Centuries of colorful culinary heritage with bold characteristics and richness like nowhere else has made Thai cuisine one of the most sought after delicacies. The Royal Thai Cuisine proudly becomes a part of it and plays an important role as the envoy of refined cuisines the world over.
Differentiated into four regional cuisines, Thai cuisine with all its originalities absorbs influences from neighbors such as Indochina countries as we know today, Malayan peninsula, Yunnan of China, and even European powers during colonial era. Even so, the pivotal role in the whole identity creation of Thai cuisine came mostly from the Central region where capitals located and royalties resided since the dawn of the Siamese kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya up until what is now the modern Thailand.
Within the immense influence of the Central region’s cuisine, one must not neglect that some part of it had been painted by the existence of Royal Thai Cuisine or dishes served in palaces and aristocratic households with specific standards in recipes, compositions, and aesthetics. Tracing back during Ayutthaya era that signified the emergence of Royal Thai Cuisine until this very moment, each sovereign had their own pick of what they preferred to eat, which may be similar with Thai dishes that we know, but the royals have a unique custom of dining solitarily unlike other kingdoms where usually the families dine together. In addition, there’s no standardized version on what particular dishes that had to be served for Royal Thai Cuisine.
Aside from being served in set from appetizer, soup, main dish, and dessert, Royal Thai Cuisine uses high quality ingredients and is presented beautifully by using the finest vessels available and fruit carvings. In terms of taste, there are no extremes such as too spicy or too sour as everything kept in balance and followed the original recipes.
Another rule of thumb is that everything on the plate must be edible. In the case of fish for example, it had to be deboned first and then reconstructed again as a whole fish, or if it was a fruit, then it should be deseeded first and served as bite size pieces appropriately. Everything is prepared painstakingly detailed and involves a large number of staff in the royal kitchen as all these refinements are exactly what set Royal Thai Cuisine apart from others.
Although basically each dish in Royal Thai Cuisine can be found commonly, but there is actually one that came off from an authentic idea during the reign of King Rama II two centuries ago and eaten particularly during the hot summer months.
Kao chae is a bowl of rice soaked in candle smoke-scented water and decorated with jasmine petals. The idea might sound simple but the preparation is actually meticulous such as to cleanse the rice from starch by adding cold water many times after the rice cooked and left to achieve room temperature first, then there’s the use of rain water for the soup, and how to manually infuse the water with scented candle’s smoke.
From there, the preparation of side dishes is no less complex though most of them are fried dishes. First, there are young green peppers stuffed with pork, herbs, and spices then laced with egg after fried. Next, deep-fried kapi (shrimp paste) balls which beforehand were seasoned with shallots, garlic, palm sugar, and Thai-native wild gingers. Then there is also a selection of beef, pork, or fish torn into threads then flavored with fish oil and palm sugar before being deep-fried. Aside from those, there are also less common side dishes for kao chae such as boiled salted egg or deep-fried Thai shallots stuffed with dried fish.
Nowadays, Royal Thai Cuisine is available also in restaurants but if commoners wish to see how it all prepared publicly, then Songkran (Thai New Year) festival would be the right time. During this festival, talented chefs from all over Thailand gather and cook the best of their abilities for the king. The event takes place on April 13 for three days only every year and the many variations in Royal Thai Cuisine during Songkran festival may be something that you do not want to miss.
Published in Dreams, Heritage Edition 2013
Photos courtesy of Blue Elephant & Eugene Goes to Thailand