Chef Aran's Featured Item of the Week = Pad Thai
It's All About Balancing Flavors
Foods of Thailand are gaining popularity across the globe, not just in the United States. The flavor of Thai food is appealing because it reflects what many are looking for... balance. It is said that you cook with your sense of taste in Thai cooking. It is an artful task to successfully balance the flavors of sweet, salty, bitter, and sour (the four main flavors the human sense of taste can experience). A great cook will always strive to perfect a dish by balancing two or more of these flavors. In more familiar cuisines, we often see the combination of items that are sweet & sour or salty & sweet. However, the goal of Thai cuisine is not only to balance two flavors, but also to try and incorporate all the sensory experiences of taste, texture, and smell. Religious beliefs in Thailand are strongly centered in Buddhism. Balance in terms of fresh ingredients and flavors to create a harmonious meal are represented in the Thai style of cooking.
Telling Stories of the past
Eating ethnic foods (and their availability to us) is not something we should find commonplace or take for granted. Ethnic foods speak of cultural traditions and often provide a glimpse into a country's past social development, conquests, immigration, and worldly influence. Food often tells the story of how traditions were handed down from one generation to the next. These traditions, and the changes that are made to them, can be traced and often run parallel with social and cultural change in the country as a whole.
A Unique and Self-Sustaining Culture
Pad Thai contains influence of surrounding cultures but the end result of the dish is truly unique to its country of origin. Plaek Pibulsongkram, Prime Minister of Thailand from 1938-1944 and 1948-1957, fought to give Thailand a national identity and instill pride into the people as a unique and self-sustaining culture. (This area was previously called Siam.) One minor accomplishment Pibulsongkram assisted in creating was to make Pad Thai the national dish, exemplifying the national flavors of the country. This not only served to give the newly named Thailand a sense of identity, but it was also aimed at reducing rice consumption in the nation during governmental budget restrictions.
The original "Gluten free" food
The main component in Pad Thai is rice noodles, which are made of two basic ingredients... rice and water. One of the original “gluten free” foods, rice noodles are used in many Asian dishes ranging from salads, soups, and Pad Thai.
It's So Good You'll Get Addicted
Pad Thai combines rice noodles, bean sprouts, chiles, cilantro, and egg. Various types of meats can also be added. Traditional ingredients call for palm sugar to add some sweetness to the dish, fish sauce to add some saltiness, and lime juice to finish it off and add a sour component. The lime juice also provides a refreshing taste to the dish that when combined with the sweet and spicy flavor is almost addictive.
Pad Thai is a street food in Thailand. Offered through many different street vendors, each has their own preference and sense of balance incorporated into the dish. Dining in Thailand is a very different process than what we consider standard. Instead of breaking the meal into courses, the meal is served all at once. This allows the guests to enjoy complimentary combinations of the different tastes on the table. Often when spicy dishes (such as Pad Thai) are offered, you will find cooling salads and condiments to accompany/compliment the dish. The ideal Thai meal is a harmonious blend of the spicy, the subtle, the sweet and sour, and is meant to be equally satisfying to eye, nose, and palate.
Join Us for some pad thai!
Come join UNC Dining Services as we offer you various types of this special dish at both Tobey-Kendel Dining Room and Holmes Dining Hall. To complete your taste of Thailand, you should try the green apple salad and hot & sour soup to go with your Pad Thai!
Executive Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA
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