their spiciest sauces with the bhut jolokia or "ghost" chile pepper, the hottest naturally growing pepper in the world. Photo: Thinkstock

Lemongrass Dawet

Lemongrass. Coconut milk. Slushie. Pink. Pink. Pink. Hello. The weather’s been heating up lately, so when I happened up this Dawet recipe so beloved in Suriname, I knew we had to try it. When I discovered it was also enjoyed in slushie form? I did a little dance. Slushies are always a good idea. The refreshing, tropical drink is made with an easy, homemade lemongrass syrup, a swirl of coconut milk, and a splash of water (or ice, if making a slushie). Dawet originates from Asia, and is especially popular in Indonesia. The drink was brought to Suriname and popularized as a result of colonization and immigration. In my research, I found several photos of the dawet in Suriname, and it seems the slushie is popular among street vendors. Ava and her friend were fans. There’s so many ways to make this drink. I suggest making the syrup and then toying with how much coconut milk you’d like, versus how much ice. The quantities given are what worked for me, but there really are no &hellip

Global Ingredient: Galangal - Recipes

Thai Relish of Fermented Fish, Grilled Catfish, Pork and Shrimp (ปลาร้าผัดทรงเครื่องสูตรสายเยาวภา bplaa raa phat sohng khreuuang, suut saai yao wa phaa)

Fish fermentation consists of a simple salt-curing process: mixing or coating a whole fish, sliced fish or minced fish meat with salt and rice husks (or ground roasted rice). The mixture is then allowed to rest and ferment for few months. This fermentation process creates deep, intense umami flavor agents accompanied by a strong stench. It is only with culinary sagacity and skill that cooks are able to harness and direct these powerful flavors within the context of an appetizing dish, and to constrain the odor to an agreeable intensity.

Swamp Eel Triple-Layered Red Curry with Fingerroot, Bitter Ginger, Sand Ginger and Thai Basil Flowers (แกงเผ็ดปลาไหลทรงเครื่อง Gaaeng Phet Bplaa Lai Sohng Khreuuang)

This eel curry includes a greater-than-usual quantity of aromatics used over three stages. First, the eel is cleaned and sliced into segments then it is fried with a generous amount of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and shallots. These help to counter its muddy and somewhat iron-like odor, which disappears along with the liquids and the aromatics.

This eel curry recipe is adapted from the vintage book: “Gap Khaao O:H Chaa Roht” by Ging Ga Nohk) (กับข้าวโอชารส โดย กิ่งกนก – กาญจนาภา พ.ศ. 2485). This rare book was written in 1942 during WWII, a period of global turmoil in which Thailand was invaded by the Japanese. That same year marked a decade from the ending of absolute monarchy rule in 1932, and one generation away from the peak of the Siamese culinary renaissance that flourished in the court of King Rama V (1868-1910): a nostalgic era for its children who are still with us to remember and reflect on those times.

Roasted Southern Thai Curry of Pork, Three Peppers and Young Galangal (แกงเผ็ดลูกทุ่งภาคใต้ gaaeng phet luuk thoong phaak dtai)

This profoundly spicy, chestnut-colored pork curry radiates a pungent slow-burning heat from generous amounts of roasted black pepper, along with long peppers and naughty charred dry chili peppers. The curry’s aroma is concentrated even further by roasting the ingredients prior to pounding them – a process that shaves the high notes of the curry and provides a low-pitched intensity that lasts far beyond each bite.

Spicy Salad of Grilled Tiger Prawns, Mackerel, Lemongrass and Aromatics with Infused Fermented Fish Innards Dressing (ไตปลาทรงเครื่อง dtai bpla sohng khreuuang)

If we could strip away the spices, the seasonings, the vegetables and the herbs from savory dishes we could uncover their naked flavor profile core. There, we would encounter a strong savory-umami, sometimes coupled with other basic elements of smoke and fat. This flavor core is, for us humans, the sought-after taste of protein our first sip of mother’s milk, and the primal experience of burned game meat on the fire.

Today we would like to highlight a powerhouse for umami creation: the fermentation process. We will focus on fermented fish innards from southern Thailand (dtai bpla ไตปลา), one of about a dozen fermented products used in the country. We will show you how chefs for the capital’s elite, as early as or, before the reign of King Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai (Rama II, 1767-1824), harnessed its wild nature and created a dish similar to what we present today – a salad with infused fermented fish innards dressing.

Salad of bitter orange peels, shrimp, poached pork belly and pork skin, roasted peanuts, golden deep-fried crispy shallots and garlic with sweet and sour tamarind dressing.(ยำผิวส้มซ่า yam phiu sohm saa)

This salad recipe is adapted from the book “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa” (แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์), published in 1971 as a memorial for Jao Jaawm Phit (เจ้าจอมพิศว์). Jao Jaawm Phit was the daughter of Thanpuying (Lady) Plean Passakornrawong, who was a pioneer of noble Thai cuisine.

Old Fashioned Pounded Unripe Rice Snack (ข้าวเม่าหมี่ khaao mao mee)

Unripe rice snack – “Khao Mao Mee” (ข้าวเม่าหมี่ ) also known as “Khao Mao Song Kreuang” (ข้าวเม่าทรงเครื่อง) or by it’s royal name “Khanom Khao Mao Rang” (ขนมข้าวเม่าราง) is a delicious snack. It makes an unusual use of the unripe rice grains, which are normally used for desserts making. The following recipe describes an ancient and hard to find version of it. These days, there is a tendency to add other ingredients like peanuts or to deep fry the unripe rice grains until fluffy and crispy.

