When I was little, I thought I was from Thailand because it sounds like the correct pronunciation of my last name. Alas, this was not the motherland of my people- and I had to put down my Pad Thai and swap it for Colcannon and a pint of Guinness.
It is safe to say I was more than disappointed, but then again the red hair and porcelain-pale skin should have been a giveaway.
Be that as it may, I got a taste for Thai food and I’ve been pretty obsessed ever since. Second, perhaps, to Neapolitan pizza and curry, Thai food has a pretty big presence here in Manchester and we are very lucky to have so much at our fingertips- here are some of my favourites.
I’m just going to dive right in with Spring Rolls. Sure, we love to shovel twenty at a time into our gobs when we order a Chinese, but it is essential to know that spring rolls aren’t unique to China. Almost every country in East Asia will have a version, and I am particularly fond of the Thai ones.
They often do not contain meat and instead are stuffed with fresh vegetables and vermicelli noodles which are the thin, translucent kind. The deep fried ones are always going to be top of my list, especially with some fiery sweet chilli sauce to dunk them into- but the lighter, healthier summer rolls are pretty good too.
These are formed from wet rice paper which is filled with similar ingredients to their oily cousins and often flavoured with holy basil and mint. The result is a fresh, fruity, crunchy roll which makes the perfect thing to eat on a hot summer’s day.
I love both the spring and summer rolls (Por Pia Sod) from Thaikhun in Spinningfields, and the cucumber relish the latter comes with just gives them that edge- all we need is some less than Arctic conditions in which to enjoy them.
It would be a travesty to talk about Thai cuisine without the mention of fish cakes (Tod Mun Pla). I’m sure we’ve all whipped up some kind of Jamie Oliver version in our kitchens at some point, but I urge you to try the real thing. I would recommend heading to Phetpailin and trying theirs.
They are formed from minced white fish, with mild red curry paste, green beans and lime leaves which give a welcome tang. They are constructed into patties, fried and served with sweet chilli and are lightly spiced, soft, and juicy and I must say- I think about them often.
I think that Thai soups are one of the most underrated subsections of any world cuisine. Maybe we are put off by the horrors of tinned soup or even the water horror that is anything soup-like that comes out of a Chinese takeaway. But the thing is, Thai soups are more like curries, packed full of flavour and are meals in their own right rather than a lacklustre bowl of what looks like dishwater at a Chinese banquet.
The most famous Thai soup would have to be Tom Yum– a heavily spiced hot and sour broth flavoured with lemongrass, lime juice, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, mushrooms and galangal (ginger). It is often served with meat, most commonly chicken, but it can also be made with prawns, beef or tofu. The dish has an intense red complexion and a complex, spicy flavour profile to match. Try the Tom Yum from Thai Spice near Stretford, or do what I do and just order it on Deliveroo and eat it in bed, just be careful to avoid spillage or your bedding will look like Carrie has been sleeping in it.
For those with a more delicate palate, I would recommend the Tom Kha Het. This is an aromatic dish flavoured with coconut milk which brings down the spice to a more comfortable level. The one at Chaophraya is delicious and completely vegetarian with mushrooms to give it substance.
Moving on from soups and into the world of Thai Curries, these dishes are thicker and with more robust contents. I’m not going to sit here and patronise readers and tell you about red and green curries. I am more than confident that if you are reading this, you will have tried or cooked one for yourself, with the help, perhaps from a handy little jar of paste from Sainsbury’s- there is no shame in that.
I will tell you, however, about some curries you may not have heard of. Massaman often referred to as yellow curry, is a relatively mild Thai curry which is usually made from chicken or beef. The flavours in this curry are not what you expect, and steer away from the holy trinity of Thai spices -lemongrass, ginger and holy basil- which seem to be in everything. Apparently, the name refers to a curry eaten by Thailand’s Muslim population (Masaman being an archaic term for Muslim in the Thai language) and the spices included in this dish most definitely have Middle Eastern influence.
Bay leaf, cinnamon, star anise meet typical Thai ingredients like coconut milk, peanuts and tamarind to create a curry which is very unique. I like the one from Siam Smiles made with chicken and hefty chunks of tender potato with a side of coconut rice.
Another A-typical curry I enjoy is a Jungle Curry. This is an extremely hot, herb-filled curry made with fresh peppercorn, holy basil, galangal, authentic Thai aubergines, vegetables and mushrooms all infused with Thai aromatic spices.
The best Thai food in Manchester is arguably from Try Thai in China Town and if anything was a testament to this it would be this curry. I cannot get enough of it, and I love the choices of protein they offer- from duck, beef and chicken to sliced halibut and whole seabass which is the winner for me.
The cooks of Thailand are pretty good at delicious things that are born in hot oil. From stir-fry to noodle dishes, to beautiful battered things- if you want something oily you better head straight for Thai food. Sure, we have all had a Pad Thai, but another wok-fried dish which I feel is even better would be Pad Kee Mao which is amusingly referred to as ‘drunken chicken’.
I feel like the humour behind the nickname is slightly lost in translation- something to do with the chicken being drunk on the heat from the chillies. Hilarious. Anyway, think noodles, think chillies, think holy basil and garlic all fried up and served hot and crispy.
I always order it when I go to Crazy Wendy’s – but then again I’m not concentrating on the food much when a 4ft lady in drag is singing Elvis Presley in my face while standing on the table. You will quickly see how the name makes sense if you head there on a Saturday night.
Probably my favourite Thai dish I have ever had the pleasure of eating was called Pla Sam Ros. It consists of a deep-fried sea bass fillet, topped with sweet garlic and thin crispy strips of fried lemongrass and shell on peanuts and you can get your hands on this dish at Chilli Banana in East Didsbury.