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Cheap Eats 2013: What’s that Flavor?

Thai cooks use an array of beautifully fragrant accents. These are a few you’re likely to come across.

Holy Basil

While a variety of plants in the basil family are found in Thai cuisine, spicy kraphao leaves are said to have medicinal benefits and are used in specific dishes like phat kraphao, a minced-pork stir-fry with ribbons of the flavorful herb.

Bird’s-eye Chilies

Also known as Thai chilies, these tiny green and red peppers pack plenty of heat for their size. Thin slices fire up salads and the fish-sauce-based nam phrik, a condiment found on nearly every Thai table.


This root, a member of the ginger family, has a more peppery flavor than its better-known cousin. Most often you’ll find it freshly ground into spice pastes or flavoring classic soups such as tom yum and tom kha gai.

Fish Sauce

Pungent nam pla—commonly made from fermented anchovies, salt, and water—is the workhorse of Thai cookery. The umami-packed liquid is used as a dipping sauce for fried foods, a foundation for salad dressings and marinades, and more.

Kaffir-lime Leaves

Many parts of the kaffir-lime tree are used in Thai kitchens, but most common are the flat, intensely aromatic leaves that are cooked whole in curries and soups or chopped fresh atop dishes like beef Panang curry.

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