Recipe Summary

  • 3 tablespoons (about 1 1/2 ounces) palm sugar or brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water, divided
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh galangal
  • 4 teaspoons chopped peeled fresh lemongrass
  • 4 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 candlenuts or macadamia nuts
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 fresh red chile, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 pounds rib-eye steak, trimmed and cut into (1/4 x 1-inch) strips
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup Peanut Dipping Sauce

Place sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over low heat cook for 8 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Strain through a fine sieve over a bowl, and discard solids. Cool completely. Combine tamarind paste with remaining 2 tablespoons water, stirring until smooth. Combine sugar mixture and tamarind mixture in a large zip-top plastic bag seal. Set aside.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds cook for 2 minutes, shaking pan occasionally. Cool. Place mixture in a spice or coffee grinder, and process until finely ground. Place the galangal, lemongrass, shallots, candlenuts, garlic clove, and red chile in a food processor, and process until finely chopped.

Add galangal mixture, coriander mixture, turmeric, and salt to sugar mixture seal. Knead to combine. Add beef to bag, turning to coat seal. Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, turning twice. Add oil to bag, turning to coat seal. Marinate in refrigerator overnight, turning occasionally.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Remove beef from bag discard marinade. Thread beef evenly onto each of 32 (8-inch) skewers. Place skewers on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Cook 1 minute on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with Peanut Dipping Sauce.

How to Stock an Indonesian Pantry

Depending on what and where you eat, you might mistake an Indonesian dish for an Indian curry, Chinese fried rice, or a Filipino stew. But nothing is quite like Indonesian cooking. And once you learn what goes into it, you’ll be able to recognize it anywhere.

A World of Influences

No doubt, Indonesia’s multifaceted cuisine has numerous influences: Arab and Indian traders brought spices, rose essence, and dishes like martabak (stuffed pancakes). The Spanish introduced chiles. Rijsttaffel (literally “rice table”) is the larger-than-life Dutch interpretation of the traditional Indonesian meal of rice plus several dishes. But the Chinese immigrants likely had the biggest impact, bringing noodles, soy sauce, and soybeans to the archipelago.

Of course, cooking styles and ingredients vary according to region. The food found on Java and Sumatra are better recognized globally—think beef stew (rendang), chicken satay (sate ayam) and chicken turmeric soup (soto ayam). But branch further out to places like Sulawesi (Celebes) and you’ll find meat- and blood-stuffed bamboo tubes, and fresh-caught fish, grilled and served with a variety of dipping sauces (sambal).

But a Dark Horse in the U.S.

While Indonesian cuisine is revered both within the country and regionally in Southeast Asia, it isn’t as well-known as say, Thai or Vietnamese cuisine in the U.S. There could be any number of reasons, but chief among them is population. The 2010 U.S. Census counts only 95, 270 Indonesians in the country. Since Indonesia was a Dutch colony until 1949, it has had fewer political, economic, and cultural ties to the United States than many other Asian nations. For a comparison, that same census accounts for 3,416,840 Filipinos living in America.

Global cuisine is often promoted through restaurants. Unfortunately, the Indonesian Embassy knows of only 34 restaurants stateside. Not that I’m surprised. Many Indonesian dishes are laborious to prepare, and few Indonesians who migrate to the U.S. deign to open restaurants. (I speak from experience my family ran one in Seattle from 2007 to 2012. It was popular but a lot of hard work. Let’s just say family cohesion won out in the end!)

The good news is Indonesian cuisine won’t be totally foreign to Americans already enjoying Southeast Asian food.

The Essentials

If you’ve cooked Indian and/or Thai food, you’ll find the ingredients familiar. Turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and coriander are some of the most-used spices. Lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger, and galangal are ubiquitous. Nutmeg, native to Indonesia’s Banda Islands (part of the Maluku or original Spice Islands) is usually sprinkled into Dutch-influenced dishes like macaroni schotel and risoles. These spices and herbs are blended into spice pastes called bumbu, the very foundation of Indonesian cooking. Herbs like lemongrass, salam, and galangal (a trio I dub the Indonesian bouquet garni) are tossed in while cooking and removed prior to serving.

You can easily find Indonesian ingredients at an Asian market that caters to a Southeast Asian clientele, and maybe even at a specialty store. Any other ingredients, like some of the ones below, can be bought online. I have included my prefered brands but in all honesty, some ingredients are so hard to come by, I say take what you can get! Online sources include:

Aromatic Ginger

Used sparingly, aromatic ginger’s unique camphor-like flavor is a welcome addition to dishes like vegetables in coconut stew (sayur lodeh) and Balinese duck curry (bebek Betutu). This reddish-brown rhizome is probably one of the more obscure Indonesian herbs—even I only discovered it recently when my mom revealed the secret ingredient in her fried corn fritters. Sometimes mistakenly called lesser galangal, aromatic ginger is available in the U.S. dried or powdered.


A.K.A. kemiri Ingalls Photography

Similar in size and texture to macadamias (which is a decent substitute), candlenuts must be cooked—usually pan-fried—first to remove toxins. These waxy, cream-colored nuts are usually ground with other herbs and spices to add body and texture to curries, sauces and braises. They are high in oil content and will go rancid quickly if not refrigerated. Frozen, they keep for up to a year.

Fried Shallots

Fried shallots are showered over everything from fried noodles to soups and sambals. My mom even adds it to spring roll fillings for flavor and crunch. Fried shallots aren’t difficult to make, just tedious and messy. My mom would slice shallots (and Asian shallots are tiny, mind you!), dry them in the sun, then deep-fry. When I came home from school as a little girl, I would often find my mom next to a mountain of fried shallots sitting on newspaper to soak up the oil.

For convenience, I buy fried shallots in big containers from the Asian market. These store-bought brands are usually imported from Vietnam and Thailand. My mom swears by the packages of fried shallots she stashes in her suitcase every time she returns from a trip to Indonesia.


