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Thai Food [Hardcover]

David Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 673 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Australia (1 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670867616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670867615
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 18 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,032,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


David Thompson first went to Thailand by mistake, but it was a mistake he has never regretted. In this book he shares his passion for the unique style of cooking that he believes to be one of the world's greatest cuisines.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on Thai Food 27 Dec 2009
I bought this book two years ago and it has been an inspiration, an epiphany even. The depth of coverage is unparalleled in an English language text on the subject. Apart from a huge repartee of recipes and menu combinations the book gives detailed accounts of Thai ingredients and thorough coverage of the role of food in Thai culture. Read this book and you will understand more about Thai food than at least 99% of all westerners.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  74 reviews
125 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Survey of Classic Cuisine. Must Buy for Foodies 27 April 2005
By B. Marold - Published on Amazon.com
`Thai Food' by Australian chef, restaurant owner, and Thai food scholar David Thompson is one of those books which, if you have an enduring interest in food, you genuinely regret it took any more than a few days since its publication to acquire, read, and assimilate the book's material. It is one of those books where you can open it to virtually any page and find evidence of its quality.

I recall some reviews of this book which noted that although it was certainly comprehensive, it may be criticized for giving recipes containing hard to find ingredients. While I think this is a valid criticism of a book advertised as having recipes for the home cook such as `Vatch's Thai Kitchen' by chef Vatcharin Bhumichitr, it is not a valid criticism of a scholarly book where the object of the author is to present an accurate picture of a national cuisine. And, Thompson has done this as well or better than virtually every good survey of national cuisines I have reviewed such as Diane Kochilas `The Glorious Foods of Greece', Jean Anderson's smaller book on `The Food of Portugal', Marcella Hazan's `Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking', Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless various books on Mexican cuisines and the granddaddy of them all, Julia Child's `Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. This may be just a bit unfair to these authors, as not all of them were aiming at a grand scholarly treatment of an entire cuisine. Child, for example, was giving us `cuisine bourgeois', leaving the three other types of classic French cooking to others. Kennedy and Bayless have covered Mexico in not one, but in at least two or three different books, with Kennedy's latest, `From My Mexican Kitchen' being a model treatment of some special subjects in a national cuisine.

Thompson has covered the whole range of Thai cooking, including very good essays on Thai history and geographical regions and the regional influences on Thai cuisine. One look at the map of Thailand and you can see how broadly different one part of the country may be from another. The northern section virtually pokes its head into the China, and Chinese make up about 11% of the population, as they seem to do in virtually every country on which they border or every nearby island group such as the Philippines. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam surround the Northeast. The southern peninsula borders on Malaysia. The central rice-growing region is close to Burma and India. There are some parts of the country such as the far north and northeast to which it was literally impractical to travel from capital Bangkok until the mid-1920's when a railroad was build from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on the Ping river.

While China, India heavily influences Thai cooking, and it's Southeast Asian neighbors, it is also different from China and India in important ways. While the wok is important to Thai cooking, it is not used in the same way as their Chinese neighbors. The most traditional Thai wok is actually earthenware, replaced by brass upon contact with European traders. `Traditional Thai stir-frying was not the fierce and furious method of the Chinese, but gentle frying over radiant heat in an earthenware pot.' It is obvious in this very same paragraph that Thompson is not a `scientific' food scholar, as he correctly states that the proper technique is to heat the wok before adding the oil, but describes the level of heat as `white hot'. White-hot temperatures are found only in the centers of stars, not in Bangkok kitchens. Nevertheless, his cooking advice is solid and entirely consistent with observations made by Shirley Corriher on heating metal pans before adding oil.

Every major cuisine has their classic techniques for preserving food. In fact, one may almost measure the sophistication of a cuisine by their representative preparation and preservation methods. The Italian cuisine is one of the world's leaders because of their cheese-making for milk preservation, salumi techniques for preserving meats, drying and curing methods with ham, winemaking and olive oil techniques, and salting techniques for fish and capers. While salt is a signature ingredient of Mediterranean cuisine, it is simply not as common in southeast Asia, so Thailand and surrounding countries extending as far north as Korea use fermentation as their primary preservation technique. It seems they simply ferment everything the can get their hands on, such as bamboo shoots, bean curd, fish, rice, watercress, and soybeans. Like the Italians with Parmesan and anchovies, the fermented products are often sources for adding saltiness to dishes.

When I go to a Thai restaurant or look at recipes in popular Thai cookbooks, many Thai dishes seem to be a mix of a great number of ingredients. Thompson, on the other hand, states that the ideal of a Thai salad is simplicity, but it is also about a balancing of ingredients, as exemplified in Alford and Duguid's book title, `Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet'. I will venture the hypothesis that this great mix of tastes comes from the intersection of the sour of fermented ingredients and the strong capsasian chiles used to combat the oppressive Thai heat.

Some people, even some foodies, may be inclined to dismiss this book as simply not a type of cooking with which they have any interest. I would recommend they get and read much of this book anyway. One example is the chapter on salads. In spite of the great difference in ingredients, I find a remarkable similarity between Thai and French salad making. This means that Thompson's essay and survey of Thai salads contains some insights into saladmaking that you simply may not get anywhere else. Even if you never go out of your way to find red shallots, holy basil, or Kaffir lime leaves, there is much you can learn here!

