In a media-dominated culinary world where speed and convenience outweigh depth and tradition, Thai cooking is often seen at odds with our modern kitchen vocabulary. One of the world’s greatest cuisines; it requires care, time and attention in order to respect Thailand’s compelling and exciting tastes. Short cuts and substitutes do little but erode this ancient cuisine.

But there is an upside, and that is you do not have to come from an indigenous culinary tradition to produce Thai food today. Like me, you can start the process with no instinctive grasp at all, and given the fact that whenever my previous airline flights have pointed eastwards, the furthest I have ever got is Egypt, it just shows me to be an accommodating member of a multicultural society. If you can read and eat, you can cook.

And although the location of ingredients was once a chore – Chinese and Indian cuisines have traditionally been far better provisioned in the UK – now even Tescos sell fermented fish sauce and lemon grass (however I can’t always vouch for the latter’s biochemical condition, but then again I can’t vouch for many vegetables on supermarket shelves).

My reading on the subject of Thai recipes started with those ‘how to’ books, so patronizing and simplistic they could have been published by Ladybird, but soon graduated to Vatcharin Bhumichitr’s exciting The Taste of Thailand (1988). This was the start of the journey, but my arrival was the huge tome by David Thompson, a book no aspiring student of Thai cuisine should ever be without, a rigorously contextualised work that is still a delight to follow.

Grilled Chicken [Gai Yang] from Thai Food (2002) by David Thompson

This is the basic recipe for a dish that allows great variation. Some cooks add a large pinch of powdered turmeric to the paste; others add some fresh lemongrass or a little black pepper. To my mind the best version comes from a village called Si Saket in north-east Thailand.

3 coriander roots, chopped

Pinch of salt

4 garlic cloves, peeled

10 white peppercorns

1 small chicken

3 tbsp of fish sauce

Large pinch of palm sugar


100 gms scraped and chopped coriander root

Pinch of salt

4 garlic cloves, peeled

2-3 long red chillis, deseeded and chopped

300 ml white vinegar

200 gms white sugar

200 ml water

Using a pestle and mortar, or food processor, pound the coriander roots, salt, garlic and peppercorns into a fine paste

Cut the chicken along the spine and flatten out, wash and dry

Work in the paste, fish sauce and sugar and leave to marinate for a few hours, preferably overnight

For the sweet chilli sauce, pound coriander root, salt, garlic and chillies into a paste

Combine vinegar, sugar, water and salt in a pot and bring to the boil

Add paste and stir to dissolve

Simmer sauce until reduced by half, skimming as necessary, then set aside to cool

Chargrill chicken for about 15-20 minutes, turning regularly

Serve with a bowl of the sauce and some rice

Wine thoughts

Well my first wine thoughts, probably like your own given that accompanying Thai beverages tend to favour beer rather than wine, would be a rummage through the foremost trio of Thai beers. Sounding more like the cast of Lion King than a UK brewery; Chang, Leo or Singha are the names to look for. If you insist on wine, and I often do, a Pinot Gris or Riesling from Alsace can make exciting foils , with the latter wine offering intriguing notes of vanilla and praline coupled with a lively mineral finish, perfect alongside the aromatics in our Thai marinade.