A detailed guide to Thai cuisine
Thai is one of the most popular cuisines in the world. These days you can find Thai restaurants in almost every part of the world. The bright flavors and use of spice and herbs delight people everywhere. The food in Thailand is generally quite healthy, with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. We think food travel is a great way to get to know a place and its culture, so let’s dive further into the delicious Thai cuisine.
The history of Thai cuisine
Originally, the Thai people migrated south from China over 2000 years ago. This lead to the use of rice, noodles and lots of spice in Thai cuisine. The popularity of soy products is also a result of this Chinese ancestry. Much like in Chinese cuisine, Thai recipes are based on the use of 5 main flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and hot.
Another important factor in the development of Thai cuisine is that the country was never colonized by the West. Unlike nearby Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, Thailand doesn’t have French influences in its cooking. Of course, colonization of the Southeast Asian areas had some effect. The Portuguese for instance brought chillies to Thailand from South America.
When Buddhism spread from India to Thailand, it also brought new flavors. They brought spices, such as cumin, cardamom, and coriander. From the south, Malaysian cuisine introduced the Thai to coconut milk. This led to the development of Thai curries. There are big regional differences. Classic southern Thai dishes have more Malaysian influence. Northern Thai food is more similar to Myanmar and Chinese cuisine. But nowadays you can taste different Thai dishes everywhere in Thailand. Of course, the seafood is still the best by the coast.
Staple ingredients in Thai cuisine
The most important ingredient in Thai cuisine is rice. Thai people eat rice in combination with meat and vegetable dishes. Aside from standard fluffy white rice, the Thai also eat sticky rice. Sticky rice is glutenous rice that takes much longer to prepare and is steamed in bamboo baskets. Rice is also turned into flour to make noodles and other products.
The thing that makes food from Thailand so popular are the vibrant flavors. Thai dishes have a delicate balance of spices and herbs. Thais love to add bold flavor to their dishes through lemongrass, coriander, garlic and ginger, and even fish sauce and shrimp paste. These are often blended into a paste used for curries and marinades. The basis of most curry pastes is chili, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. They often also use shallots and kefir lime leaves to ass freshness. Some curries, such as massaman curry, use dried spices like cumin, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and turmeric.
Unlike Indian curries, Thai curries always include coconut milk. Coconut milk and shredded coconut are used in many Thai dishes, both savory and sweet.
Many people associated Thai food with spicy, and this is often true. A lot of Thai dishes include fresh or dried chili. If you cannot tolerate heat well, always ask for “no spicy” in Thai restaurants!
Although meat and fish are important in Thai cuisine, there are also a lot of vegetarian options. Most Thai people are Buddhist and eat vegetarian according to Buddhist custom. Strict Buddhists and monks do not eat meat or fish at all. So Thailand is a very suitable destination for vegetarians and vegans. Thai cuisine is low on dairy products, but if you are a strict vegan, beware of “hidden” ingredients such as fish sauce, shrimp paste, and eggs.
Popular vegetables in Thai cuisine include eggplant, onion, tomato, carrot, bean sprouts, scallion, cucumber, broccoli, mushrooms, and beans. And some you might be unfamiliar with, such as green papaya, bok choy, morning glory, winter melon, and gourds. Thailand is also a great place to eat fresh fruit. You can find delicious tropical fruits, such as banana, pineapple, mango, papaya, and mangosteen.
Popular food in Thailand
Thai culinary tradition is divided into two types: Royal Thai cuisine and common cuisine. Royal Thai cuisine was the food eaten by the aristocracy. It includes more elaborate and expensive dishes. Common Thai people in rural areas are more likely to eat simple dishes such as grilled fish or meat with rice. Nowadays, the division is not as clear, and you can find a large variety of food everywhere.
The Thai love to snack and there are carts selling street food everywhere. Thai street food ranges from fresh fruit or fried snacks such as spring rolls to stir-fries, like pad thai, and grilled meat. Night markets are often the best places to eat street food. You pick something up from a cart and eat it while you walk. If you want to eat authentic Thai food, it is best to look for small, local restaurants. These restaurants often look a little shabby and serve only a handful of dishes. The best places are where there are a lot of locals eating. Of course, there are also plenty of modern, fusion and Michelin star restaurants in Thailand.