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Mar 13, 2014 09:53 AM

Area Mother Doesn't See Why Thai People Need to Make Food So Spicy

Recent story from the Onion:

It's satire, of course. But one thing I was wondering about after reading the article is to what extent people in Thailand actually *do* add their own spice to their food. I notice condiment trays are pretty common in several Thai restaurants that I've been to (though I have never been to Thailand).

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  1. I saw them also in Thailand but the food was indeed spicy to begin with. Not everything of course (Pad Thai, some curries, etc) but others like the papaya salad took some serious work to get used to. And I have a pretty high spice tolerance! If you get the chance to visit, it's one of the most amazing food trips we've ever gotten to take.

    1. Every single restaurant I went to in Thailand -- mostly holes in the wall / soup kitchens had a tray with condiments on every table to add to your food (not that extra spice was necessary in most cases). These typically were: chopped fresh bird peppers in fish sauce, chopped fresh bird peppers in oil, chili paste, chopped fresh bird peppers in vinegar, and dried chiles.

      I am still looking for a Thai restaurant outside of Thailand where these condiments are readily available.

      9 Replies
      1. re: linguafood

        I've been offered those condiments at several places here in NYC but the majority of Thai places here are serving average, very sweet, Americanized Thai and do not offer such things. I just had a great meal at Pok Pok on the LES and sure enough, all the condiments were there.

        1. re: JeremyEG

          I can't remember now if Zabb Elee has the condiments. Some of the som tams would've benefitted from adding some heat.

          1. re: linguafood

            They don't. Som tum is not a dish that is usually tricked out tableside. You have to ask them to make it to your level of spiciness. The dish is made by mashing fresh chilis in a mortar, along with other ingredients. You wouldn't scoop on dried chili pepper or preserved chilis.

            Pok Pok on LES is a pad thai specialty place. Pad thai is a classic tweakable Thai dish and also, Andy Ricker is a stickler for authenticity, so he has the spice wheel out on the counter/ table there.

            1. re: Silverjay

              I know. We ordered 4 and 5, respectively, on the spice scale and were a bit let down by the spice level.

              Ideally, it would be perfect coming to the table.

              1. re: Silverjay

                I've been offered those condiments at several places here in NYC
                Yes they offer condiments at Zaab, just not in a little conjoined serving tray. They had them all at the ready in individual service containers when I asked.

                Others that have it in NYC:
                Pam Real
                Larb Ubol

          2. re: linguafood

            All of those except the fresh chiles in oil* are available in every sit down Thai restaurant that I've eaten at in Boston and everywhere else for that matter. You usually have to ask for the condiment tray.

            *not worth the botulism risk anyway

            1. re: C. Hamster

              I've never had Thai in Boston, but I'll take your word for it. I have not seen this at the few Thai places I've been to in NYC (clearly, I went to the 'wrong' ones).

              The two places in my podunk town most certainly do *not* have them, on tables or otherwise available. That said, if you order "Thai medium spicy" at the good one of the two, you'll have a mouth full o'fire and a fun next day ahead of you....

              1. re: linguafood


                It's also been available at the Thai places I've eaten at in NYC. I'm there a lot.

                I honestly can't remember eating in a Thai restaurant that doesn't have the 4 condiment tray. And I always ask for it.

          3. Thai peoople are notorious post-serving tweakers and the "circle" or "wheel of spices" called "puang kreuang prung" is commonly found on tables in restaurants and at outdoor stalls/carts/etc. (I haven't dined in a Thai home before, though I assume they are part of the setting). Most decent Thai restaurants in the US will have this but you may have to ask.

            These condiments are small jars often with dried pepper, fish sauce, chopped chilis in fish sauce or vinegar, and sugar. It is most common to trick-out noodle and rice dishes with these condiments, but they might be used for soups as well.

            People in Thailand will ask food preparers for different spice levels in the same manner we do in the US, but their tolerance is higher. It's not unusual to meet Thais who do not like food too spicy.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Silverjay

              Sounds like we had the same experience with the available condiments. I wrote pretty much exactly what you just wrote '-D

              1. re: Silverjay

                You can definitely get them but my experience was they only get given to us farangs if you ask.

                Most restaurants will make the spicy dishes to a standard that is pretty hot to start with and the different chilli's sauces etc are to boost them, so its not as though they start mild and need the spices to boost them.

                1. re: PhilD

                  It's usually on the table already in Thailand or they bring it over to you when you sit down. Never had an issue as far as being a farang and having to ask. Don't really understand what the big deal is anyway. Someone complained on CH about going to a NYC Thai restaurant and how inauthentic it was that they had to ask.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    I don't blame restaurants for making you request the condiments. Seems like in many places only a small percentage of patrons use them.

                    I have been miffed when I had to wait for them though.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      My Thailand experience isn't as clear cut, I had to ask in as many places as not. This Christmas holiday (admittedly in resort areas) I had to ask most of the time. Never a problem getting them, it was just assumed I wouldn't want them.

                      As a side note it was also quite fun getting an omelette made with the aromatics, chillies and other ingredients from the soup station at the breakfast buffet. The Thai chefs generally loved the idea and produced really good Thai style omelettes.

                    2. re: PhilD

                      They are mostly used to 'enhance' soup and noodle dishes that may not inherently be spicy. Gwua tiu is certainly not meant to be a blazing hot noodle soup, but it definitely benefits froms adding the vinegar, oil & chiles.

                  2. As a sidenote, do those of you who love spicy food have any "issues" with the aftermath? I enjoy spicy food but if the food is very spicy, the day after is unbearable so I avoid very spicy food.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Pookipichu

                      Practice makes perfect - you need to build the tolerance - once you do your body adjusts.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        Embarrassingly, I'm talking about when the spicy food exits the body, can you really adjust to that? It's like giving birth to a gout of flame.

                        1. re: Pookipichu

                          I understood - you do adjust - but chilled toilet rolls are a good idea.

                          1. re: Pookipichu

                            That used to happen to me when I was younger, but only rarely....maybe the first time or 2 that I had Sichuan food. Hasn't happened again in decades.

                        2. re: Pookipichu

                          Yes. Especially as I get older.

                          The birth of the gout of flame comes very soon after eating the spicy food in question these days.

                          1. re: C. Hamster

                            Could it be the yeast in the beer you need to drink to take the edge of the spice that causes the gout...? ;-(

                        3. the only time I've seen that 4-part tray in the US (and I am not shy about trying any and all Thai places) it was of dried mixes and had to be requested by a companion who was Thai. new and eye-opening (in a good way!)