A.K.A. laos, lengkuas Penny de Los Santos

A member of the ginger family, galangal has a distinctive fragrance and flavor. Look for the more tender young galangal that’s pinkish in color. In Indonesian cooking, it is used in braises, soups, and for fried chicken. Peel then chop the rhizome before adding it to a spice paste. Or cut into half-inch slices and toss into soups. If you can’t find fresh galangal, buy them dried and soak 10 minutes in hot water before using.

Indonesian Palm Sugar

A.K.A. gula jawa/merah Matt Taylor-Gross

Indonesian palm sugar is sold in solid blocks or cylinders. Made from the sap of the arenga palm (and sometimes coconut palm), it tastes of molasses or caramel and is used to make sweets and to balance flavor in certain savory dishes. To measure, shave or grate pieces off the block. Granulated coconut sugar or dark brown sugar make good substitutes.

Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce

A.K.A. kecap manis James Oseland

The Chinese introduced Indonesians to soy sauce and they made it their own by adding sugar! The Indonesian version has the usual soybeans, wheat, and salt but also includes palm sugar and molasses. It is much thicker and sweeter than regular soy sauce which is called kecap asin or kecap Cina (salty or Chinese kecap). If you can’t find Indonesian sweet soy sauce (Cap Bango is my favorite brand), Chinese or Thai sweet soy sauce will suffice. Or you can make your own with this recipe.

The fried rice of my childhood is doused in sweet soy sauce, and when kitted out with chopped bird chilies and shallots, it makes a delightful dip for fried fish or fresh vegetables. I buy Cap Bango when I can find it, and Cap ABC is my second choice.


A.K.A. keluak, keluwak Midori

The kluwak “nut” is actually the seed of the kepayang tree, a tall tree native to the mangrove swamps of Southeast Asia. The oily, hard-shelled seeds contain hydrogen cyanide and must be boiled then buried in the ground to ferment and be rid of the toxin. W

hen cracked open, the chocolate-brown meat of the fermented kluwak nuts is ground up to prepare rawon, a thick, black stew made with beef or chicken. Kluwak is also made into sambal with garlic and chilies. Back in the day, my mom had to buy kluwak in the shell. She’d crack open each and every nut and scoop out the meat. It was a laborious process but the resulting dish was so tasty! Thankfully, now I can buy prepackaged dried, peeled kluwak even in the U.S.

Limes are indispensable in Indonesian cooking. The juice and rind are both used, for drinks, to flavor marinades, and in soups.

With its wrinkled skin and limited amount of juice, the lime called jeruk purut (makrut, or what used to be known as kaffir), is almost impossible to find in the U.S. unless you grow your own. Back home, my mom used the juice and rind (she’d toss it into the marinade) to brighten the flavor of barbecue foods like grilled chicken (ayam panggang) and satay. The leaves are more commonplace, adding fragrance and flavor to coconut-based braises and soups like tripe soup (soto babat). Potent whether fresh or dried, the leaves can be ripped off the spine and crumpled to release its fragrance and flavor or slice thinly into ribbons. Frozen leaves keep beautifully.

Jeruk limo (Nasnaran Mandarin) are small and very juicy. They are excellent in sambals and used to neutralize the “fishy” smell of seafood. My uncle has a jeruk limo tree in his Southern California garden and my mom receives care packages every few months. She freezes the limes and uses them sparingly.

Another lime, jeruk nipis, is very similar to key limes. Squeeze over sambals and noodle soups. I often use a combination of lime leaves, key limes and Meyer lemon to replicate the flavors.


A.K.A. screwpine leaves Matt Taylor-Gross

I’ve dubbed pandan the vanilla of Southeast Asia. This fragrant leaf imparts both aroma and color to many Indonesian dishes, both sweet and savory. Pandan leaves are often tied in a knot and steeped in a syrup that’s added to various drinks and desserts. It is also tossed into sweet snacks like sweet black rice porridge (bubur hitam), coconut rice and curries.

As a coloring agent, the leaves are crushed together with some water and squeezed to release their green juice. Bottled pandanus extract is available, but the artificial flavor puts me off and I’d rather go with frozen leaves instead. I still dream of the pandan chiffon cakes that my mom used to make.


Salam leaves (Eugenia polyantha Wight.), a member of the cassia family, add a sweet, earthy flavor to many dishes. They are sometimes called Indonesian or Indian bay leaves. Indeed, they are used in the same way bay leaves are used in Western cooking, but the two are not interchangeable. Salam leaves are only available dried in the U.S. If you can’t find any at the Asian market, omit. It is one of three key ingredients in the Indonesian bouquet garni.

Shrimp Paste

A.K.A. trassi, terasi Matt Taylor-Gross

As a little girl, I ran the other way whenever my mom started frying shrimp paste. Sometimes, she’d fry it in her gigantic steel wok sometimes she would skewer a large chunk of it and stick it in the open flame of our gas stove. Thankfully, she always cooked in our outdoor kitchen. The blackened shrimp paste was then sauteed with chilies, shallots, bell peppers and palm sugar to make my mom’s famous chili-shrimp paste (sambal terasi). Raw Indonesian shrimp paste is sold in solid blocks (a pain to break up) as well as in a cooked, granulated form which is so much more convenient to use—buy it if you find it.


In Indonesian, asam literally means ‘sour,’ hence tamarind’s name, asam Jawa. Other sour fruit exist (including asam gelugur and asam kandis) but tamarind is the souring agent I use most often. I’ve seen both dried tamarind pods and “wet” tamarind (coffee-colored blocks in cellophane packaging) at the Asian market, but I prefer wet tamarind. And if I can help it, I never ever buy the ready-made tamarind paste or pulp. It is so lacking in flavor. Break off chunks of wet tamarind and soak in hot water. Sieve to retrieve the pulp.

