Lemon grass. Lemon Grass is a plant that looks like grass, smells minty and tastes similar to lemon (hence the English name Lemongrass). The thick, woody base of each leaf has long been a key ingredient in Thai cooking. You can easily grow your own by putting a few stems in one inch of water, set in a sunny area, then transfer to your garden after roots start to grow.
Kaffir lime leaves. There is nothing like kaffir lime leaves in the world, as these
leaves are just packed with a wonderful strong citrus fragrance. Kaffir lime leaves are used in a wide range of Thai cuisine, notably soups. They contribute astringency as well.
Fish sauce. If there's any one key ingredient that is critical to cooking Thai cuisine, it is fish sauce--for that reason alone, it's difficult to find vegetarian recipes that actually taste like Thai cuisine. Fish sauce provides the salty dimension in Thai cuisine, and it's high in protein as well as minerals and vitamins. It's made from small fish, salt-fermented for a long time, then the juice is extracted and boiled. Good fish sauce should be clear and brownish in color.
Garlic. Most Thai recipes start with sliced garlic frying in oil, and go from there. It would be hard to eat a Thai meal without having garlic in one form or another.
Thai chile peppers. Thais cannot imagine food without chile--they sometimes eat them as a snack. Chiles come in different types and sizes. Phrik Khee Noo is the smallest kind, about a centimetre long, but also the hottest. Chopped up in fish sauce, it makes a sauce Thais add to almost any dish.
Coconut milk. Coconut milk is the rich base for many Thai curries and sweet dishes. Coconut milk or 'ga-ti' is traditionally made by mixing the grated meat of a ripe coconut with warm water and then squeezing out the juice. Now there are machines that grate and press coconut to produce the white, sweet-aroma coconut milk. Coconut milk comes in a can for convenient use.
Galanga. A type of ginger, but it's milder and looks different than the usual form of ginger found in supermarkets. Galanga interacts well with the other essential Thai ingredients found on this page. It gives a distinctive, lightly acid taste and helps reduce the smell of meat. Slices of galangal are added to many kinds of curry and soup. Some people crush the bulb and boil it in water as a preparation to cure indigestion or stomach upsets.
Palm sugar. Seeet is a key taste in Thai food, and many recipes use palm sugar. The sugar is harvested from a sugar palm tree, produced from the sweet, watery sap that drips from cut flower buds. The sap is collected each morning and boiled in huge woks on the plantations until a sticky sugar remains. This is whipped and dropped in lumps on cellophane, or filled into containers.
Jasmine rice: Also known as "fragrant rice", Thailand produces rice that's considered the very highest quality in the world. Indeed, much of the rice exported around the world is from Thailand.