Do you know how America’s love affair started with Thai cuisine? Surprisingly it has its roots in the Cold War! During this time, American military members stationed in Thailand sampled the delicious local cuisine and tried to recreate the dishes back home when they returned.
However, it wasn’t until a wave of immigration from Thailand to the U.S. in the proceeding decades that the Tilakamonkul family opened the world-renowned Bangkok Market in 1972. It was then possible to cook these flavorful recipes with authentic Thai ingredients.
Since then, these ingredients have found their way into most major grocery stores so that even those far from the famed market can make authentic Thai food at home. Continue reading to learn about some of Thai cuisine’s essential staples so that you can get cooking!
1. Curry Paste – Khrueang Kaeng
This description translates literally to curry ingredients and is typically used in many different types of Thai recipes, including:
- Noodle dishes
While you can make your own, it is common to purchase pre-made versions. You’ll encounter both red and green varieties; green curry paste is spicier with green chiles and more herbaceous, with notes of cilantro and lemongrass. Meanwhile, red curry paste relies on red chiles for a more subtle heat.
However, both typically feature shrimp paste for an umami punch.
2. Chiles – Phrik
Chiles are a powerhouse ingredient in Thai cuisine and, depending on the type used can bring a burst of freshness, sweet flavors, or heat. They are used both fresh and dried and can be tossed into stir-fries, used to make curries, and even cut up and placed on the table as a condiment.
Some common chiles used in Thai cooking that you can find in your local supermarket are:
- Bird’s Eye chili
- Serrano peppers
- Sweet peppers, such as bell peppers
But if you’re having trouble finding these peppers, remember, you can always enjoy an authentic Thai meal in your favorite restaurant!
3. Fish Sauce – Nam Pla
Fish sauce is one of the must-have traditional Thai Ingredients to recreate most of your favorite restaurant dishes at home. It’s pungent, slightly sweet, and delightfully savory.
Fish sauce is typically made from mackerel or anchovies, salt, and occasionally sugar. Then, it’s fermented for about two years before it makes its way to your table. You’ll find this ubiquitous ingredient in recipes such as:
- Pad Thai
- Dressings for seafood salad
- Dipping sauces
- Green papaya salad
And anywhere else where you might want to add some umami.
4. Coconut Milk – Nom Gati AKA Gati
You can’t have a well-stocked Thai pantry without coconut milk. The naturally sweet, creaminess of this ingredient helps balance dishes that are otherwise spicy, sour, bitter, or hot. You’ll see it used in:
Next time you visit your favorite local Thai restaurant, look at the menu, and you’ll be sure to notice many dishes incorporating coconut milk.
5. Thai Ingredients That Punch Up Flavor: Aromatics and Herbs
Aromatics and herbs are fresh Thai ingredients that are often incorporated raw (but not always) and are used to cut through the rich and savory recipes you love. These ingredients are usually added during the cooking process:
- Shallots (and other alliums)
- Thai Basil
And these are usually added after the dish is finished cooking or placed on the table for diners to add to their liking:
While Thai basil has no comparable substitute, you can usually find it and the other common ingredients in your local market.
Pantry Bare? Consider Visiting an Authentic Thai Restaurant
If you’re missing these essential Thai ingredients but are hungry for tasty Thai food, you should consider visiting your local restaurant.
At Thai Ginger, we’ve been serving Washington State authentic Thai cuisine using only the freshest ingredients, starting with Factoria, WA, in 1996. Since then, we’ve opened three more locations in Sammamish, Redmond, and Seattle, but our commitment to freshness and authenticity stays the same. To satisfy your cravings, contact us to make a reservation today.