Fresh herbs and spices Edit

Image Thai name Thai script English name Description and use
Bai bua bok ใบบัวบก Centella asiatica Indian pennywort Usually made into iced drink.
Bai toei ใบเตย Pandan or screwpine leaves This sweet smelling leaf is used for flavouring different sweet snacks/desserts. It is also used in the well known dish Kai ho bai toei, deep fried chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves, as well as to stuff the belly of barbecued fish
Bai ya nang ใบย่านาง Tiliacora triandra Leaves used in the preparation of kaeng no mai som (Thai: แกงหน่อไม้ส้ม ), sometimes called kaeng Lao (Thai: แกงลาว ).
Gui chai กุ่ยช่าย Allium tuberosum Chinese chives Closer in flavour to garlic than onions. Used to season cooking and is used in stir fries such as pad Thai. Comes in green and yellow varieties.
Horapha โหระพา Thai sweet basil A variety of the sweet basil with a taste of anise. It is used in different curries such as red and green curry and often also served separately.
Kha ข่า Galangal The perfume-like scent and flavour of the galangal root is characteristic for many Thai curries and spicy soups.
Kha min ขมิ้น Turmeric This yellow coloured root is often used in dishes of Muslim/Southern Thai origin and in Northern Thailand for Northern style curries.
Khing ขิง Ginger Either served raw (shredded or diced) with dishes such as Miang kham and Khanom chin sao nam, in certain chilli dips, or in stir fried dishes of Chinese origin.
Krachai กระชาย Fingerroot This root has a slightly medicinal flavour and is used in certain fish dishes and curries.
Kaphrao กะเพรา Holy basil Holy basil has a distinctive scent of clove and reddish tipped leaves. It is used, for instance, in the well-known Kraphao mu (minced pork fried with basil).
Krathiam กระเทียม Garlic Besides being used cooked or fried, garlic is used raw in many dips and salad dressings. It is also served raw on the side with several Thai dishes such as Khao kha mu (stewed pork served on rice) or as one of the ingredients for dishes such as Miang kham.
Maenglak แมงลัก Lemon basil The leaves are used in certain curries. It is also indispensable with Khanom chin nam ya. The seeds resemble frog's eggs when soaked in water and are used in sweet desserts.
Phak chi ผักชี Coriander/cilantro leaves The leaves are seen often as a garnish with many Thai dishes. It is indispensable for Tom yam soup.
Phak chi farang ผักชีฝรั่ง Culantro A herb often seen in spicy soups and Northern curries. It literally means "European coriander", perhaps because it was brought from the Caribbean to Thailand by Europeans.
Phak chi Lao ผักชีลาว Dill Fresh dill is used mainly in certain soups and in curries from north-eastern Thailand which do not contain coconut milk. It literally means "coriander from Laos" in Thai.
Phak phai ผักไผ่ Vietnamese coriander The Persicaria odorata is used sparingly in Thai cuisine. It is indispensable with Lap lu, a Northern Thai dish of raw minced pork, beef or buffalo, and blood, with spices, herbs and leaves.
Phrik chi fa พริกชี้ฟ้า Chilli spur pepper Capsicum annuum L. var. acuminatum Fingerh. is a medium-sized chilli and less spicy than the phrik khi nu, it is often added to stir fried dishes and curries as a kind of "vegetable". Either red, yellow, or green in colour.
Phrik khi nu พริกขี้หนู Bird's eye chilli This small chilli is one of the spiciest and used extensively in Thai cooking. The Thai name literally translates to "mouse-dropping chilli"
Phrik khi nu suan พริกขี้หนูสวน Garden mouse dropping chilli This variety of the phrik khi nu is even smaller and even more spicy.
Phrik Thai on พริกไทยอ่อน Fresh peppercorns Thai cuisine often uses fresh (green) peppercorns in stir fried dishes and in certain curries such as Kaeng pa (so-called Jungle Curry).
Phrik yuak phrik wan พริกหยวก พริกหวาน Wax pepper sweet pepper bell pepper Very large, mild tasting pale-green peppers which can be found in certain stir fried dishes or deep fried stuffed with, for instance, pork.
Rak phak chi รากผักชี coriander/cilantro root The roots of the coriandrum sativum are often used in curry pastes and certain soups such as Tom yam kung.
Saranae สะระแหน่ Spearmint Used in many Thai salads and sometimes as a way to suppress the 'muddy' taste of certain fish when steamed.
Takhrai ตะไคร้ Lemon grass Used extensively in many Thai dishes such as curries, spicy soups and salads.
Makrut มะกรูด Makrut lime, kaffir lime, Thai lime Citrus hystrix. The leaves in particular are widely used.

