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David Thompson's 'Thai Food' vs 'Thai Street Food'

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I'm a big fan of several Thai cookery blogs that I discovered thanks to this board -- SheSimmers, in particular -- but I'd like to have a book on hand, too. After a few trips to the local shops and libraries, I've decided one of David Thompson's would be best.

I was able to look through 'Thai Street Food' (which is why I want to go with him). However, I wasn't able to find a copy of 'Thai Food' to compare it with.

Is there anyone on this board who has both books, or has had enough access to get a sense of the differences between the two? I like a big fat reference section, for a start. More tofu recipes and fewer recipes calling for coconut milk would be another plus.

It seems he wrote another couple of books in the 90s as well, but I can't find much on them.

I'd be very grateful for any advice. Judging by the threads I've browsed through, you're a pretty knowledgeable bunch!

Thank you.

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  1. I have a copy of "Thai Food"

    it is my favorite thai cookbook

    1 Reply
    1. re: jpr54_1

      Thanks, I had a feeling it might have the edge over 'Thai Street Food', at least as far as my needs go.

    2. I have Thai Food, gotten three years ago and have access to Thai Street Food for the past 4 months. Thai Food has a food history essay and an large ingredients and general reference section. Neither has more weight given to tofu than the other. Thai Food has a bunch more recipes as well as a good nam prik section. Although Street Food has a few top notch dishes not found in Thai Food the latter is by far my choice if I could have only one book

      1 Reply
      1. re: wew

        Thank you for the rundown. It definitely sounds like 'That Food' is a better pick for me.

        Out of curiosity, which recipes from 'Thai Street Food' that you really like weren't included in 'Thai Food'? I remember being struck by the sour orange fish curry and the Phetchaburi (I think) fish cakes with noodles.

      2. Of the three Thompson books:

        "Classic Thai Cuisine" (one of the ones from the 90's that you mention)
        "Thai Food/Arharn Thai"
        "Thai Street Food"

        I use all of them, but "Thai Food" the most, "Thai Street Food" second and "Classic Thai Cuisine" least often. There is overlap (i.e. some dishes that appear in more than one volume), but each book has recipes that don't appear in the others, and often the recipe for the same dish is given slightly different twists/versions/proportions in each book.

        "Thai Food" is the most comprehensive of the books, and it covers the widest range of types of dishes (i.e. salads, soups, curries, snacks, and etc) and has a lot of reference material both for ingredients and technique and for cultural background. This book makes it possible to cook real, even formal, Thai meals. There are menu suggestions. However, the index has its flaws, and there are only photos for a few dishes, if that's important to you. Also the recipes straddle pages, with plenty of references to previous pages sub recipes and etc., which makes for lots of page turning.

        "Thai Street Food" as the name implies focuses on one dish meals and snacks. The index is quite good, the copy/recipe instructions even more accurate than in "Thai Food" and often more "authentic" in that even hard to find spices are listed in the recipe, usually as optional ingredients. Also each recipe is set off on its own page or set of facing pages, so even though it is a physically large book, it is in some ways easier to use. There are also photos for every dish. But "Thai Street Food" is a much more limited book in scope than "Thai Food".

        "Classic Thai Cuisine" is even more limited, and probably not what you are looking for. Although for certain basic stuff, like gai yang, it is the easiest of the books to use (smaller, more compact, good clear copy writing), and the recipes are calibrated for a home cook (sometimes "Thai Food" gives recipes/proportions that seem like they came directly from a restaurant kitchen).

        Two recipes that I like that are in "Thai Street Food" but not in "Thai Food" are Pork Satay (Muu Satay, pg 178) and Crunchy Omelet of Mussels(Hoi Maleang Puu tort", pg 116). I also, for example, prefer the version of Kao Soi that appears in "Thai Street Food" to the one in "Thai Food", still they are very similar and both good.

        "Thai Food" has recipes for a couple of different types of Sour Orange Curries, one of which is very close to the sour orange fish curry that caught your eye in "Thai Street Food", although not exactly the same! "Thai Food" has recipes for fish cakes, but not at all the same as the one from Phetchaburi that you mentioned looking at in "Thai Street Food".

        Good luck deciding!

        11 Replies
        1. re: qianning

          Thank you for this detailed and thoughtful review, Qianning! I have been thinking about getting a Thompson book and your review is super helpful. I will probably take the two books out of the library (not at the same time!) and try a few recipes from each to help me decide. I am intimidated by Asian cuisines that I have not cooked from but really want to learn:)

          1. re: qianning

            Thank you so much for going into such depth! It's a very helpful comparison, and it does really sound like 'Thai Food' is the book to start off with. I can live with flipping back and forth and fewer photographs (though I do wish more cookbook writers would include large, clear photographs of the ingredients they use!).

            Thanks also for the recipe tips. I'm on a real sour and orangey kick right now, so that's another reason to pick 'Thai Food' over 'Thai Street Food'. I will have to check Street Food back out from the library, though, and write down a few recipes!

