From the Blog

June 13, 2015

The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking

Most of us who have tried Thai food will know of its rich textures and aromatic qualities that leave you wanting more…….listed here are a selection of dishes that can leave your nose and taste buds wanting a lot less……..

Stinky Beans

The distinct aromas of Thai CookingWelcome to the world of Stink beans, officially known as parkia speciosa. In Thai they are known as sataw (สะตอ), but you might also hear them called petai, bitter beans, stinky beans, smelly beans, twisted cluster bean or worse.

They’re not so flattering name comes from the aroma that some would say smells suspiciously like methane gas. This some would say King of beans ability to assault your sense does not end there, as it will come back to haunt you as you later pass water (in a similar way to asparagus)

This large vegetable is revered in South East Asia and you will find it hanging in all its glory in the most prominent places in markets, restaurants and food stalls, there to entice its disciples into buying it.


They are one of the main ingredients in what is one of my wife’s favourite dishes; goong pad sataw (กุ้งผัดสะตอ). The dish is a combination of prawns (it can also be made with pork or chicken), southern Thai curry paste, shrimp paste, oyster sauce, sugar and Kaffir lime leaves.

Nasal rating nose10/10


Stinky Tofu

Stinky Tofu – Thailand’s equivalent to “Blue Cheese” (or so some will say)

The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking (1)This originally Chinese concoction has been available in Thailand for hundreds of years. The traditional method of producing it, is to prepare a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat; the brine can also include dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo, and herbs. Fermentation can take as long as several months.

The resulting Stinky tofu can be eaten cold, steamed, stewed, or, most commonly, deep-fried, and it is often accompanied by a chilli sauce. The colour varies from the golden to the black

The aroma of this strange dish resembles that of rotten garbage or manure. Connoisseurs will have it said that the more it smells, the “better” its flavour.



Nasal rating 8/10

Century Eggs

The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking (2)Century Eggs, are also known as thousand-year eggs or millennium eggs, but thankfully the process of preserving the eggs (Chicken, duck or quail) actually takes few weeks to a few months, and involves packing the eggs in a mixture of, clay, lime, ash and salt, they are then rolled in rice hulls to keep them from sticking together and left to sit to do their ‘Thing’. The process causes the yolk of the eggs to take on a creamy, cheese-like texture, and transforms the whites into a dark-coloured jelly.


They can be eaten alone heated or cold, but are usually served with spicy Thai salads or as a side order to rice soup. They can also accompany congee, or rice porridge. The eggs have a smell that is best summed up in yet another Thai name that of; khai yiao ma, which simply translates as “horse urine eggs.”

Nasal rating 8/10nose


 Farmed Rat


The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking 3Eating Farmed Rat in Thailand. Official numbers reveal that Thailand imports three tons of rat meat from Cambodia a day…yes, a day! This number does not include the amount of rats that are caught and eaten in vast farmlands across the north, north east, and central parts of the country. The kingdom is ranked third behind Cambodia and Laos when it comes to consuming the meat of the small whiskered creatures……..Yummy

These at times not so little critters can be cooked in all manner of ways but if simply fried or barbecued they should be eaten at once, as within a short period of time the meat starts to produce its own distinct odour…….something on the lines that one of its relatives has started to rot and decay, somewhere in the house. The meat itself does taste a bit like a ripe ‘Hare’ and has almost the same stringy texture.



Nasal rating 10/10


Som tam pla-ra

The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking 4Som tam pla-ra is without doubt the smelliest variety of the world famous spicy papaya salad, eaten all over Thailand and thought to have originated in Laos, its pungent smell comes from the addition of fermented fish sauce, or by adding the whole ripe fish. Others (like my wife) will go that little bit further and add tiny fresh water salted crabs which takes this king of Som tam to a new plane.

How ever its eaten this dish assaults both the nose and the taste buds with its copious amounts of fresh chillies and acquired taste of rotten fish

However  you like your som tam, it’s best enjoyed with other side dishes such as sticky rice, rice noodles, roasted or fried chicken, grilled pork, ground pork salad and spicy liver salad.

There are 3 flavours to choose from: salty, salty & sour and simply sour.

For a Pla-ra recipe click here

noseNasal rating 10/10


Pla kem

The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking 5Pla kem — sun-dried salted fish this dish is actually at its most pungent levels before it’s even cooked. Thankfully while the cooking process (normally pan fried) diminishes its smell it still withholds enough to turn a head or two.  If you like preserved anchovies then you should like this dish.

A simple dish, pla kem is usually topped with a little bit of lime juice, fish sauce, shallots and chili and eaten with a side of hot boiled rice. As most Thais love to eat meals with strong flavours, these ingredients give more oomph to the pla kem.

noseNasal rating 7/10



Fermented Durian

The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking 6Durian the ‘King of Fruits’….has the reputation for smelling like over ripe armpits, 0r fermented gym socks. The smell is so strong like some of its friends listed here it is not welcome in many hotels or air planes or indeed any confined space.

This fruit is either loved or loathed by those that have tried it, those that love it may not know that the fruit contains the same amino acid that is found in chocolate and marijuana (amino acid tryptophan, is known to alleviate anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and create feelings of happiness, by raising levels of serotonin in the brain)

Fermented durian, or tempoyak, is a traditional condiment in Malaysia and Indonesia and is found in Southern Thailand, often mixed with coconut milk curries or pounded with chilies into a spicy dip.  It was developed as a way to both use overripe or poor quality durians and preserve them through the months after durian season. What is does not do is take away this most smelly of fruits.

noseNasal rating 7/10


Crocodile Curries

The distinct aromas of Thai Cooking 7While these huge ancient reptiles are more commonly farmed here in Thailand (Thailand has the largest crocodile farming industry in the world. With around 700,000 crocodiles raised in 951 farms) with most exported to China, some are still out there in the wild, it is thought that there are roughly 200 wild salt water crocodiles on the loose.

In real terms there is very little that is edible on the beast, what is comes from the back strap and tail fillets, that’s where the problems of smell and taste start, the copious amount of fat found on the reptile if not carefully trimmed leaves an unpleasant taste during the cooking and the meat itself if not properly marinated with strong ingredients such as garlic and chilli leaves a delicate but troubling smell.

The meat is white in colour and is normally cooked as a Thai green or red curry and yes it does taste of chicken. Not a creature you really want to go fishing for yourself and only found in a few places to eat here in the Kingdom, but can be bought frozen, fresh or tinned on line.


Nasal rating 5/10


FotorCreatedEating bats is quite common in parts of Thailand, China and Africa. The animal as with lobsters and crabs are first plunged into a pot of boiling water, it is at this time you get the whiff of an unpleasant pungent smell.  Once dead they’re then plucked of their fur and can be served in a manner of ways; roasted on glowing charcoal, wings, guts and all, or the chopped-up mammal is added to fresh herbs and a little sugar the spicy paste is then fried or the animal can be used in a soup. Bat reportedly tastes a lot like chicken and can be roasted just like one but should be seasoned with peppers, onions and garlic to mitigate that strong aroma.

The good and bad of eating bats

While the bats are free to those that catch them and are rumoured to be an aphrodisiac, they are reported linked to a form of dementia called ALS/PDC and medical experts have traced strains of SARS, Ebola and other emerging diseases back to them.


Nasal rating 4/10nose


For more the strangest of Thai food see our following posts:

Taste of Thailand

For some of the health risks in eating some Thai foods see Blood and Guts

For more on traditional Thai cooking see our post: Thai Street Food

For more strange wild animal facts on Thailand click here


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