Thai cuisine is no more difficult to master than any other. And, thanks to mail-order outfits like Amazon, increasingly well-stocked supermarket “international sections,” and the proliferation of Asian groceries, Thai ingredients are more accessible than ever. Start simple! Choose a dish, perhaps a simple yam. If you can make a decent yam, you can move on to another. Then try a kaeng [curry], and build up your repertoire slowly.
Here is a list of ingredients to stock a basic Thai pantry. Purchase these items in a single shopping trip and you’ll be all set to cook a wide variety of classic (and a few esoteric) Thai dishes at home, from scratch.
Otherwise known as Nam Pla, you won’t find many Thai dishes that aren’t seasoned with this smelly but delicious seasoning! It shouldn’t contain anything but anchovies, salt and water and you only need a few drops to add that authentic Thai zing to your dinner.
Thai food is famous for including all the taste sensations – sweet, sour, salty and spicy!
Rice vinegar is perfect for adding sourness to dressings, especially if you are all out of fresh limes! If you don’t have rice vinegar then cider is an acceptable alternative – just don’t be splashing in your malt, these aren’t chips!
Popular especially in curries, coconut milk is great for cooling down spicy dishes and adding that sweet note. Easily available in most supermarkets these days, or you could go the whole hog and make your own by rinsing out coconut flesh with warm water…not as easy as it sounds. Buy the tin.
You can’t have a Thai meal without sticky rice. Jasmine rice should stick together in delicious lumps you can eat by hand – and it comes in brown and black versions as well for you healthy wholegrain types!
You can make your own if you have time (and elbow grease for the pestle and mortar) but most people – Thai included – are happy to buy the pre-made pastes, in all the various curry colours (why not have a look at our curry blog if you want to know more about those!)
All the chillies! Fresh and dried, all chillies find their way into Thai cuisine. If you like hot hot hot then you need to search out the demonic little ‘bird’ chillies for your stir fries. Otherwise just keep plenty of crushed red chillies to scatter liberally into your food. Yum!
Shallots and Garlic
A milder flavour than onions, shallots are delicious added into salsas and meals and can be fried up into crunchy delights to sprinkle on top of pretty much anything. And of course garlic should be used in everything, always, just because.
Thai cooks use fresh herbs in everything, and you really can’t beat them for adding authentic flavours. And they are really good for you! The most popular ones include Thai Basil if you can get it (normal is ok too), coriander and mint.