Dried herbs and spices Edit

Image Thai name Thai script English name Description and use
Dipli ดีปลี Long pepper The dried spice is used in many northern Thai dishes for its heat and flavour. It is most famously used in northern Thai lap.
Dok ngio ดอกเงี้ยว Bombax ceiba Cotton tree flowers The dried flowers of the Bombax ceiba tree, they are used in northern Thai dishes such as nam ngiao.
Kanphlu กานพลู Cloves Used in certain meat dishes, most notably in Matsaman curry.
Luk chanthet ลูกจันทน์เทศ Nutmeg nut Used in certain Indian style curries, most notably in Matsaman curry.
Makhwaen มะแขว่น Zanthoxylum limonella A type of prickly ash, and related to the Sichuan pepper, these seeds are used most often in northern Thai cuisine for their spicy, hot taste. [1]
Nga งา Sesame seed The oil from the sesame seed is not really used in Thai cuisine (unlike in Chinese cuisine). The seeds (black and white sesame) are mainly used whole in certain deep fried desserts such as thong muan (Thai: ทองม้วน ).
Opchoei อบเชย Cassia cinnamon Used in certain meat dishes, most notably in Matsaman curry.
Phong kari ผงกะหรี่ Curry powder Thai curries are nearly always made with fresh pastes. Curry powder is only used when making certain Indian influenced curries, as well as in stir-fried dishes (often in combination with scrambled eggs) called phat pong kari.
Phong phalo ผงพะโล้ Five-spice powder The Chinese five-spice powder is used mainly in Thai-Chinese dishes such as mu phalo (pork stewed in soy sauce, Thai: หมูพะโล้ )
Phrik haeng พริกแห้ง Dried chillies Dried chillies can be used in many ways in Thai cuisine: either ground into chilli flakes and used as a condiment, as an ingredient for Thai curry pastes, in chilli pastes and dips, or deep-fried and served whole with certain dishes.
Phrik lap พริกลาบ An elaborate mix of dried spices used in lap Lanna, a category of minced meat salads from Northern Thailand. Some of the ingredients used in this spice mix are: coriander seed, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, prickly ash and long pepper. [2]
Phrik pon พริกป่น Crushed dried chillies, used extensively in Thai cuisine, for instance in lap, and for making several types of nam chim and nam phrik (dipping sauces and chilli pastes). Also served as one of the standard accompaniments to noodles soups.
Phrik Thai dam พริกไทยดำ Black pepper
Phrik Thai (Phrik Thai khao) พริกไทย (พริกไทยขาว) White pepper
Thian khao plueak เทียนข้าวเปลือก Fennel seeds Most often used as one of the spices in northern Thai phrik larb/lap.
Image Thai name Thai script English name Description and use
Kapi กะปิ Thai shrimp paste Fermented ground shrimp and salt. It has a pungent aroma. It is used in red curry paste, in the famous chili paste called nam phrik kapi.
Khrueang kaeng เครื่องแกง Thai curry paste Literally meaning "curry ingredients", Thai curry paste can be made fresh at home or bought freshly made at markets in Thailand or pre-packaged for export markets. Most khrueang kaeng will be a ground mixture of fresh or dried chillies, various spices and herbs, and other ingredients such as shrimp paste. Instead of khrueang kaeng, curry pastes can also be called nam phrik in Thailand, although this usually refers to chilli pastes which are eaten as part of a meal.
Pla ra ปลาร้า Salt fermented fish sauce Also a sauce made from fermented fish. It is more pungent than nam pla, and, in contrast to nam pla which is a clear liquid, pla ra is opaque and still contains pieces of fish. Also called ปลาแดก pla daek.
Taochiao เต้าเจี้ยว Yellow soybean paste Yellow soybean paste has a sweet-and-salty taste which is more "earthy" than that of soya sauce. It is used in the dish Phak bung fai daeng (stir-fried water spinach. [3]
Tua nao ถั่วเน่า Made from fermented soy beans in the form of round patties, within Thailand they are mainly used in northern Thai cuisine as a flavouring agent similar to how shrimp paste is used
Image Thai name Thai script English name Description and use
Bai po ใบปอ Corchorus olitorius (Jute) The leaves are eaten blanched as a dish with khao tom kui (plain rice congee). The taste resembles that of spinach and samphire.
Bai yo ใบยอ Noni leaves Leaves are cooked with coconut milk in kaeng bai yo. [4]
Buap hom บวบหอม Luffa aegyptiaca Used in stir-fries, in curries and in Kaeng type soups.
Buap liam บวบเหลี่ยม Luffa acutangula Used in stir-fries and in Kaeng type soups.
Chaphlu ชะพลู Piper sarmentosum This leaf is used raw as a wrapper for the Thai dish Miang kham.
Fak thong ฟักทอง Kabocha Used in curries, stir-fries, soups, salads and sweets.
Hom daeng หอมแดง Shallot Shallots, not onions, are essential for Thai cuisine. They are used for making Thai curry pastes, salads, and certain condiments and pickles. They are also served raw on the side with certain dishes such as khao soi.
Kalam pli กะหล่ำปลี White cabbage In Thai cuisine, cabbage is often served raw on the side with Thai salads such as som tam or lap, steamed or raw with nam phrik, or boiled in soups and curries.
Khanaeng แขนง Cabbage sprouts The sprouts that come up from the roots after the main cabbage has been harvested, are simply called khanaeng, meaning "sprouts", or khanaeng kalam pli, "cabbage sprouts". [5] They resemble and taste somewhat like brussels sprouts. It is often eaten stir-fried with, for instance, pork.
Khilek ขี้เหล็ก Senna siamea The leaves, tender pods and seeds are edible, but they must be previously boiled and the water discarded. One of the most well-known preparations is Kaeng khilek (แกงขี้เหล็ก). [6]
Krachiap กระเจี๊ยบ Okra It is usually served blanched or raw together with a Nam phrik (chilli dip), but it may be also served slightly barbecued or used in curries and stir-fried dishes.
Makhuea phuang มะเขือพวง Pea eggplant This pea sized eggplant is often used in curries and is indispensable in Nam phrik kapi, a chilli dip containing shrimp paste, where it is used raw.
Makhuea pro มะเขือเปราะ Thai eggplant About the size of a ping pong ball, these eggplants are used in curries or stir-fries, but they are also eaten raw with Nam phrik (Chilli dips).
Makhuea thet มะเขือเทศ Tomato Literally meaning "foreign eggplant", it is used in salad such as Som tam, as an ingredient in stir-fries such as in Thai fried rice, but also cooked to a thick sauce as in the chilli paste Nam phrik ong.
Mara มะระ Bitter melon or bitter gourd The small variety is most often eaten raw with Nam phrik. Popular is Tom chuet mara (Thai: ต้มจืดมะระ ): bitter gourd in a clear broth, often stuffed with minced pork.
Marum มะรุม Drumstick Most parts of the tree are edible: the long pods, the leaves, the flowers and the roots. Used in curries, stir-fries, soups, omelets, salads and also medicinal preparations.
Nor mai หน่อไม้ Bamboo shoot Used in stir-fried dishes and Thai curries.
Nor mai farang หน่อไม้ฝรั่ง Green asparagus. Literally meaning "European bamboo shoot", green asparagus is used mainly in vegetable stir-fries.
Phak bung ผักบุ้ง Morning-glory or water spinach The large variety (Phak bung chin) is mostly eaten stir-fried or in soup. The small variety (Phak bung na) is generally served raw with Som tam or with Nam phrik.
