The Thais Know Their Spice

Koh Lipe Travel Blog

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Spicy shrimp a la the Chao Lay
I have yet to have a bad meal in Thailand.  It’s a given that some places are better than others, but across the board the food here is delicious.  It could also be that I adore Thai food, but the food here is just so fantastic -- fresh, tasty, layered flavors, lots of variety -- how can you go wrong?

Twice so far I’ve ordered a spicy dish and requested that it be “Thai spicy.”  It’s something I’ve learned to do at home; unless you ask for something “Thai spicy” they just give you the standard medium heat that is assumed to be the spiciest the western palate can take.  I’d cry foul and say this is vastly unfair, but to my (genuine) surprise, it turns out most people really can’t handle spicy.  In my travels I’ve been asked if something was spicy and I’ll say “nah, not at all” and it’s too hot for that person, whereas it didn’t even register as “mild” on my meter.  Then again, I loved the super hot Korean food and all the chilies that came with it, so perhaps my palate has been a bit tweaked.  Anyway.  I digress.

My first encounter with “Thai spicy” (within Thailand) was two nights ago.  I ordered penang curry, which usually isn’t spicy at all.  It was served with a whole chili sliced up and laid across the top, and a good dose of chili in the sauce.  Wow was that good eating.  And one of the spiciest dishes I’ve had in a long time (certainly since Korea, although there may have been a noodle dish or two in China that would make the running).  Tonight I asked Pon, one of the Chao Lay I’m living with, what his favorite Chao Lay dish is, and he went on and on about these prawns cooked in chilies.  So prawns in chilies it was.  My first bite or two was ah, medium heat again, but it kicked in shortly thereafter.  The dish consisted of shrimp sautéed with onions and julienned carrots in a red chili sauce.  An order of rice on the side to round things off; quite yummy.  And the subtle heat that crept up on you out of nowhere?  That’s what I call Thai spicy.  It was HOT.

Couldn’t be happier to be back in a country who knows their spice.  In Singapore and Malaysia “chili sauce” is actually sweetened ketchup -- I shit you not.  Super sweet red sauce.  Horrible stuff.  And even worse when you take the label seriously and douse your food in it, hence learning the hard way.  Yuck-o.  You had to eat Indian to get any kind of spice in those countries, and even then the Indians take one look at the fair skin and freckles and tone it down a few degrees.  Glad to finally have someone willing to kick me in the pants.  It’s delicious.
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Spicy shrimp a la the Chao Lay
Spicy shrimp a la the Chao Lay
Koh Lipe
photo by: Mezmerized