Asian food is everywhere in London with Thai Green Curry fast replacing Chicken Tikka Masala as our national dish. Ten years ago, we didn’t know our Pho from our Tom Yum, now your local pub probably has them on the menu.
I lived in Thailand for 8 years and love cooking Thai food, but frankly what passes for Thai food in the UK is often industrially produced rubbish with a lot of it not really Thai, but an unlovely mix of Thai, Chinese and Malaysian cooking. What is sold as Pad Thai is often just a gloopy mess. Part of the problem is that restaurants find it hard to source all the essential Thai ingredients. Thai aubergines are not so easy to come by in London town.
One small London restaurant chain that does quite a reasonable Som Tam or papaya salad is Rosa’s Thai Café. (Som Tam is the benchmark dish for me, if they get that right I’m in) I’ve been to their restaurants in Spitalfields, Soho and Brixton and while not perfect, their food is recognisably Thai. Try their pork grapou, som tam and gai ped met ma muang or chicken and cashew nuts.
If you fancy a try at cooking Thai then most supermarkets carry the essentials: fish sauce, galangal, lemon grass and green curry paste. It’s also worth a trip to the Longdan supermarket on Kingsland Road, which specialises in ingredients from all over Asia and the Orient. They even have Thai aubergines on occasions. It’s open on a Sunday so you can combine a visit to Columbia Road flower market.
I also highly recommend all Blue Elephant products, particularly their Massaman curry paste. These are now available in the UK.
So what’s missing? Well there’s one essential element of Thai, Cambodian and Laos cuisine, that hasn’t made it over here: fried bugs. Stroll past Asian street-food sellers and there’s usually a wok full of deep-fried crickets, grasshoppers, worms and beetles. For some reason we are quite happy to eat prawns, which are just aquatic bugs but not so keen on eating their land-based brothers. Asian’s enjoy these delicacies as a snack food combined with a beer rather in the way we eat nuts or crisps with a chilled lager.
I have a feeling it’s going to be an uphill struggle to make these snacks popular here, but in many ways, they should be. As we attempt to feed an ever growing world population, bugs have a lot going for them. They are full of protein with little fat or calories, are easy and cheap to raise and require little technology to do so. They are a far more sustainable food source than livestock, which accounts for nearly a fifth of all green-house gas emissions, plus they’ll eat almost anything.
Still not convinced? Westerners find bugs hard to swallow, but would you eat an energy bar made with extracted bug protein? The people at Eat Grub clearly hope you will and are out to convince you that bugs are a sustainable, nutritious and above all delicious source of food.
But if bug related food is not your thing, go and buy a pack of Blue Elephant Thai green curry paste, some strips of chicken, jasmine rice, a bottle of fish sauce, substitute peas for Thai aubergines and you’ll have a feast of your hands.
The best Thai food in London is often served at our house, but I’m afraid we don’t have room for you all.