Phak chi lom ผักชีล้อม Oenanthe javanica Eaten in soups, curries, stir-fries and also raw. This is one of the vegetables known as Phak chi lom, the other is Trachyspermum roxburghianum. [7]
Phak kat hongte ผักกาดฮ่องเต้ Bok choy Used mainly in Thai-Chinese soups and stir-fries, this vegetable is known under several names in Thailand. Besides the aforementioned, it can also be called phak kat hongte (Thai: ผักกาด ฮ่องเต้ ), phak kwantung hongte (Thai: ผักกวางตุ้งฮ่องเต้ ), and phak kwantung Hong Kong (Thai: ผักกวางตุ้งฮ่องกง ). Hongte, derived from the Chinese Hokkien dialect, means "Emperor (of China)", and kwantung is the Thai word for Guangdong, a province of China. The "Hong Kong" variety of bok choy is generally larger and sweeter than the bok choy known under the other names.
Phak kat khao ผักกาดขาว Chinese cabbage Literally "white cabbage", it is often eaten in soups and stir-fried dishes but also raw, sliced very thin, with certain spicy noodle soups or raw with Nam phrik.
Phak kat khiao ผักกาดเขียว Mustard greens Literally "green cabbage", it is often eaten in soups and stir-fried dishes.
Phak khana ผักคะน้า Chinese broccoli or Kai-lan Mostly eaten stir-fried with oyster sauce.
Phak khayaeng ผักแขยง Limnophila aromatica Eaten raw with Nam phrik. Popular in Isan.
Phak khom ผักขม Amaranthus spp. [7] Used in salads and in soups like Tom chap chai and Tom kha mu. Mostly hybrids are offered in the market. The red-leafed Amaranth is known as Phak khom bai daeng (Thai: ผักขมใบแดง )
Phak krachet ผักกระเฉด Water mimosa Usually eaten raw with Nam phrik. Popular in Isan.
Phak krathin ผักกระถิน Leucaena leucocephala Tender pods or seeds are eaten raw with Nam phrik.
Phak kwangtung ผักกวางตุ้ง Choy sum Literally "Guangdong greens", it is often eaten in soups and stir-fried dishes.
Phak sian ผักเสี้ยน Spider plant The leaves are a popular food item fermented with rice water as Phak sian dong pickle. [8]
Phak waen ผักแว่น Marsilea crenata Eaten raw with Nam phrik. Popular in Isan.
Phak wan ผักหวาน Melientha suavis [7] Used in soups, mainly the sour soup of the kaeng type. [9]
Riang เหรียง Tree bean The young pods are edible.
Sato khao สะตอข้าว Stink bean The seeds of the Parkia speciosa (inside the pods) are usually eaten in stir fries.
Taengkwa แตงกวา Cucumber Typical Thai cucumbers are small. Eaten raw with Nam phrik or as a Som tam ingredient.
Talapat ruesi ตาลปัตรฤๅษี Limnocharis flava Eaten in soups, curries and stir-fries. Popular in Isan. It is popularly known as Phak phai (Thai: ผักพาย ), not to be confused with Phak phai (Thai: ผักไผ่ ), the leaves of Persicaria odorata, another type of edible leaf. [7]
Thua fak yao ถั่วฝักยาว Yardlong beans A very versatile bean, it is used in curries and stir-fried dishes, but also served raw in Som tam salad or together with a Nam phrik (chilli dip).
Thua ngok ถั่วงอก Bean sprouts It is often eaten in soups and stir-fried dishes. Thais tend to eat bean sprouts raw to semi-raw, for instance in Phat Thai noodles where it is either sprinkled on top of the finished dish raw or added into the pan for one quick stir before serving
Thua phu ถั่วพู Winged bean Often eaten raw with Nam phrik.
Thua rae ถั่วแระ Soybean [10] Pods are boiled and seeds are eaten as a snack with salt.
Image Thai name Thai script English name Description and use
Man kaeo มันแกว Jicama This tuberous root is mostly eaten raw with sugar, as if it was a fruit.
Man sampalang มันสำปะหลัง Cassava A popular traditional cassava-based dish is Chueam (Thai: เชื่อม ), a candied starchy dessert. The tubers are also used for making tapioca pearls used in desserts and drinks.
Man thet มันเทศ Sweet potato Man thet (literally meaning "foreign tuber") is popularly also known as man daeng (Thai: มันแดง "red tuber") boiled pieces are eaten as a snack or used as an ingredient for desserts.
Pheuak เผือก Taro Usually boiled pieces are an ingredient of a variety of desserts. Slices of deep fried taro are also popular as a snack.
Rak bua รากบัว Lotus root
Image Thai name Thai script English name Description and use
Bai makok ใบมะกอก Spondias mombin Bai makok is the leaf of the Spondias mombin, a relative of the cashew. The young leaves are served raw with certain types of Nam phrik (Thai chilli pastes). The taste is sour and slightly bitter. The fruit of this tree are also eaten.
Cha-om ชะอม Acacia pennata Young feathery leaves of the Acacia pennata tree which are used in omelettes, soups and curries. In Northern Thai cuisine they are also eaten raw as for instance with Tam mamuang, a green mango salad.
Chiknam or Kradon จิกน้ำ or กระโดน Barringtonia acutangula Shoots, young leaves and flowers of the tree are eaten raw with Nam phrik. Popular in Isan.
Dala ดาหลา Etlingera elatior Can be eaten in Yam preparations, [11] said to have medicinal value as well.
Dok anchan ดอกอัญชัน Clitoria ternatea Can be eaten raw or fried, but mostly it is used to make a blue food colouring to colour rice or sweets, like Khanom dok anchan.
Dok khae ดอกแค Sesbania grandiflora The flowers of the Sesbania grandiflora are often eaten steamed with Nam phrik or used in certain curries such as kaeng som.
Dok khae thale ดอกแคทะเล Dolichandrone spathacea The flowers are usually eaten sauteed or in kaeng som.
Dok khae hua mu ดอกแคหัวหมู Markhamia stipulata Often confused with Dok khae thale, as both are also known as Dok khae pa. The flowers are usually eaten sauteed or in kaeng som.
Dok salit ดอกสลิด Telosma cordata Mostly either boiled and eaten with Nam phrik or stir-fried in Phat dok salit.
Dok sano ดอกโสน Sesbania bispinosa These small yellow flowers are eaten stir-fried, in omelette or in sweets such as in Khanom dok sano.
Huapli หัวปลี Banana flower Banana flowers can be eaten raw, e.g. Yam hua pli (a spicy salad with thinly sliced banana flowers), or steamed with a Nam phrik (chilli dip). It can also feature in Som tam, in soups or deep-fried, as in Thot man huapli. The taste of the steamed flowers is somewhat similar to that of artichokes.
Lep khrut เล็บครุฑ Polyscias fruticosa Literally translated, the Thai name means "claws of the Garuda". These slightly bitter and slightly sour leaves can be served raw together with a chilli dip. It is also used as a vegetable in certain Thai curries.
Phak liang ผักเหลียง Melinjo Commonly made into an omelet. Associated with Southern Thai cuisine.
Phak lueat ผักเลือด Ficus virens The young, slightly bitter leaves of the Ficus virens are used boiled in certain Northern Thai curries.
Pheka เพกา Oroxylum indicum Leaves and young pods are eaten raw. The large mature pods are grilled and the inside is scraped and eaten along with Lap. [12]
Sadao สะเดา Neem tree The leaves and flowers of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) are eaten blanched, often with Nam phrik.
Thong lang ทองหลาง Erythrina fusca This leaf is used raw as a wrapper for the Thai dish Miang kham.
Image Thai name Thai script English name Description and use
Het fang เห็ดฟาง (means 'straw mushroom') Straw mushroom, Volvariella volvacea Agricultural fungus (widely)