This book should be on the shelves of anyone who wishes to be sophisticated about food.
74 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real insight into Thai cooking for the serious enthusiast! 2 Jun 2003
By Fari - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I recommend this book only for serious enthusiasts who are truly passionate about authentic Thai cooking/food and are not looking for quick, adapted recipes!

Having enjoyed authentic Thai food during my trips to Thailand, I am repeatedly disappointed with the adapted versions found in most local restaurants here. Since I am an avid cook, I have been experimenting to replicate the dishes I had in Thailand.

After some research I found David Thompson's "Thai Food" to be a rare find. Most Thai cook books I have come across provide adapted recipes with shortcuts and suggested substitutes for ingredients! How dreadful! Undoubtedly, Thai food involves much effort and can even be tedious. But the taste is well worth it. More importantly, ingredients in Thai cooking CAN NOT be substituted if the REAL flavor and aroma are to be achieved. For example, if you are going to substitute regular ginger for galangal (Thai ginger), or lime zest for kaffir lime zest, as many books suggest - you may as well not cook Thai food!

This is what sets David's book apart from the rest - he sticks to the real stuff! He painstakingly explains all the details of real Thai cooking, discussing each ingredient and various techniques followed by the recipes. While some recipes are quite cumbersome or require ingredients which are not easily available, the book is worth the insight it provides into authentic Thai cuisine. Once you understand the basics, you can be creative by combing basic Thai ingredients with techniques and create your own recipes without straying from the flavors, tastes and aroma of REAL Thai cuisine!

One complaint however: where is the recipe for Yum Woon Sen??
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Thompson is to Thai Cuisine what Elizabeth David is to French Cuisine 3 Aug 2006
By C. Souza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When I first came across this book in the stores, I have to admit I was highly skeptical about the authenticity of the recipes contained in this book....was it by another Westerner who declared himself an expert on Thai food after one or two short vacations to the country? An Australian restaurateur you say? With an award-winning restaurant in London? Was the award judged by Thai people?

Thailand has a rich culinary heritage which has, in part, been shaped by foreign influences. Thai food in turn is a highly complex intermingling of tastes: salty, sour, sweet, spicy and umami (a Japanese term to indentify the 5th 'taste'). Furthermore it is a fairly impenetrable cuisine least of all because of the language barrier and the mysterious ingredients. To top things off this book was written by a non-Thai. That said, my initial concerns turned out to be completely unfounded and I am happy to say that this is one book that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is serious about real Thai food. Needless to say, the book extends far beyond just Tom Yum Kung and Pad Thai!

At the beginning of the book, Thompson gives a brief (but highly informative)introduction to Thailand and its history, religion and regional cuisine which sets the tone for the rest of the book. There is also a whole chapter about the most common cooking techniques as well as ingredients. His recipes are written in a fairly conversational manner, which I really like, and, most importantly, he does not advocate taking shortcuts or making substitutions which the Thais wouldn't normally make/take themselves. Thompson clearly explains in his introduction that his reason for doing this is so that he doesn't compromise his goal of accurately capturing the Thai cuisine. Personally I don't understand the other reviewer's gripes about ingredients being hard to find! Don't bother cooking those recipes then!?! Anyway I digress....the recipes produce highly authentic and tasty results. I have travelled extensively in Thailand and the results I've had with this book match my wonderul dining experiences there.

One final point to bear in mind: some recipes are laborious, others less so. However, that is keeping with the true spirit of the Thai cuisine!

In short, this is an excellent book well worth the space on your bookshelf. I'll even add that it'll probably become a classic cookbook!
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars authentic, but not easy thai. destined to be a classic 29 Nov 2005
By B. Stein - Published on Amazon.com
There is a balance that a Thai cookbook has to decide on, the extremes being authenticity and Western-ability. Many books on Thai cuisine favour the latter approach. Things may be easier, ingredients are usually simplified and selected to be more readily available. The cost: taste--its not the 'real thing'.

Thompsons book is unabashedly of the authentic school: he makes no bones about this in the preface, warning that its intent is to capture Thai haute-cuisine and difficult cuisine. If you have access to the ingredients (which seems to be getting easier and easier) and follow the recipes the food is stunning and will pass muster with Thais and long time residents of the Kingdom. The writing is lucid and the recipes well set out.
As a bonus you also get some insightful interludes and discussions about the evolution of various dishes, the Thai culinary approach, and insight into the make-up of the Thai meal.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vast, and definitely worth the effort 9 Mar 2003
By Peter Resele - Published on Amazon.com
After cooking about the fifth dish from this book ("Stir Fried Beef with Spices") with palate-boggling success , I would like to recommend this book to anybody serious about Thai cooking. While there are no shortcuts (consistent with the author's view to keep things as original as possible) the result is well worth the effort. Some things sound more complicated than they are. Furthermore, this is the first Thai cookbook out of the five or six I have got which explains in detail some really important techniques (like the cracking of coconut cream and why this is important for frying curry pastes). The background chapters are highly recommended.
My two open questions are why the Gaeng Panaeng is far from "dry" (with about five cups of coconut milk/cream) and why there is no recipe for Yam Wun Sen (a favourite of my Thai girlfriend, and I thought it was a classic dish). But these are minor points and maybe there is a good reason (I would be curious to learn).
All in all: Highly recommended, together with "Vatch" Bhumichitr's books (whose writing style and inside country knowledge I also like very much) my favourite cookbook.
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