Exciting the Senses at the Thai Food Festival
Although Thailand is nearly 8,200 miles from us, Los Angeles has the largest population of Thai people outside of their homeland. The first Thai Food Festival brought the essence of Thailand—food, products, tourism, and culture—to Paramount Pictures Studios on September 29, where guests could smell, see, hear, and taste.
When I first approached the main staging area for the festival, I was overwhelmed by the scents of fresh flowers being gently and expertly arranged into puang malai, or Thai flower garlands. Garlands are created using flowers, leaves, and other plant and flower parts and fashioned on twigs in different patterns. Years ago these garlands were used as offerings to Buddha images, but now they are adorned by brides and grooms during wedding ceremonies and presented to masters of various crafts in homage-paying ceremonies. Sweet smelling blooms such as jasmine and gardenia are often used, as well as canna, globe amaranth, and crown flowers.
Thailand is a historical land of colorful culture and traditions. From bright-colored costumes to ornate, hand-painted parasols, use of vivid colors travels back to an astrological rule that assigns colors to days of the week. Each color is based on the color of the God who protects that day: red for Sunday, yellow for Monday, pink for Tuesday, green for Wednesday, orange for Thursday, light blue for Friday, and purple for Saturday. Thais often adorn each color to bring good luck to that particular day. Yellow is the color of royalty in Thai culture because the king was born on a Monday.
Guests of the festival enjoyed watching Muay Thai martial arts, the original fighting skill of the Thais, for which they believe any part of the strong body may be used as a weapon. Fruit carving grounded the festival with rich cultural and historical ties; it is thought to be originally taught and learned among the ladies in royal palaces.
Thai music reflects a plethora of cultures and destinations, signifying the diversity of a population that includes Persians, Indians, Chinese, and Indonesian. Using small hand symbols, wooden sticks, and several kinds of hand drums, with a basic rhythm structure ending with a long gong, a group of performers played traditional melodies as young dancers clad in traditional bright uniforms danced to the melodic beats.
Thai cuisine certainly highlights the five tastes: salty (sea salt, fish sauce), sour (lime, tamarind, mango, pineapple), sweet (cane, coconut, palm sugar, papaya), bitter (raw leaves), and finally umami (beef, pork, chicken, mushrooms, soy, carrots, shrimp). Sang Yoon of Lukshon proved Thai food combines multiple tastes in his “re-imagined Thai beef salad” featuring tongue, compressed cucumber, lettuce soap, and crispy tomato. Not only did the flavors work perfectly, but also the textures and temperatures of the components of the dish highlighted what Thai food is meant to represent: smooth, crunchy, cold, and crisp.
One of my favorite dishes was a submission from David LeFevre of Manhattan Beach Post and Fishing with Dynamite: blue crab and sweet corn green curry. Bathing in a boat of sweet, tangy green curry broth was an island of tender, fresh blue crab and jasmine rice blanketed in Thai basil. The flavors and spices worked perfectly with the sweetness of the blue crab. Ayara Thai, Bhan Kanom Thai, Jitlada, Lucky Elephant Thai Cuisine, Lum Ka Naad, Night + Market, Ruen Pair, Sapp, Siam Sunset, Thai Nakorn, and Thai Society were among the several other Thai restaurants offering samples for guests to enjoy at the festival.
I smelled, saw, heard, and tasted Thailand at the Thai Food Festival. Although I am always partial to the food aspects of festivals, I was able to experience a culture rich in history and tradition. Congratulations to the Department of International Trade Promotion, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Royal Thai Government for such an amazing and rich event. I can’t wait to go again next year!