An Introduction to the Cuisine of Thailand

Thai food, cooked in its country of origin is an experience not to be missed. It’s a mouthwatering explosion of flavors that captivate the imagination and entice your taste buds.

How many of us can actually say we’ve had real, authentic Thai cuisine, cooked by local chefs with expert knowledge of the best, freshest local ingredients and how to cook them to perfection?

While a takeaway at home can be a lovely treat every now and again, the real deal is something to savor.

A beginner’s guide to Thai food

One of the best experiences you can have when you’re looking for things to do in Bangkok is to visit some of the best local restaurants and eateries to see what’s on offer.

Food culture in Thailand offers so much variety – fresh, inviting ingredients such as seafood, fruits, and vegetables and a whole host of cooking styles. Whether you’re craving a rich, hearty curry, or want a clean, reviving broth and fruit salad there will be something to suit your palate and your purse.

The first, guiding principle of proper Thai cuisine is balance and harmony. Why? Well, this is because

Thai cuisine is essentially a merger of hundreds of years of Eastern and Western influences mixed together into something that ends up uniquely representing Thai culture.

The unique characteristics of Thai food

In days gone by Thai cuisine simply reflected the lifestyle of the people there – and it was uniquely influenced by aquatics and water. This meant that a huge part of the diet consisted of fish, seafood, plants, and herbs. Thus, dishes were light, fresh, and palatable and communities there eschewed meat, for the most part. Even now, with Buddhist traditions firmly at the forefront, meat is still not a huge part of the diet – but it does feature more than it used to.

Meat is now cooked slowly, stewed and baked, and often shredded up to be served with herb and spice mixtures. It was only when Chinese influences started to come in that methods such as stir-frying and deep-frying became more popular and absorbed into the culture.

From the 17th century onwards influences came from countries such as Portugal, Holland, France, and Japan. It was only then that chillies became ‘de rigeur’ too. They came over with Portuguese missionaries who had fallen in love with their fiery heat in food when they were serving in South America.

Food substituting in Thailand

Thai chefs became adept at working out how an ingredient would work in a meal and then finding a suitable local substitute for it. So, for instance, when they used Indian ghee in meals, they worked out that their own coconut oil would do the same job – and coconut milk would be a perfect sub for most dairy products in meals that required them for richness.

They also sought out ways to stop spices and herbs from overpowering dishes by toning them down with calming tastes like lemongrass. This led to a decrease in the amount of spices used in Thai curries, and the use of fresh herbs increased. Thai curries usually taste fresher, greener, and lighter as a result. They still have a fiery kick, but it fades quickly.

A Thai meal

Instead of serving dishes in a host of courses, a local Thai meal is served all at once. This means that diners can enjoy a little bit of everything that is to their taste, all at once!

On the table, a proper Thai meal is made up of:

  • a soup
  • a curry dish with condiments
  • fish and vegetables with an accompanying dip
  • a spiced salad.

The soup dish can be spicy but if that’s the case, then the curry dish should be replaced with something non-spicy. Thai meals MUST be harmoniously balanced with a range of tastes and textures throughout the meal.


How is Thai food eaten?

Thai food is always eaten with a fork and spoon. This means that even if it’s a meal that consists of one dish, you’ll get the same cutlery. Knives are rarely used. A spoon is used to carry food to the mouth.

Thai people love eating together and see it as a celebration. Two or more people will always eat together when dining out. Two diners should order three dishes in addition to their own plates of steamed rice. Three diners would order four dishes, and so on.

When dining out, diners have whatever they like from shared plates and then combine it with their own portion of rice. Soup is always enjoyed with rice, too. However, soup is still enjoyed alongside all the other dishes and not served separately. Spicy dishes are paired with blander dishes to help create balance.


Fascinating facts about Thai food

Let’s end with some fascinating facts about Thai cuisine!

Food is given high priority in Thailand, and one of the most common greetings, when you meet a local, is “Gin Khao Yung”. This means “Have you eaten yet?”.

Thai food perfectly blends the four main seasonings of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy and most dishes combine all four tastes.

Fresh fruits and veggies play an integral role in all Thai meals. Desserts, in particular, will come loaded with delicious, juicy fruits to act as a palate cleanser.

Whilst noodles are a staple of the Thai diet today, they were only actually introduced to the country during World War Two, to help relieve rice shortages after flooding.

Following on from this, we’re all aware of Pad Thai, a noodle-based dish – but we’re less aware of Pad Mama, which is fried noodles with beef and vegetables. A delicious, sustaining meal.

Basil is a familiar ingredient in Thai food, but it isn’t the same as the herb used in Italian cooking. Thai basil is uniquely fresh and light and it only grows in SouthEast Asia. It’s spicier and has notes of aniseed and liquorice.

Still hungry and have room for dessert? Thai sweets are much lighter and fresher than anywhere else in the world and this is because they rely on coconut for taste, creaminess, and depth. Rice flour is more commonly used in cakes and biscuits meaning they’re lighter too.