Thai food is known worldwide for its quality, diversity of flavors and textures and its imaginative use of food combinations. With its unique blend of hot, spicy, sweet, sour, bitter and piquant flavors, Thai food is hugely appealing to the modern palate.
Historically, Thai food has drawn its main influences from India and China. In addition, Thailand”s close proximity to Vietnam, Burma and Cambodia has had a major impact on the evolution of modern Thai cuisine. Modern Thai food, however, has somehow managed to retain its identity while incorporating the best of what neighboring cuisines have to offer.
Regional Thai Food
Each region of Thailand has its own distinct style of cooking. Northern and Northeastern Thai food, for example, is influenced by the cuisine of Laos and Burma, whereas Southern Thai food has its origins in Malaysian-style cooking. In central Thailand the cuisine is remarkably similar to the typical Thai food served in Thai restaurants abroad.
Thai Food Staples
Here are a few Thai food staples:
Rice: Rice is a traditional, staple Thai food and has always been the most important dish (along with noodles) in any Thai meal.
Rice is served as a main course, in Thailand, rather than as an accompaniment. Long-grain rice is more common in Northern Thailand, with “sticky,” short-grain rice found mainly in the Southern regions. Jasmine rice originates from Thailand and is much sought after throughout the regions for its delicate, subtle flavors.
Fish: Fish, as a main ingredient or as a flavoring, is featured in numerous authentic Thai recipes. As nam pla (fish sauce), kapee (shrimp paste), jim (a dip) or simply as a food item served on its own, raw or cooked, Thai cuisine is based on a mind-boggling variety of different fish dishes.
Flavorings and Other Staples
The main flavorings used in Thai food include:
- black pepper
- coconut milk
- kaffir lime
A popular flavoring ingredient in all Thai food is a roasted chili paste called nahm prik pow. Made by mixing a variety of ingredients such as shrimp paste, garlic and more, this secret ingredient is what gives many Thai dishes that extra kick.
Thai Food Facts
Here are a few little-known facts about Thai food:
- Chili peppers, a staple ingredient in Thai recipes, were first introduced from Portugal in the early 16th century.
- Contrary to popular belief, peanut sauce is rarely used in Thai food, except for preparing Western-style satay.
- “Kaeng” is the Thai word for curry.
- Thai food is usually steamed, stir-fried or grilled.
Thai Food and Table Etiquette
The ritual of sharing is central to Thai table etiquette. Thai food is generally cut into small pieces before serving in order to make sharing easier in polite company.
At the start of the meal each guest is customarily served a separate bowl of rice. The accepted etiquette involves placing a spoonful or two of rice on a plate and then taking one of the accompanying dishes that have been arranged in the center to eat with the rice. Dipping into several curries or accompaniments at the same time is considered particularly bad form.
Thai food is usually consumed using a spoon and fork. The spoon is held in the right hand and used to place morsels of food into the mouth. The fork is used only for maneuvering the food and should never actually be placed in the mouth. Chopsticks are rarely used to eat Thai food, except for Chinese-style noodle dishes and rice porridge.
Recommended Thai Recipes
Thai cuisine accommodates a variety of palates. Some popular recipes include:
- tom yam gung: hot and sour seafood soup (often made with shrimp)
- tom yam kung: prawn, lemongrass and mushroom soup
- tom yam gai: hot and sour chicken soup
- kaeng kiaw wan kai: a thick sauce with chunks of chicken and small pieces of eggplants
- kaeng kiaw wan neua: beef curry
- plaamuk thwad krathiem prik tai: squid fried with garlic and black pepper (also made with fish)
- nua phat namman hoi: beef in oyster sauce
- muu phat priew wan: sweet and sour pork
- hormok talay: fish and seafood mousse
- pad Thai: pan-fried rice noodles with morsels of meat and/or vegetables
- kaeng pet: red hot chili-based curry with beef or pork
- massaman: yellow Thai curry
- penang neua: southern-style “dry” curry with a characteristic coconut flavor
- som tam: grated papaya salad
- sticky rice: a main dish popular in northern Thailand
- larb gai: spicy Thai chicken salad
- gai yang: marinated, grilled chicken
- tom kha kai: thick coconut milk curry with chicken and lemongrass
- khanom: delicious sweets typically made from coconut milk, fruit, especially bananas, and tapioca; custards, creams, puddings and cakes made from palm sugar, egg yolks and cooked in flower-scented syrups.
Thai food that is served by street vendors or in street-side, open-front food shops comes in two main varieties: wet (nam) and dry (haeng). When ordering Thai food, be sure to specify whether you want your food “nam” or “haeng.”
Did You Know That …
Did you know that popular lunch-time Thai foods such as thick shark”s fin soup, goose in soy sauce, roast duck with green vegetables and many mushroom-based dishes are actually derived from Chinese cuisine and have a distinct Cantonese flavor?