It is no secret that Singaporeans devour Thai food like we breathe oxygen. Synonymous with spice, sour, tang and all-around good flavour, almost every Singaporean can no point you to their favourite Thai food joint in Singapore, in Thailand itself or even share with you a recipe or two on how to make a delicious Tom Yum Koong. So its timely that our favourite food channel, AFC, recently brought to our screens Phol, the amazing Thai Chef. He is actually Thai, and shares the same passion for food as his people (and us!). So I had to get him to talk about food. Here’s what he said!
How did you discover your passion for cooking?
When I started being interested in food, it was more of a hobby. I started with writing food and restaurant reviews. One of the Japanese chefs I had interviewed ended up being a friend and my first cooking teacher! One day I just asked if he was free to shop and cook with me and that’s when I realized I enjoyed cooking and decided to go to culinary school.
Almost everyone loves Thai Food! What do you think makes this cuisine so endearing to many?
I think it’s a combination of many things but Thai food has very distinguished flavors, apart from the basic 5 tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami – the craftsmanship of the dishes makes the dishes so special. In the past, there were many people in one family so they can spend up to half a day or more to cook so there is a lot of craftsmanship plus the dishes look pretty and taste great!
How do you feel about Thai street food, and will we be seeing you cook them on your show?
Of course I like street food and some will be featured in the show. Most street food is usually rice or noodle dishes because they are filling. Sometimes they are also popular dishes that most Thai people will not cook at home, for instance – the banana fritters, it’s rare for someone to cook this at home because you only eat a few at a time but it takes a lot of effort to make the dish so it’s difficult to make such a small portion, it’s more suitable for a party.
Besides Tom Yum, what other Thai dishes do you think should be synonymous with Thai cuisine?
In a recent article by CNN for the World’s 50 Best Food, Massaman curry was actually voted the top dish but I think our green curry, beef salad, and Laab Kai which is minced chicken with herbs and raw vegetables from Ilsan is synonymous with Thai cuisine.
What are some dishes cooked frequently in a typical Thai home?
A Thai Omelet because of the taste and especially the cost since eggs are not expensive and they are still a good source of protein. You can also make your own version by adding seafood, vegetables or minced meat.
Besides Thai food, what other culture’s food do you find most appealing?
It’s difficult to say but I love Indian food because I love working with a lot of spice. I love Japanese for their craftsmanship, many of their dishes are more like preservatives. For example, the pickles and sweet egg omelet and the salted fish that comes together as a bento are all some sort of preservatives, so some of them can be kept for a long time which is very different to Thai food which sometimes cannot be kept overnight as it will spoil. I love Chinese for the taste but honestly, it’s more of indulging yourself once in a while but not really something you can have often but it’s really tasty!
What are three essential tips you can give to aspiring Thai home-cooks in Singapore?
1) If you love to cook Thai, please find the proper pestle and mortar – it’s essential to Thai cooking. 80 to 90% of Thai dishes use the mortar even to ground pepper, garlic, coriander or curry paste or to mash something. Pounding and mashing is an essential technique to bring out the flavour.
2) You must have the right ingredients especially those that cannot be replaceable. Sometimes when you cook outside Thailand you can replace palm sugar with raw or white sugar but fish sauce cannot be replaced. Some essential ingredients that I think cannot be replaced is fish sauce and rice, Thailand is an agriculture country so our main export is rice and Thai rice has a specific character which is different to Basmati and other types of rice so if you really want authentic Thai dishes, you should use Thai rice.
3) A very important aspect of cooking not just in Thai cuisine, is to learn to taste your dish. When you work with fresh ingredients, it’s essential to keep tasting. Many chefs or people who cook in the restaurant don’t taste the food. Different sauces, different materials and different ingredients from different seasons will taste different. And one more thing I always tell my audience all the time is that I tell them that you have to talk to your dishes. It sounds strange but when you cook, you don’t always know if the heat is enough or if the meat is cooked and sometimes you cannot measure it with timing. Different stoves require different cooking times, even the material of your pans can affect the cooking time. You have to listen to your dishes by looking at the bubbles in the pan of oil or hear and smell the oil so communication is key. Don’t just stick to the cookbook or the recipe, it might not work for your kitchen.
Asian Food Channel’s (AFC) New Original Production ‘At Home With Phol’ airs Thursdays at 9pm on Starhub Ch 435.