Welcome along to the first in our series on world cuisine. We’re starting in Thailand in Southeast Asia. Thai food is loved all over the world and needs little introduction. It is a linchpin of Thai culture and perfectly blends exotic flavours and fragrances into a whole host of tasty dishes.
Typically speaking Thai food mixes four main flavours:
Thai food has a colourful background with lots of different influences from neighbouring countries and cultures. It’s thought that many of the popular dishes today originally came from people who emigrated to Thailand from southern China. The abundance of local fresh chili then influenced and changed these dishes down through the years. Trade along the various shipping routes that run past Thailand has also heavily impacted the cuisine, with Portuguese and Indian styles being introduced to the country as a natural result of international trade.
Today the evolution continues, and you can find classic dishes with modern influences being served in restaurants – as chefs try to push the boundaries and create new and exciting experiences for their customers.
Thai Street Food
Thai street food is something to behold and it’s available everywhere. Vendors set up their stalls and offer everything from fresh fruit to noodles and rice dishes, grilled meats and insects! Street food is popular with both the locals and tourists and it offers an ideal opportunity to explore some new flavours and sample delicious local cuisine.
Some vendors focus on selling one or two dishes, and others have full menus that can rival the best restaurants in the country!
The cuisine in Thailand varies from place to place and each region has its own unique approach. Let’s take a look at some of the main variations….
Northern Thai Cuisine
Up north there’s a big influence from Thailand’s neighbours, in particular Burma, and on the spicy scale things tend to be quite mild. Some of the most delicious dishes originate in the north and can be characterised by their salty and sour flavours. Sticky rice is more common than the white rice found in other parts of the country.
Central Thai Cuisine
In central Thailand the flavours have a sweeter and more savoury feel about them. Quite often pork and freshwater fish are included in the recipes, along with palm sugar and coconut milk.
In Bangkok, seafood is very common and a popular choice in restaurants due to the closeness to the Gulf of Thailand.
Noodles and wok-fried meals are found both in restaurants and at street vendors stalls.
Southern Thai Cuisine
Food from the south of Thailand has certainly got a kick to it. Dishes from the southern provinces are often quite salty and seafood plays a big part. Chefs grill a variety of wonderful local fish which gets added to soups and main courses.
Two of the main crops used in the south are coconut and cashew nuts. Most meals are served with fresh herbs and vegetables along with spicy dips.
The Muslim Influence
The Muslim influence in Thai food dates back around seven centuries when dried-spices were introduced from parts of India and the Middle East.
One of the most famous and common dishes is the Massaman Curry. Cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, cashews and potatoes all come together to make up this delicious dish. You can serve it with beef, fish, duck or tofu…. the choice is yours!
The Chinese Influence
The legend goes that it was Chinese immigrants that first introduced wok style cooking to Thailand over two hundred years ago. Now it’s commonplace up and down the country and spicy noodle dishes are a delicacy.
We’ve picked out five Thai dishes you must try…
1. Thai Green Curry
The green curry is a good starting place to get your bearings. Fresh meat of your choice is cooked to perfection with cherry sized egg plants, tender bamboo shoots, coriander and basil along with green curry paste which is stirred into creamy coconut milk. Served with a side of local Thai rice.
2. Som Tam
Som Tam originated in the north of Thailand. The dish is made up of strips of crunchy papaya, green chilies, green beans, tomato, lime and fish sauce and is available in nearly all parts of the country. A healthy and delicious salad for any time of the day.
3. Pad Thai
One of the most famous dishes of the lot. This amazing stir fired rice noodle dish is extremely popular as street food and makes a fabulous light snack or meal. Served with egg, tofu and shrimp and seasoned with fish sauce, sugar, tamarind, vinegar and dried chilli it’s one not to be missed!
4. Yum Nua
Yum Nua is a spicy beef salad and one of the gorgeous traditional dishes you will find in many Thai restaurants. The salad infuses onion, coriander, lime, spearmint, dried chili and tender strips of beef. A mouth-watering treat for lunch or dinner.
5. Guay Teow
One of the most popular dishes is Guay Teow, a noodle soup that can be found almost anywhere. You can have it with chicken, beef or pork and with either rice or egg noodles. It includes a mix of sugar, dried chili peppers, lime juice and fish sauce.
In reality there’s too many amazing options to choose from when it comes to Thai food! Check back in next month and learn more about another popular world cuisine – with some top recommendations you might like to try!