Mostly as a kind of vegetable in any soups and curries include Tom yum, Kaeng pa, Kaeng leang, and in several stir fried dishes include Phat phak ruam.

Mostly as a kind of vegetable in any clear soups or any stir-fried dishes.

Mostly as a kind of vegetable in any soups and in several stir fried dishes.

Mostly as a kind of vegetable in any soups and in several stir fried dishes.

Mostly as a kind of vegetable in any clear soups

Mostly as a kind of vegetable in any soups include Tom kha kai, Kaeng pa.

Most common ingredients

CuisineIngredient % of recipes that use. African Onion 53% American Butter 44% Asian Soy Sauce 50% Cajun/Creole Onion 70% Central/South American Garlic 57% Chinese Soy Sauce 66% Eastern European/Russian Butter 60% English/Scottish Butter 67% French Butter 49% German Butter 56% Greek Olive Oil 76% Indian Cumin 58% Irish Butter 59% Italian Olive Oil 66% Japanese Soy Sauce 61% Jewish Egg 59% Mediterranean Olive Oil 80% Mexican Cayenne Pepper 71% Middle Eastern Olive Oil 60% Moroccan Olive Oil 73% Scandinavian Butter 53% Southern/Soul Food Butter 58% Southwestern Cayenne Pepper 81% Spanish/Portuguese Olive Oil 63% Thai Garlic 57% Vietnamese Fish Sauce 78%

As Priceonomics notes, there's a caveat: Because Epicurious is an English-language site that draws recipes from American food publications, its perspective on international cuisine is Western-centric. The results might be quite different with recipes in each cuisine's native language. What's more, the list doesn't account for the potency of these ingredients: Being used more frequently doesn't mean that an ingredient will dominate the recipe, let alone the taste palette of an entire cuisine.

So take the data with a dash of salt.

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here.

Most distinctive ingredients

CuisineIngredient% of recipes that use"¦ African Caraway 8% American Apple 5% Asian Sesame Oil 30% Cajun/Creole Okra 8% Central/South American Avocado 13% Chinese Peanut Oil 16% Eastern European/Russian Egg Noodle 7% English/Scottish Currant 10% French Tarragon 5% German Sauerkraut 15% Greek Feta Cheese 31% Indian Black Mustard Seed Oil 5% Irish Whiskey 8% Italian Romano Cheese 5% Japanese Katsuobushi 9% Jewish Apricot 7% Mediterranean Feta Cheese 10% Mexican Avocado 15% Middle Eastern Roasted Sesame Seed 9% Moroccan Caraway 10% Scandinavian Herring 8% Southern/Soul Food Corn Grit 9% Southwestern Black Beans 8% Spanish/Portuguese Saffron 11% Thai Galangal 11% Vietnamese Thai Pepper 14%

Yep, that's right. For Irish cuisine: Whiskey.