            1. re: pantruque

              If you are still trying to make up your mind I have some comments that may help. I've recently bought 'Thai Street Food' and have owned 'Thai Food' for about a year or so. If I were to have one Thai book it would certainly be 'Thai Food'. It has hundreds of recipes and thoroughly explains 'Thai Food'. However, when I bought the book I found it hard to come to terms with and it was a year before I cooked anything from it. It is, however, a book that is essential if you are enthusiastic about cooking Thai food.

              'Thai Street Food' also has complex recipes. However, the lay-out and photos mean that it is much more likely to draw you in, to let you browse, and to encourage you to cook Thai food.

              1. re: PLFgifts

                Thank you so much for your comments! I ended up buying 'Thai Food' and am very pleased with it. My only real quibble so far has to do with the index.

                It's certainly a daunting book. I haven't actually had enough time to make anything from it! I'll be starting with curries, though. I have some decent experience with Marathi cookery (recipe lists longer than both arms and crazy attention to detail).

                The other problem is that coriander root has vanished from LA's Thai markets. I've scoured the usual suspects and am going to hit SGV tomorrow to see if someone out there is stockpiling the stuff.

                1. re: pantruque

                  Enjoy the book. I have the same problem with coriander root in London. Of the five or six Thai and oriental supermarkets I visit regularly, I've only found it in one of them and even then only once. Suppliers of coriander must throw out the root all the time.

                  1. re: pantruque

                    Sounds like you're happy with your choice. You are so right, the books great flaw is the index. Cilantro root disappeared from markets here around two weeks ago, after being available for several months, this is not a new phenomenon, it seems to be an if it rains it pours kind of an item.

                    Slightly off topic, but do you have a book you would recommend for Marathi cooking?

                    1. re: qianning

                      I went to a nursery and picked up a cilantro plant just for the roots. It'll be ages before they're ready to harvest, but at least it feels like I'm doing something instead of just waiting for the stuff to show up again. I just hope I don't kill the poor plant first!

                      As for Marathi cookbooks, I really like 'The Essential Marathi Cookbook' by Kaumudi Marathé. The recipes are excellent -- the masala recipes are worth getting the book for. Unfortunately, it lacks a real index; but I didn't find that to be as big a problem as I'd expected. Not a book for beginners, but I think it'd be a good fit for you. :)

                      1. re: pantruque

                        Thanks for the tip, just looked at it on amazon....looks really intriguing, wonder if i can find a copy through the library or will have to belly up and buy it sight unseen....i really like focused regional books best, and would never have heard about this one without your help. Thanks!

                        1. re: qianning

                          PS- do you know, was "The Essential Marathi Cookbook" published in the UK or the US?

                          1. re: qianning

                            Good question! I bought my copy at a local bookseller's, but the copyright page cites Penguin India. The conventions they use are British.

                            It's so tricky buying cookbooks sight unseen... Here's the TOC at least:

                            Introduction - 1 (inc. recipes for basic dairy products, flours, masalas, etc)
                            Breakfast Dishes - 61
                            Snacks & Teatime Treats - 75
                            Snacks - 77
                            Teatime treats - 86
                            Grains - 99
                            Bread - 101
                            Special Breads - 108
                            Assorted Grain Pan Breads & Pancakes - 112
                            Assorted Grain Dishes - 118
                            Rice Dishes - 123
                            Salads - 133
                            Salads with Seasoning - 137
                            Salads with Yogurt - 144
                            Vegetables - 151
                            Appetizers - 154
                            Side Dishes - 164
                            Gravied Accompaniments - 187
                            Soups - 197
                            Legumes - 203
                            Split, Husked Lentils - 206
                            Whole Lentils - 214
                            Beans, Nuts & Lentil Flour - 221
                            Poultry, Meat, and Seafood - 213
                            Poultry - 235
                            Meat - 243
                            Seafood - 255
                            Chutneys, Relishes, Pickles & Preserves - 270
                            Chutney Powders - 270
                            Chutney Pastes - 274
                            Relishes - 282
                            Pickles - 287
                            Preserves - 298
                            Desserts & Sweets - 305
                            Desserts: Fruit & Vegetable Delights - 305
                            Kheer - 309
                            Sweet Rice - 316
                            Assorted Sweet Dishes - 318
                            Single Serving Sweets -325
                            Ladus - 337
                            Sweet Breads - 343
                            Candy & Simple Pleasures - 355
                            Candy - 357
                            Simple Pleasures - 359
                            Drinks - 363
                            Dairy Drinks - 365
                            Fruit Drinks - 369
                            Tea & Coffee - 373
                            Glossary - 378
                            Bibliography - 383
                            Endnotes - 384

                            I've found this book to be very useful, but YMMV.

                            1. re: pantruque

                              Wow, what a though list. Thank you!

                              I'm in the throws of COTM "Japanese" month right now. But pretty soon I'm going to try and start paying some closer attention to differences in regional/community Indian cooking. It is finally dawning on me that "south" v "north" and "veg" v "non-veg" don't begin to capture the levels of difference in Indian cooking.