cooking and eating in paradise city ...
Below is a glossary of herbs and spices used in Thai cooking. The list can be endless and whilst this page is not designed to be 100% comprehensive, it will hopefully list all the major ingredients.
Some are used sparingly, whilst others are used with gusto. The main thing when experimenting for yourself is to make the dish to suit your palate. The first time you try something, it may be too hot, too salty or too sweet for you. Just make a note to cut down on certain ingredients the next time.
All the herbs and spices can be readily found in Hua Hin markets. Probably the easiest to shop at in terms of its location and the range of produce available, is Hua Hin day market, which is situated right next to the night market, off Petchkasem Road.
Basil. The Thias use three types of basil. The most important is Thai basil (bai hora-pha
ใบโหระพา). It is pungent and has a slight anise flavour. Secondly, there is holy basil (bai grapao
กะเพรา) which is slightly hot to taste and redolent of cloves. Finally, there is lemon basil (bai manglaek
ใบแมงลัก) which is used in soups.
Bay leaves (bai grawan ใบกระวาน) - normally only used in massaman curries and beef soup.
Cardamon (luk grawan กระวาน) - normally only used in massaman curries.
Cassia bark (ob choey อบเฉย) - very similar to cinnamon, but richer in flavour. Again, normally only used in adapted dishes such as massaman curries.
Chillies (prik พริก) - it's hard to believe that chillies were only introduced to Thailand by the Portugese in the 16th century. They are now an indispensible component of Thai cooking. The Thais will use many different varities, the most important probably being bird's eye chillies which are small, thin and red or green in colour (prik kii noo suan พริกขี้หนู). These are extremely hot.
Long chillies (prik chii fa
พริกชี้ฟ้า) can be red, green or yellow and are normally used as a garnish or dried in red curry paste.
Coconut (maprao มะพร้าว) - this is used in many Thai dishes for texture and flavour. Normally the cream is used and the day market in Hua Hin have a number of stalls with the equipment to press and process the fresh coconuts into cream. This can and does save you a lot of time.
Coriander (pak chii ผักชี) - all of the plant, including the roots, are used in Thai cooking. The roots produce a stronger flavour than the leaves.
Coriander seeds (luuk pak chii ผักชี) - these are normally dry roasted for a short time. You'll know when they're done by the smell.
Cumin seeds (yiira ยี่หร่า) - again these are dry roasted and always used in conjunction with coriander seeds, normally in the ratio 2:1 coriander to cumin.
Curries (gaeng แกง) and curry pastes - curries (red, green or yellow) are an integral part of most Thai meals. You can prepare the pastes yourself, but in practice it's worth just a couple of extra Baht to buy them ready-made in the Hua Hin day market. They're all authentic and used by the big restaurants.
Fish sauce (nam pla น้ำปล่า) - made from small fish or prawns that are fermented in the sun for months, it is used widely in Thai cuisine. Although extremely pungent and salty, it does mellow when combined with other ingredients. The residue is often used to make shrimp paste (kapi) which is an absolute essential in Thai cooking.
Galangal (kha ข่า) - this rhizome is used exclusively in Thai cooking. When young, it is added to soups and when more mature it is an ingredient in curry pastes.
Garlic (gratiam กระเทียม) - Thai garlic is much smaller than its western counterpart and less pungent.
Ginger (king ขิง) - mature ginger is used in soups and some curry pastes, whilst if younger, it is widely used in salads, soups and curries.
Jasmine (mali horm มะลิ) - these buds are soaked in water ovenight and the water then used to make desserts, sweet coconut cream and perfumed rice.
Kaffir lime (makrut มะกรูด) - the leaves are used widely for their fragrance in soups, salads, and garnish for curries.
Shrimp paste (gapi กะปิ) - made from fremented shrimps that have been dried in the sun, this extremely pungent paste is an aquired taste, but really essential to many Thai dishes. Indeed, many Thais believe it to contain the essence of their cooking.
Lesser galangal (krachai กระชาย) - normally sweetened with some sugar for a few minutes before use, it is included in jungle curries and with fish.
Lemongrass (takrai ตะไคร้) - used in curries and soups (particularly hot and sour ones - tom yams). It is very fragrant.
Limes (manao มะนาว) - Thai limes are smaller and sweeter than western ones. Both the juice and zest are extensively used in many dishes.
Mace (dawk jan ลูกจัน) - this outer sheath of the nutmeg is primarily used in massaman curries.
Mint (bai sarae nae สะระแหน่) - normally quite small-leafed and very fragrant.
Northern fish sauce (nam pla ra น้ำปลาร้า) - made from a freshwater mud fish that is fermented for months. Extremely pungent and used with fish and in northern salads and curries.
Nutmeg (luuk jan จันทน์เทศ) - always used roasted.
Pandanus leaves (bai toei horm ใบเตย) - mainly used in desserts, they add a savoury flavour.
Peppercorns (prik thai พริกไทย) - normally, only white corns are used for seasoning and green in jungle curries and stir-fries.
Shallots (horm daeng หอมแดง) - one of the most important ingredients in Thai cooking. Used liberally in salads, curry pastes and to perfume soups.
Tamarind (makam sot/bliak มะขาม) - fresh tamarind is widely used in soups and nam prik.
Turmeric (kamin ขมิ้น) - this rhizome, which is related to ginger, has a strong smell and should be used sparingly.
Vinegar (nam som sai chu น้ำสัมสายชู) - Thais use a white vinegar based on coconut. Whilst pungent if served alone, it is pleasant when combined with other ingredients and can be used in the place of lime juice.
A full list of herbs and spices can be found here: