A cheerful heart is good medicine, but not with an empty stomach
Jìt-jai thêe râh-reung bpen yah thêe dee dtàe dtâwng mâi yòo bon tháwng thêe wâhng.
– Thai proverb

As with European monks living off their abundant landholdings during the medieval period, Thai farmers have always seen cultivated ingredients as an essential contribution to a healthy diet. Thai citizens make no distinction between food and medicine. This is still evidenced by the staple foundations of their cuisine – garlic, coriander, lemongrass and lime leaves. In addition to rice-to-go and fresh fish at any time of the day, all four ingredients have been understood as medicinal from the earliest records, the exciting kick of chilli not appearing until the late sixteenth century and predictably delivered by optimistic catholic missionaries.

When cooking Thai meals in our Norfolk kitchen, I am liberated from the patriarchal gods that may be judging other cooking adventures, for when it comes to such ancient cuisine it is the goddess, Mae Phosop who watches over my stove in her capacity as an official Thai deity. I guess I must thank girl power for steering me in such a divine culinary direction.

Unfortunately – for a country that also created Red Bull, swift-nest soup and kick-boxing – divine adventures can be thin on the ground in the 21st century, but on a more positive cultural note they’ve chosen to prohibit the screening of the King and I for 64 years now. Thankful for small mercies in old Siam I guess.

Thai cuisine at least, has clearly established and maintained a global benchmark for celestial cooking and Tom Yam Gung, hot, sour and fragrant, is one of our family’s more desirable choices for a searingly aromatic soup.

Tom Yam Gung – Hot and Sour soup with Prawn

From The Taste of Thailand (1988) Vatcharin Bhumichitr

475 ml good fish stock
15 ml Tom Yam or Nam Prik Pow sauce
2 lime leaves, chopped
5 cm piece lemon grass, chopped
45 ml lemon juice
45 ml fish sauce
2 small red chillies, chopped
½ tsp sugar
8 straw mushrooms, halved
450 g raw prawns, peeled and de-veined

In a saucepan, heat the stock then add tom yam sauce.
Add lime leaves, lemon grass, lemon juice, fish sauce, chillies and sugar. Boil for 2 minutes.
Add mushrooms and prawns, stir and cook for 2 minutes.
Garnish with coriander leaves.

(Tom Yam and Prik Pow sauces are now widely available, but I am happy to supply a recipe if you chose to make it yourself).

Wine – Pinot Gris

Ice cold Singha beer, or its less expensive cousin Chang, are something of a refreshing mainstay when Thai food is served in International restaurants. Cha Yen iced tea can come to your rescue when chef has been a little too enthusiastic with the prik kee noo (birdseye chilli), but I recklessly persist with the challenge of finding wines that work with a cuisine whose top notes are so often defined by ‘hot, salty, sweet and sour’. Thai dishes are usually less robustly spiced than Indian cuisines, yet more fragrant, zestful and herbal than Chinese cuisines.

The explanation of why Pinot Grigio continues in the fashionable stratosphere of salad-only lunchtime drinking, or breakfast hydration after a hen-night do, continues to elude me. A wine which so often displays many of the attributes of alcoholic dish water, is shipped by the sea container from northern Italy to Tilbury docks on a daily basis, and snapped up by every pub and restaurant desperate to maintain a low price and a high margin. If you wanted to clean the family silver, then by all means lay down a couple of bottles. However if one were to return to core varietals, Pinot Gris is a wine of a very different stripe. And it is Pinot Gris that I regularly turn to for most Thai partnerships. Pinot is enthusiastically made in Germany as grauburgunder (grey Burgundy) – although like most I find it difficult to enthuse over its name. My choice of Pinot Gris hails from Alsace in the form of Keuntz-Bas Pinot Gris, Tradition 2014. Suitably restrained yet enticingly rich, it’s an aromatic wine capable of meeting hot and sour notes head on whilst gently enhancing the fragrant characteristics of the soup. Works well too as an apéritif if Thai soup is not on the evening’s menu.