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Cook book: Thai Street Food, by David Thompson

Australian chef David Thompson has long been known for his expertise in Thai cooking. He started out opening Thai restaurants in Sydney, before moving to London, where his Nahm (now-closed) received a Michelin star. He made news in 2010 when he bravely opened a Bangkok branch of Nahm, which has consist­ently been on the lists of both the World’s 50 Best and Asia’s 50 Best restaurants.

QA: David Thompson

Thompson’s passion for Thai food is obvious throughout the book. He writes, “Much of Thai culture expresses itself through food. It sits happily at the centre of all occasions and celebrations: births, weddings, making merit, dispensing generosity and repaying obligations. Food is integral to the Thais. Its diversity and profusion clearly shows the importance of food and eating in their daily lives …

“In many ways, food from the markets and streets is the most accessible of all Thai food. Stalls and vendors fill the street, making it a delicious obstacle course. It is also the easiest of Thai cooking to enjoy and eat – not just for the Thais but for the stumbling visitor, too. Even though it is prepared fresh every day and packed up every night, such vending feels as if it has withstood the test of time …

“When I first went to Thailand, in the 1980s, there was certain opprobrium surrounding people who regularly brought dinner home for their families, rather than cooking it themselves. They were consi­dered irresponsible, and their family was considered quite unfortunate to have to rely on the cooking of strangers … However, times have changed and now there are few people, at least in Bangkok, who spend all day at home preparing food. Most urban Thais work outside the home and have little time to prepare food as their grand­parents once did. But few are to be pitied as they partake of the bounty of the streets. In any provincial town, and in many crowded areas of Bangkok, there is always a place … that is brightly lit well into the night. These are the night markets of Thailand and they are filled with people, food and noise, as flames lick around woks and wood smoke from charcoal grills lingers in the still night air … These precincts are all about eating and pleasure. They contain everything that lures a Thai out: good food, people, atmosphere and laughter – the Thai world on a plate. It really is all about the food.”

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This is Thompson’s second book; his first, Thai Food, runs to more than 600 pages but it’s a compact volume. With Thai Street Food, his publishers decided to go for a coffee-table book, which is impractical if you want to cook out of it: a volume this big takes up valuable counter space, and it’s also extremely heavy. But you will want to cook from it. There are recipes for street-food favourites including green papaya salad; fresh spring rolls with pork, Chinese sausage and crab; roast duck and egg noodle soup; rice congee with minced pork and egg; sticky rice with mango; mixed seafood stir-fried with curry paste; pork satay; banana fritters; and pad thai.