The “Real” in the title means that every recipe illustrates an authentic Thai dish in its classic form. “Real” also means that the recipe exists to help you cook that dish in your own kitchen. Whenever they work, I offer you substitutes for traditional ingredients, along with do-ahead notes and shortcut options whenever they make sense. I love this book, and cook from it often. I’m honored that it still pleases so many people.
Real Thai was published in the spring of 1992. After my three years in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer, I wanted to present simple, everyday Thai food with insights into the people and places behind the recipes. I began writing Real Thai after several years of teaching Thai cooking classes and writing about Thai food for newspapers and magazines.
To research the regional distinctions within Thai cuisine, I returned to Thailand during the hot season of 1989 for three months of delicious, fascinating research. I traveled all over the Thai kingdom by train, bus, pickup truck, ferry and long-tailed boat.
I called on my former students who whisked me out to their villages to slurp steaming soup noodles and savor coconut rice from roadside stalls. I patrolled the fresh markets of Chiang Mai with my fellow Peace Corps veteran Sandi Younkin. We joined her dear friend Sak and his family in Chiang Rai province for an outing to the banks of the Mekong River overlooking Laos, where we watched boat races and picnicked on fiery green papaya salad and sticky rice.
I scribbled away in my reporter’s notebook, standing at the elbow of the best paht Thai cook in the night market, and sitting by the best Issahn grilled chicken vendor in the morning market in Khon Kaen. I joined a Chinese family in the Southern Thai city of Nakorn Sri Thammaraht for Ching Ming, an annual excursion to the family cemetery to spruce up the ancestors’ graves, offer them food, and then celebrate with a fabulous picnic.
I had a blast, and I learned enough to fill a 50-pound book. Since I had a firm deadline and strict limit on words and pages, Real Thai came in at a manageable 120 recipes and weighing less than a small sack of jasmine rice.