Thai food is a taste sensation which is all about the balance between hot, sour, salty and sweet. Sometimes the fear that a dish is going to be too hot is overwhelming when eating in Thailand. This is a common thing that many travellers to Thailand face, so we have some tips for you on how to order and manage the heat in your Thai food.
Yes, you can order everything Mai Phet
Not Spicy, but you may lose some of the balance of the dish, so by asking to have less chilli or no chilli, the cook needs to adjust the flavourings to try to keep it in balance. Some dishes just do not work without heat. The sweet counteracts the hot and the sour is a foil for the salty. Not all chillies are spicy; in fact, the big red chillies are very mild, as are the dried, roasted red ones you sometimes see on top of dishes; these have a nutty flavour and a mild to medium heat. The ones to look out for are the small, fresh green or red ones that are sometimes left whole or slightly bruised in a dish; they are easily pushed aside.
Tip number one is the best cooling agent for your mouth is rice, so when you get your meal don’t cover the rice with the curry. You need to forget how you learned to eat; where you load your plate and eat everything all at once; learn to eat like a Thai person. When you watch the locals at meal times, they order a number of dishes, so the meal has a mixture of heat levels and textures. There’s normally a soup, a curry, a salad, a stir fry, possibly some grilled meats and a rice; not all of these dishes will be spicy. For example; the soup could be spicy, the curry mild, the salad hot and the protein, like grilled meats or an omelet may have no heat, acting as recovery time for your mouth.
When eating, take only a little bit of the dish at a time along with your rice. To sample the curry, pick the protein up with rice first, as it won’t be as hot as the sauce. More rice than sauce or protein on your spoon is also the way to eat. Eat a spoonful of soup, then something less spicy, and so forth; this helps reduce the heat levels. There are many restaurants where you will see condiments on the table; this is so you can make the taste your own. These vendors do dishes like noodles, rice or soups, which are normally not spicy up front. You taste them first, then adjust the seasoning to your taste.
If you do have something too hot, the worst thing you can do is drink water or beer, as this will spread the oils from the chilli throughout your mouth. Rice, a nonspicy protein or something sweet is best. It is often said that Thais love their sweets and this is true, as sweetness reduces the heat in the mouth, either in a dessert or a drink; just remember that sugar acts to reduce spice. Sometimes side dishes of fresh greens are also served, as they are a great heat reducer. The tips here come from Leigh Higgins from Feast Thailand who runs Thai Food Tours around Hua Hin. Leigh says “The thing to remember is that not all Thai people love everything hot. They love their food, but it has to be in balance; aroi!”
Photo Credit: Paul Eddie Yates