The ingredient found in almost all Thai dishes and every region of the country is nam pla, a very aromatic and strong tasting fish sauce. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine and imparts a unique character to Thai food. Fish sauce is prepared with fermented fish that is made into a fragrant condiment and provides a salty flavor. There are many varieties of fish sauce and many variations in the way it is prepared. Some fish may be fermented with shrimp and/or spices.
Pla ra is 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, it is opaque and often contains pieces of fish. To use it in som tam (spicy papaya salad) is a matter of choice.
Kapi, Thai shrimp paste, is a combination of fermented ground shrimp and salt. It is used, for instance, in red curry paste, in the famous chili paste called nam phrik kapi and in rice dishes such as khao khluk kapi.
Nam phrik are Thai chilli pastes, similar to the Indonesian and Malaysian sambals. Each region has its own special versions. The wording “nam phrik” is used by Thais to describe any paste containing chilies used for dipping. Curry pastes are normally called phrik kaeng or khrueang kaeng, litt. curry ingredients) but some people also use the word nam phrik to designate a curry pastes. Red curry paste, for instance, could be called phrik kaeng phet or khrueang kaeng phet in Thai, but also nam phrik kaeng phet. Both nam phrik and phrik kaeng are prepared by crushing together chillies with various ingredients such as garlic and shrimp paste using a mortar and pestle. Some nam phrik are served as a dip with vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw or blanched. One such paste is nam phrik num, a paste of pounded fresh green chilies, shallots, garlic and coriander leaves. The sweet roasted chili paste called nam phrik phao is often used as an ingredient in Tom yam or when frying meat or seafood, and it is also popular as a spicy “jam” on bread. The dry nam phrik kung, made with pounded dried prawns (kung haeng, Thai: กุ้งแห้ง), is often eaten with rice and a few slices of cucumber.
The soy sauces which are used in Thai cuisine are of Chinese origin and the Thai names for them are (wholly or partially) loan words from the Teochew language: si-io dam (dark soy sauce), si-io khao (light soy sauce), and taochiao (fermented whole soy beans). Namman hoi (oyster sauce) is also of Chinese origin. It is used extensively in vegetable and meat stir-fries.
The cooking class at Suwannee is an ideal home-style learning environment that is different from most of the opportunities in the hotels and restaurants in Thailand. Not will you be only watch and participate in the cooking of a number of traditional Thai dishes; also as part of our course we visit a local market to learn about local exotic fruits and vegetables, there is always an abundance of new things to see……and taste!