Above: Hearty plates of rice and curry (ok, the other one is the fermented rice vermicelli or ‘Kanom Cheen’ with Thai green curry (Gang Khiao Wan) at an old-school Ran Khao Gaeng or the place that sells rice and curry in Chumporn province, about 500 kilometres south of Bangkok.
The heart of Thai cuisine
If you have just one meal in Thailand, and you want to get to the gist of traditional Thai eating, I would say head to a nice curry and rice place and pick your way away from the various foods available on offer.
Samrap = Thai Meal
As you might have read from my earlier post on ‘Thai Food Culture,’ a traditional Thai meal is called ‘Samrap’ or a collection of savoury dishes to be eaten together, shared, over an individual plate of rice. The taste combination of a Samrap is, more oftentimes than not, intentional. A housewife who is usually the Madame of the house will think about each meal carefully. Her idea of a great meal is that everyone in the family can enjoy. The tastes of each dish, when eaten together or between bites, complement one another. And that’s the art of Thai eating.
But then, it’s not every day that we have the time and energy to prepare such a meal, hence a plate of rice and curry instead.
Ran Khao Gaeng ร้านข้าวแกง (Rice and Curry Restaurants)
Ran Khao Gaeng ร้านข้าวแกง or the places that sell rice and curry used to be much more ubiquitous in Thailand. But now, like everything else that takes more efforts, they are slowly disappearing. Even in Bangkok metropolis, rice and curry place used to abound. It was a way of life. It was a hearty breakfast and lunch, but hardly dinner.
How to Eat Like a Thai at Rice and Curry Restaurant
Typically, a good rice and curry place has more choices for any of us to choose from. But those choices can be categorised into groups: curries, stir-fries, deep-fries, and sides. There are also types of chilli pastes, garnishes, and oftentimes some Thai desserts. You pick as you go. Typically, you can pick one type of curry and one type of deep-fried items, and perhaps a side of clear soup. That would be a nice hearty meal for you.
In provincial areas, rice and curry places are still largely common. But I don’t blame anyone if that type is slowly disappearing, too. This is because, as you can see, to run a nice rice-and-curry place, it takes a lot of energy. Typically, you need to wake up real early to shop, come back and cook everything, have everything out as early as 8:00 a.m. to catch the breakfast crowds. And there are not just one or two things to cook and think of, there are usually more than ten. A real test of a strenuous chef and owner!