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It is perhaps telling of how much good food is loved in nations such as Hong Kong and Thailand, where people are known to ask the question “Have you already eaten?” as a greeting! Tangy, spicy, sweet, savoury, moreish, and intensely satisfying, Thai food consistently ranks high among Hongkongers’ favourite global cuisines, and for good reason. Compared to Western foods which are often heavy, Thai dishes are much lighter, but are still highly aromatic and flavoursome, often with an intricate attention to texture and details. The foodies at Eclipse Hospitality and Bangkok Bangkok tell us about five iconic Thai dishes that are beloved throughout Hong Kong.
As with many Southeast Asian cuisines, Thailand’s food culture has been mutually influenced by its neighbouring nations over the course of the country’s history, taking flavours especially from India, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia. There have also been Western influences, the most significant of which was the introduction of the chilli pepper from the Americas during the sixteenth or seventeenth century—it’s hard to imagine modern Thai cuisine without its iconic spicy kick now!
In general, traditional Thai food can be loosely grouped into four categories: tom (ต้ม), for boiled dishes; yam (ยำ), for mixed dishes like salads; tam (ตำ), for foods that have been pounded; and gaeng (แกง), for curries. Of course, there are also fried and steamed variations of dishes that have been derived from Chinese styles of cooking.
Within Thailand itself, the flavours of dishes can vary according to region. Differences often correlate to geography, where parts of Thailand are connected and influenced by its neighbours. Northern Thai dishes are similar to those found in Myanmar, northern Laos, and Yunnan in China, while Isan—or northeastern Thailand—is influenced by Cambodian Khmer and Vietnamese tastes.
The metropolitan capital city of Bangkok has taken on Teochew and Portuguese influences, as well as flavours from further abroad and its own royal cuisine, while southern Thailand, with its many complex curries, shares their copious usage of coconut milk, chillies, and turmeric with India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It is also this last type of regional variation that has affected Thai cuisine the most in general, and is likely what foreigners think of when Thai food is mentioned.
Originally a meat salad from Laos that was so popular it is seen as their unofficial national dish, larb (ลาบ) was mainly eaten in the Isan region, where there is a large community of Laotian people. Now popularised, the globally loved larb salad that people like to order in Thai restaurants is actually the traditional Lao or Isan variety, where minced chicken, beef, duck, fish, pork, or mushrooms is mixed with chilli, mint, and toasted rice crumbles, and flavoured with fish sauce, lime juice, and fresh herbs. This moreish dish is usually served with sticky rice, and raw vegetables on the side.
Better known on non-Thai menus as green papaya salad, som tam (ส้มตำ) is yet another ethnic Lao dish. As the name literally means “pounded sour [food],” a sour kick is the dominant taste here, but som tam also combines the best of the great Thai flavours: lime’s sourness, chilli’s heat, fish sauce’s savouriness, and palm sugar’s sweetness. The ingredients are mixed with papaya and pounded in a mortar. Unripe papaya is used in this recipe—hence the green colour—and because its texture is still crisp, it is able to withstand the pounding without being reduced to a pulp.
This common Thai street food is so ubiquitously tied to its country’s cuisine that everybody who has encountered Thai food will know of it. Pad thai (ผัดไทย) is made by stir-frying rice noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, and a protein such as prawns, chicken, beef, or tofu. A tangy sauce made with tamarind juice, fish sauce, and palm sugar is then tossed in, and the dish is served with crushed peanuts and ground dried chillies on the side. It is said that the pad thai was created by prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram in the 1930s in order to provide the people of Thailand with a nationally uniting dish to encourage national pride.
Thai green curry (แกงเขียวหวาน; kaeng khiao wan) literally means “sweet green curry,” but interestingly, the “sweet” in its name has nothing to do with flavour. As this dish is based on coconut milk and fresh green chillies, it is usually a creamy green in colour, and this shade of pale green is referred to as “sweet green” in Thai. There is no set recipe and flavours will vary according to the cook, but essentially a protein of either fish or meat is cooked in coconut milk, green curry paste, palm sugar, and fish sauce, along with Thai aubergines, pea aubergines, Thai basil, and other vegetables such as runner beans. Green curries are usually served with rice, though thicker variations are also known to go with roti, a flatbread similar to the Malaysian roti canai.
Everyone’s favourite tangy spicy soup is undoubtedly tom yum (ต้มยำ), whose name is essentially just a combination of two traditional Thai cooking methods mentioned before: tom (ต้ม) meaning to boil, and yam (ยำ) meaning to mix. The broth is typically made with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, fish sauce, lime juice, and red chillies, boasting distinctive spicy and sour flavour notes. You’ll often see the dish called tom yum goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง) on menus, but the last character refers to prawns, which is often added to this soup. Similarly, tom yum gai (ต้มยำไก่) is chicken tom yum, with several other varieties available.
Do you now find yourself drooling slightly at the thought of all this amazing Thai food? Even with Covid-19 closures and restrictions in place, Eclipse Hospitality, the force behind Hong Kong dining mainstays such as McSorley’s, Havana, Café Siam, and The Jockey, are here to save the day with another mouth-watering concept in Bangkok Bangkok!
Operating as a ghost kitchen, Bangkok Bangkok’s menu of Thai flavours is only available to order on Deliveroo. We think that’s simply all the better, because what can be easier than swiping on your phone, lying back on the couch, and having food brought directly to you? Aside from all the amazingly iconic dishes above, the restaurant also has great lunchbox specials, as well as dinner set menu deals. Pull up your delivery app and swipe through Bangkok Bangkok’s menu now to see which iconic Thai dish you’ll be ordering for your next meal now!