Summer Eats: My Life and ‘Thai’-mes (Thai Food Adventures)
When you think of a summer night in New England, you think of a warm evening breeze blowing through the air, a dusty blue sky tinted with hints of rose and silvery-yellow left over from sunset, and serene outdoor strolls. Last night was one of those. Just warm enough to still wear shorts and a t-shirt, with a cardigan packed up for the 9 PM chill, and just cool enough not to be dripping with sweat in the matter of minutes.
To me, those nights call for window shopping (or what I like to call Retail Therapy), a light-hearted and inspirational book, people watching, and an outdoor meal on a street-side terrace. So last night, you can guess what I set out exactly to do.
There’s a little Thai place near where I live, in a cobblestone shopping square. I had walked by it many times before, always curious at the delicious Asian smells wafting from the open doors, but I’d never actually stopped and eaten. Well, what better a night than last night to go on a Thai food adventure? Summer eats were calling, and so was some authentic Thai cuisine.
So with that summer breeze blowing, a steady flow of interesting people-watching traffic to my right, and the smells and sounds of this restaurant singing through the large open window near the outdoor terrace seat I had, I had a Thai Adventure. It was picturesque and, most of all, it was delicious.
To start, I can’t help it but go into any Asian restaurant and order hot tea. One, because I love tea (I think it may be part of the chemical makeup of my blood by now), and two, because it almost always comes in its own little personal pot. Anything little, cute, warm, tasty, and personal has me written all over it. Enter the Beverage of choice: Traditional Jasmine hot tea (mini teapot, cup, and saucer included of course).
The Jasmine plant has a lightly sweet, floral taste and smell, and is often drunken in Thailand and throughout Asia. Most popularly in Thai food, you’ll see it in the classic Jasmine Rice, where it adds a hint of freshness and slight mustiness to steamed white rice. In Thailand, the flowers of the Jasmine plant symbolize motherhood. It is a beautiful way to start off a beautiful, traditional meal.
For my appetizer, I moved on to another classic Thai dish: the Shrimp Summer Roll. Not only are they intensely fresh and delicious, but they epitomize the essence of the Thai culinary philosophy and hit your palette with a bright, light, and cleansing touch.
My summer rolls arrived piled artistically on a long white plate, a duo on either side of a small dish of Hoisin dipping sauce, a slightly sweet, slightly spicy fiery amber sauce whose use of Thai chilies intensifies the bright flavors of the shredded carrot, julienned cucumber, rice glass noodles, lettuce, steamed cold shrimp, peanut, and basil found inside the sticky rice wrapping of the summer roll.
A famous Australian chef and Thai expert David Thompson describes Thai food as such:
“Thai food ain’t about simplicity. It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord it’s got to have a smooth surface but it doesn’t matter what’s happening underneath…to a Thai that’s important, it’s the complexity they delight in.”
The summer roll is a prime example of exactly that: contrasts of an unfamiliar pairing brought together in a way in which they play off of each other to build one strong dish. The fresh cucumber complements the warm, spicy dip, and the sticky rice paper wrapping is a chewy contrast to the crunchy julienne vegetables inside. Slightly salty shrimp is paired with freshly bright raw Thai basil (a traditional and essential Thai herb) leaves. Apart, they are different and opposite. Together, they make a fun and complex (not to mention aesthetically appealing) appetizer.
Moving on to my main dish: my biggest risk and most pleasant surprise of the night. Being a picky eater as a kid, I was never one for trying new foods, especially Asian cuisine, so when we got Thai takeout, I was the kid who ordered steamed sticky rice every time, or tempura. And sauces. I’ve never been a sauce girl—I don’t even touch ranch or ketchup, preferring dressing-less salads and salt on my fries instead. I didn’t even eat tomato sauce on pasta until I was 10! I know, I’m a weirdo. But last night I decided it was high time to be daring, and ordered Thai Basil Chicken, a very traditional Thai stir fry in a mildly spicy red sauce with onions, red bell peppers, green beans, basil leaves, and chicken.
I need not say much more than “look at the picture” to describe how yummy it was. A truly Thai dish, it combines just enough spicy with a tad of sweetness and cleansing notes of basil together harmoniously. It maintains an air of lightness, both in color and texture, as the soft onions contrast and complement the chewy chicken and peppers and beans, which are cooked only enough to be soft, yet to still have a crunch. The colors are bright and appealing to look at, as Thai food stresses the visual aspect of cuisine as well.
This was all served with an adorable molded mountain of brown rice, which helped cut the spicy after-kick in the stir fry sauce. It was the most photogenic rice I have ever had, and I couldn’t resist snapping a picture before digging my fork into the mini rice-castle.
With that, my readers, I conclude my food encounter of a Thai kind, on a gorgeous Summer night in late July, paired with people watching and a light read. Just like Thai food itself, last night was a mixture of odd feelings and senses that, once brought together, formed a cohesive, multi-layered experience. All in all, it was a lovely experience and a lovely time. I can’t wait for my next adventure of its kind.
Have you had Thai food before? What’s your favorite Thai dish? If you haven’t, GO TRY IT NOW. Enjoy the summer eats and summer nights while the summer is still here.
Remember, flavors are colors too. Eat the rainbow!