SUN-DRENCHED beaches, golden temples, Buddhist monks and soothing massages, everything about Thailand paints a picture of calmness and tranquillity but it is hard to relax if you are worrying about what is safe to eat.
The sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot fusions of Thai food have become increasingly popular in England. In fact, in some cities, it feels like there are more Thai restaurants here than there are in Thailand. This is a testament to its delightful flavours.

Common ingredients in Thai cooking are garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander, turmeric, cumin, coconut, lime, pineapple and nuts such as peanuts, not forgetting rice and noodles. Often restaurants will offer a choice of meat (usually beef, chicken, pork or fish) with a dish so that it can be customised to your taste.
In Thailand fresh food is vital, try explaining to a villager in a hill tribe what a ready meal is and they will think you are mad. This is great news for people with allergies and intolerances because it means that additives and preservatives are rarely used in cooking.

More good news for people avoiding gluten is that Thai noodles, a staple part of many dishes, are generally made using rice flour. This is not to say that wheat noodles are never used but the 
rice flour variety is definitely preferred.
Although noodles are standard fare, soy sauce is not common in Thai cooking as fish sauce, or nam pla, is added in most dishes. Fish sauce is the juice in the flesh of fish and is extracted by salting and fermentation. Although it doesn’t sound particularly enticing, it is a base flavour for some mouth-watering Thai delicacies such as the international favourite Pad Thai.
With fish sauce, it might be worth checking the label to ensure it is gluten and wheat-free. If this isn’t possible, then if you can see the sauce is a clear, reddish-brown colour with no sediment, a pleasant smell and made and processed in Thailand then it should be fine. Thai-made sauces are less likely to have preservatives because they will not need to be stored for long periods of time in transit.

As with soy sauce, you are not likely to come across too many dairy products in Thailand as most curries and thick sauces are made using coconut milk but keep an eye out for fried egg in rice.
Another good tip when eating at a restaurant or sampling some street food is to check that the frying oil in your dish has not been used for battered foods previously.
Also, for those who need to avoid spicy food it is worth noting that pet mak means spicy and prik or tera prow is chilli or curry powder. If that pops up on a menu perhaps try something else or ask for the dish to be cooked without chilli.
Another thing worth bearing in mind is that because the Thai language is so different from English you will often notice that the names of dishes are spelt in a variety of ways as they are phonetic translations.

As for the drinks, smoothies and fruit juices are served everywhere and with home grown fruits such as mangoes, papayas, pineapples and bananas, you will be spoilt for choice. As with most countries, whether you have food intolerances or not, beware of ice in drinks as the water used might not be filtered and so could cause an upset stomach.
Thai beers such as Singha and Chang can now be picked up in at your local supermarket but are not gluten free and the same goes for the local tipple Sangsom whiskey.

Anyone looking for an after dinner treat should be aware that Thai people are not renowned for a great love of desserts. As a result, most sweet dishes on the menu will be ice-cream, sorbet or fruit that has often been beautifully carved in the Thai tradition.
Having had your fill of some of the dos and don’ts of Thai food hopefully that will leave less time for stress and more time for kicking back, relaxing and enjoying.

Thank you very much to budding journalist and Thailand-lover Natalie Hunt for this informative contribution.

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