To fully appreciate the nuances and flavours found in Thai food you need to get out of the city and into the country. Home cooked Thai food is about families, the community and special events where people come together to eat , celebrate and share.
Although most of the dishes are still bought in from the local street kitchens it is the accompanying condiments, side dishes, fresh wild vegetables and fruit that makes country food so different. Thai food is not as sleek, sophisticated and mysterious as is commonly portrayed. Rather it is loud, proud and earthy. Flavours that are robust, complimenting and contradicting each other all at the same time. A fine balance of a host of local herbs and ingredients that give the food the delicate sweet and sour tones, so distinct from other East Asian cuisines.
Outside of Thailand I have yet to find a restaurant that serves what, I consider, is a fundamental necessity when eating Thai food, that is nam phrik. More specifically nam phrik kapi, a dipping sauce which is served with crisp fresh vegetables. Alternatively the vegetables can soft boiled or pickled and there are as many versions of the same, as there are different regions.
But this is where it all starts.
Add the fresh flavours that come from the generous splash of lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal and basil. Which go hand in hand with the red and green chillies to add the sharpness. Coconut milk lending the creaminess, tamarind paste a touch of sour while palm sugar adds the sweet tones and this is where restaurants only get it half right.