The major portion of Thai cuisine is highly spiced and chilli hot, thanks to the addition of a variety of chillies, large and small, some more potent than others. The burning sensation of Thai chillies has caused much fanning of mouths by stunned foreig ners on theri first sampling but increased experience often brings enthusiastic approval, as attested by the popularity of Thai restaurants today throughout the world. The ideal traditional Thai meal aims at being a harmonious blend of spicy, subtle, sweet, and sour and is meant to be appealing to eye, nose, and palate. A large central bowl of rice may be accompanied by a clear soup (perhaps bitter melons stuffed with minced pork), a steamed dish (mussels in curry sauce), a fried dish (fish with ginger(, a hot salad (sliced beef on a bed of greens with chillies, onions, mint, lemon juice, and more chillies), and a variety of sauces and condiments, of which the most essential is nam pla (fermented fish sauce), into which food can be dipped.
This is normally followed by a sweet dessert (bananas coated with sugared coconut and deep fried, for example) and, finally, fresh fruit (such as mangoes, durian, papaya, jackfruit, watermelon, and many more) of which Thailand boasts a year-round supply Thailand's ditinctive cuisine, is becoming more and more popular throughout the world. Food varies from region to region, with modifications of standard dishes and also local specialities.
In Chiang Mai, for example, the food is generally milder than that of the central region; naem, a spicy pork sausage, is a northern delicacy. Northeastern food tends to be very spicy, with explosive salads and special broiled, minced meat dishes mined with miniature, high-voltage green chillies. Glutinous rice is more popular in this region than steamed rice and exotic dishes like fried ants and grasshoppers and frog curry are not uncommon.
Southern cuisine makes delicious use of the creatures which team in the nearby seas. Lobsters, crabs, scallops, fish, and squid are common ingredients and unusual delicacies like jellyfish salad can also be found. In the southernmost provinces, where there is a large Muslim community, sweet, mild, and spicy curries abound.
Foreign foods have also found a place in the Thai diet. Some of these go far back into history, like the egg-based portuguese sweets which were introduced in the Ayutthaya period, while others like bread and cake are more recent acquisitions. To please the eye, Thai cooks pursue the ancient art of fruit and vegetable caring to transform tables into visual feasts.
Originally an aristocratic art practiced at the royal court, vegetable carving flourished throughout the Ayutthaya period, when a deft hand could fashion a white radish rose in a matter of minutes. It reached its zenith during the Bangkok reign of King Rama II when court ladies created flowers, fish, vases, bowls, and other decorative objects from watermelons, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and other unlikely garden produce. On a somewhat broader scale the art is still practiced today: there are few more charming surprises than discovering tomato roses and cucumber primroses with a local fast lunch.
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