Those percentages vary widely because they identify ingredients that are disproportionately common, in order to exclude common ingredients used quite pretty similarly around the globe, such as butter, onion, or cayenne pepper. Those items are listed as "distinctive" only if they're used in an unusually large amount. For example, "peanut oil is the most distinctive ingredient of Chinese cuisine, because it is found in 16% of Chinese recipes, but less than 2% of the non-Chinese recipes," Priceonomics explains.

The blog did crunch the numbers for the most common ingredients, too:

Most common ingredients

CuisineIngredient % of recipes that use. African Onion 53% American Butter 44% Asian Soy Sauce 50% Cajun/Creole Onion 70% Central/South American Garlic 57% Chinese Soy Sauce 66% Eastern European/Russian Butter 60% English/Scottish Butter 67% French Butter 49% German Butter 56% Greek Olive Oil 76% Indian Cumin 58% Irish Butter 59% Italian Olive Oil 66% Japanese Soy Sauce 61% Jewish Egg 59% Mediterranean Olive Oil 80% Mexican Cayenne Pepper 71% Middle Eastern Olive Oil 60% Moroccan Olive Oil 73% Scandinavian Butter 53% Southern/Soul Food Butter 58% Southwestern Cayenne Pepper 81% Spanish/Portuguese Olive Oil 63% Thai Garlic 57% Vietnamese Fish Sauce 78%

As Priceonomics notes, there's a caveat: Because Epicurious is an English-language site that draws recipes from American food publications, its perspective on international cuisine is Western-centric. The results might be quite different with recipes in each cuisine's native language. What's more, the list doesn't account for the potency of these ingredients: Being used more frequently doesn't mean that an ingredient will dominate the recipe, let alone the taste palette of an entire cuisine.

So take the data with a dash of salt.

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here.

Thai Kitchen Essentials

As the country (finally) collectively thaws after a particularly nasty winter, Thai restaurants are heating up from coast to coast. Andy Ricker's Pok Pok empire is expanding to Los Angeles, with Pok Pok Phat Thai already open and Pok Pok L.A. on its way. In Houston, chef PJ Stoops is set to unleash Foreign Correspondents this spring, and international chain Mango Tree recently opened its first American outpost in Washington, D.C.

In San Francisco, chef James Syhabout, who's from Northeastern Thailand, just opened a second location of his well-received Thai street food restaurant, Hawker Fare. But you don't need to eat out to get a taste of Thailand. After a recent cultural and culinary tour of his home country to hone in on the flavors he's serving, Syhabout helped put together a guide to mapping out everything you need to cook great Thai food at home.

? Galangal
Galangal, like ginger, is a rhizome, and the two are closely related. Galangal, however, "imparts a totally different flavor," Syhabout says. "Ginger is definitely not a substitute." Be sure to find the real deal, which can mean buying frozen galangal if necessary.

? Kaffir Lime
Kaffir limes are used for their leaves and skins. The fruit doesn't yield much juice, but the essential oils in the peel provide great aromatics for curries and curry pastes.

? Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is used as salt in Thai cuisine. "It's the backbone of Thai cooking," Syhabout says, noting that it also imparts umami. But not all fish sauces are created equal. "People don't realize, but there's a huge variation across brands," Syhabout says. His choice is Tiparos, but he suggests conducting a personal tasting as you might with an array of olive oils.

? Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is used in stir-fries and marinades. "A little goes a long way," Syhabout says. Try to find actual oyster sauce, such as Maekrua, though Chinese-style "oyster-flavored sauce" will work in a pinch.

? Thai Bird (Bird's Eye) Chile
The Thai bird or bird's eye chile is ubiquitous—and very hot. "It will punch you in the nose," Syhabout warns. "It's a sharp spice." They're best to use fresh, however fresno or serrano chiles are fine substitutes.

? Thai Basil and Holy Basil
Thai basil and holy, or hot, basil are both different from the "sweet" Genovese basil more common in the United States. Holy basil is used in stir-fries to impart herbal and anise notes, and Thai basil, with its beautiful purple stems and buds, is commonly used in soups, where it lends a sharper, bolder flavor.

? Palm Sugar
"Palm sugar is the best," Syhabout says. It offers a caramelized sweetness similar to light brown sugar, with a woodsy, earthy undertone. You'll likely find it in small, hardened "cakes" or blocks, which can be shaved, melted and incorporated into a dish.

? Coconut Milk
There's no Thai curry and no tom kha soup without coconut milk, meaning you should have plenty on hand and ready to go at all times. Syhabout suggests AROY-D coconut milk—cartoned, not canned.

? Tamarind
The acidic kick from tamarind isn't as sharp as lime. "It's more round and balanced," Syhabout says. It's used in various soups, sauces and marinades, and Syhabout also fondly remembers his mother making homemade tamarind jam to spread onto toast.

? Sticky Rice
Sticky rice is an indispensable staple in most Thai meals, sopping up sauce and flavor and offering an easy mode of delivery.

? Bamboo Cone Sticky Rice Steamer
To make great sticky rice at home, "you have to have the right equipment for the right job," Syhabout says. As opposed to a regular steamer set, he suggests specially made woven bamboo cones, placed over a corresponding pot to steam the rice while ensuring the water never makes direct contact. For the best results, soak the rice in water for 24 hours and strain it prior to steaming.

? Wok and Metal Spatula
There's no such thing as the perfect wok. Instead, choose the shape or size that allows you to extract as much heat as possible. Syhabout warns though that you really need a gas stove to make woks work. . "If you have an electric stove, you're pretty much screwed," he says.

? Mortar and Pestle
Mortar and pestles are must-haves, used for everything from hand-pounding curry paste and sauces to creating som tum (green papaya salad).

? Thailand: The Cookbook, by Jean-Pierre Gabriel
Jean-Pierre Gabriel's beautifully photographed cookbook has been hailed as one of the most definitive collections of authentic Thai recipes available. The book boasts more than 500 recipes, sourced from each corner of the country.

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