Thai soups and Thai appetizers
The Thais “snack” all through the day and into the night and so in the city and village markets street side vendors offer a multitude of good things to eat. Some dishes are small, others, like the popular noodle dishes, are more substantial and can even make a meal in themselves: all can be regarded as snacks to eat separately or as appetizers forming the first part of a meal. Appetizers, snacks, hors d’ oeuvres-however you treat them, they are delicious.
Stir-fried Thai noodles (Phad Thai) are often served as an appetizer in Thai restaurants. This is a colorful dish of fried rice noodles and shrimp accompanied by fresh vegetables like crispy bean sprouts and banana blossoms.
Another appetizer which will tantalize the palate is fish cakes (taud man pla), which are especially good when served with refreshing cucumber salad (tum taeng).
Satay, yet another popular appetizer, consists of curry marinated chicken or beef strips charcoal-broiled on skewers. They are usually served with a peanut dipping sauce (nam jim satay) although other sauces can be served.
The huge variety of appetizers means that, whatever dishes are served later in the meal, a complementary appetizer can be served first, to ready the diner for the taste sensations to follow. Unlike Western-style cuisine, soup is not served as an appetizer in a Thai meal.
While a soup dish is included in a full Thai meal to provide liquid refreshment throughout the meal, soup is also used as a snack or a meal on its own. Rice soup is a favorite light nourishment at both the beginning and end of the day. Rice soup with pork (khao tom moo) and glass noodle soup (gaeng jued woon sen) are popular for breakfast. These and other light soups like Thai wonton soup (geow nam moo) are also used as snacks or as a light luncheon dish. Thai wonton soup contains wontons cooked in a thin salty stock, with bok choy and bean sprouts spiced up with green onions, cilantro and fried garlic.
Other soups served at lunchtime are more substantial. Red Sea noodles (yen to fo), for example, is a striking noodle soup. A mouthful initially resonates with a salty and sour tone, punctuated by a slight note of sweetness. Yen ta fo contains pork, fish cakes, squid and fried wontons and is garnished with fried garlic.
A soup dish is also an essential part of a full Thai meal. Diners refresh their palates with small sips in between the flavors of the various other dishes. A full Thai meal is an ensemble of distinctive flavors: the citrus freshness of lemon grass, mint and kaffir lime leaf; the aromatic freshness imparted by spices such as cardamon, star anise, turmeric and cinnamon; and the fierce bite of chilies and pepper.
Soups play an important role in this symphony of flavors. Hot and sour shrimp soup (tom yum goong), for example, gives a taste that is sour, savory and hot. This refreshing and tart soup includes lemon grass and fresh lime juice. Tamarind flavor soup (gaeng som pla chon) is an orange-colored fish soup containing swamp cabbage. The color derives from dried chili peppers and the subtle sourness comes from tamarind juice. Another popular soup, coconut milk curry (tom kha Gai) bathes tender pieces of chicken in the silky creaminess of coconut milk. The “kha” in the name refers to galangal, a root which resembles ginger in appearance but its inimitable flavor contains a mint-like jolt.