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C onn ect i ng C u ltu r es T hrough F am i ly and F ood

believed to be poisonous. It took about 200 years for tomatoes to be accepted byEuropean cooks. By contrast, when the chiliwas introduced toThailand by Portuguese traders, it was adapted within just one generation, and the chili quickly became an essential component of Thai cooking. Thai food gets its heat from chilis, but it’s important to understand Thai food is more than just spicy. The philosophy of Thai cuisine is built on the notion of balancing five essential flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spicy (see box on page 13). Thai American food tends to avoid the more bitter or sour flavors, because many Americans don’t enjoy those. But ideally, Thai dishes should balance these flavors equally. Beautiful presentation is another important aspect of Thai cuisine. For example, fruits and vegetables are sometimes carved into delicate flowers or other pleasing shapes. The emphasis on presentation is partly due to the fact that, historically, styles and trends in cooking used to begin

Thai food basics

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