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Thai cuisine: A symphony of flavors

Chef Suwanna’s authentic recipes will surely have your taste buds singing.

By Adrienne Dy, M.D.

JUNE 2013

Taste is a many-splendored thing—this is what Thai cuisine preaches. There can never be just one flavor: Soups are simultaneously sour, sweet and spicy. Noodles have at least 10 different condiments thrown in. Even desserts have different layers and textures.

If you think that such a mash-up of elements could be confusing, messy, or just plain wrong—think again. Ranking it the eighth best cuisine of the world last January 2013, CNN Travel describes the dishes of Thailand as a “combination of so many herbs and spices … [that] produces complex flavors that somehow come together like orchestral music.”

If that statement doesn’t whet your appetite, then maybe Chef Suwanna Puangdee’s creations will. Hailing from the kingdom itself, the petite but bubbly chef of Dusit Thani Manila showed HealthToday just how it’s done back home. In a singsong voice heavy with Thai accent, she tells us how her people’s food is really as brow-singeing, ear-ringing, sweat-inducing spicy as it’s reputed to be. “Original spicy,” she says with an affirmative nod. She does offer tamer taste buds some relief: “But now if somebody don’t like spicy, we put [the chilies] separate. Have spicy or not spicy now.”

A quick background check on Thai food offers more bits of information. Like many Asian cuisines, geographical influences have lain a thick, heavy hand on Thai culinary culture: Northern dishes are influenced by the Lao and Burmese; the southern curry concoctions are reminiscent of Indian, Indonesian and Malaysian versions; and porridge and noodle dishes have Chinese written all over them.

But the Thai people pride themselves in the fact that they are the only ones in Southeast Asia who have never been colonized by foreigners—and the same goes for their food. Thai cuisine retains flavors distinctly its own, for reasons enumerated by Chef Suwanna: spicier chilies; more herbs; a lot of sweet desserts; and free-flowing coconut milk, which is an ingredient in about 80 percent of Thai curries. Thais also use a lot of seafood—the safer choice in the face of religion-dictated dietary restrictions.

So as the summer sun yields to wetter days ahead, surrender to the heady warmth of homemade Thai favorites—tom yam gung soup, pad thai noodles, and sweet kanom tako for dessert. Every spoonful brims with herbal notes and flavor medleys—so don’t forget to savor it!

Tom Yam Gung
(Hot and sour prawn soup)

A sure hit this rainy season, tom yam blends the flavors of lemongrass, ginger and kaffir lime leaves. According to Chef, this takes about 20 minutes to prepare.


100 g grated coconut (volume of coconut milk in liquid form?)
10 g lemongrass
10 g galangal (ginger)
10 g roasted chilies
5 g kaffir lime leaves
2 pcs. prawns
5 g oyster mushrooms
5 g coriander


20 g lemon juice
10 g fish sauce


1. Bring the coconut milk to a boil. Add the lemongrass, galangal, roasted chilies, kaffir lime leaves.

2. Add the prawns and oyster mushrooms to the still boiling soup.

3. Season with lemon juice and fish sauce. Bring to boil once more then remove from the heat.

4. To serve, sprinkle with coriander.

Serves one

[About the chef] Chef Suwanna Puangdee is the executive chef of Benjarong restaurant of Dusit Thani Manila. She’s been whipping up sumptuous dishes from her homeland Thailand for about three decades now, and she’s pretty sure that Filipinos like her cooking—and her accented Tagalog. Her favorite local dishes are adobo (“It’s like the Thai dish ‘palo’!” and sinigang (“Like tom yam without the coconut milk”)—both of which she has tried cooking. This June, Chef Suwanna will be holding cooking lessons for Thai appetizers and main courses. Call Dusit Thani Manila at (02) 238 8888 for details and reservations.

Phad Thai and Kanom Tako round up Chef Puangdee’s recipes in the June issue of HealthToday. Grab your copy now and start getting busy in the kitchen!

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