While Thai food has a reputation for being spicy, Thai food is
actually based on a balance between different flavors including spicy,
sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. This goes beyond simply combining the
flavors within an individual dish to incorporate the contrast in flavors
between two or three different dishes, which is one reason Thai’s share
meals and eat family style.
One distinctive aspect of Thai food is the use of fresh herbs and spices as well as the inclusion of fermented fish sauce in nearly every dish –a potential problem for vegetarians, though saying “jay” to indicate you are vegetarian goes a long way.
However, there are certainly regional variations in what is typically considered Thai food; these are due to the influences of neighboring countries, such as China, Laos, Burma, and Malaysia. While some Thai restaurants specialize in specific dishes, most have a huge menu of Thai and western fare and prepare Thai food from throughout the kingdom.
The most esteemed Thai rice is Jasmine Rice, sweet-smelling long-grain rice that is indigenous to Thailand. Served steamed, jasmine rice is the finest rice to accompany most dishes, including Thai curries.
While Jasmine rice is the most coveted, it is also the most expensive. Consequently, most restaurants serve Khao Suoy, “beautiful rice”, a plain white variety that grows in abundance and is consumed with all style of entrée.
Khao pad or “fried rice” is made with fried with pork or chicken, chilies and fish sauce, typically with leftover Khao Suoy, so as not to waste leftover rice that is a bit “stale”.
Khao Tom is a popular breakfast dish, a salty porridge-like soup that is cooked with pork and garlic.
Khao Niaw, “sticky rice” is eaten by hand when served with dishes of northeastern influence, such as grilled chicken (gai yang) and spicy papaya salad (som tam); however, sticky rice is a crucial ingredient in a favorite Thai dessert, sticky rice and mango.
While noodle dishes are quite common in Thailand (an influence brought
by Chinese migrants) most Thai dishes are stir fried or grilled and
served with rice. Fish (blah), pork (moo), beef (neua), and chicken (gai)
are all prepared in a variety of ways, though typically cut into bite
sized pieces and stir fried with various spices, such as garlic, chili,
and/or basil. Fish and chicken are frequently grilled or fried, fish
typically cooked and served whole.
Thai Curry and Soup
While Thai curries are shared and meant to be ladled over rice, soups are served communally with diners receiving small bowls to eat out of. Although some curries and soups can be served without meat for vegetarians, many Thai cooks put fish sauce in all dishes as it’s the Thai substitute for salt.
Other than pad Thai noodles, rad naa and gway tiow are stir fried noodles served with beef, chicken, or pork; condiments, including dried chilies, fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar, are available to tailor to individual diner’s taste.
Otherwise, Thai noodles are normally served in soup, either with spicy red pork (moo daeng), chicken (on the bone), and occasionally coagulated pigs blood. Unlike most Thai dishes, which are eaten with fork and spoon, Thai noodles are typically eaten with chopsticks and spoon, a reflection of the Chinese origin of the cuisine.
You couldn’t tell by looking at slim waste lines of many Thais, but Thai people love to eat dessert. This includes both traditional Thai desserts as well as western fare, including cakes and ice cream. Traditional Thai desserts are quite sweet, made predominately from various combinations of rice, coconut milk, and sugar, along with a few seemingly less common dessert ingredients, such as sweet corn or kidney beans. Some egg based Thai desserts trace their history back to the influence of Portuguese missionaries (who also introduced the chili!) While these desserts are not prominently featured on menus in Thai restaurants and infrequently ordered at the conclusion of a meal, they are occasionally served complimentarily or can be found sold at street stalls that specialize in particular desserts.
Fruit is also a common Thai dessert and is usually served plain and sliced, though Mango with sticky rice, covered in sweet coconut milk is a popular dessert when Mangos are in season.
Thai Salad or Yam
The most internationally recognized Thai salad, Som Tam is technically a dish of Lao origin, and is most popular in Northeastern Thailand, where it is prepared in a manner that would wreak havoc on the stomach of an unsuspecting visitor unaccustomed to real spicy Thai food. Som Tam consists primarily of shredded papaya and is often served with grilled chicken (gai yang).
Yam som-o, is a more mild salad that is based on the pommels, a fruit similar to, but less sour than, a grapefruit. Yam som-o is usually served with shredded chicken.
Other salads include Yam Neua, a Thai beef salad served with tomato and onion, and Yam Wonsan, a glass noodle and shrimp salad.
Technically Thai meals don’t include appetizers per se; all dishes are ordered at once and come out in random order for diners to share as they arrive. However, there are certainly finger-food style dishes that can be categorized as appetizer style foods. Satay (grilled meat on a stick) and spring rolls are the most common of these, the former available on many street corners and technically classified in Thai cuisine as a snack rather than an appetizer.
Source or Paste
Dragon fruit is a large, odd looking fruit, with pink spiky skin, though beneath the extravagant exterior is a tender white meat akin to a mellow, juicy kiwi fruit. Chompu is a refreshing pear-shaped fruit that tastes something like a watery apple. The pungent smelling durian and its mellower cousin the jack fruit require an acquired palate, their flavors and textures revered by some and reviled by others; in fact so strong is the smell of the durian that it’s not infrequent to see “no durian” signs inside many buildings!
Mangos are served both ripe and juicy and unripe and excruciatingly tart, a taste that Thai’s typically balance by dipping in a mixture of sugar and chili.
There are literally dozens of other exotic Thai fruits, available seasonally, and always reasonably priced. Buy a bunch and share with friends; they make economical and healthy snacks.
Thai Beer & beverages
Fruit smoothies and fruit juice are both very popular: smoothies made with fresh fruit and sugar syrup are blended with ice that is generally safe to consume. Coconut milk is another safe option as the coconut is simply cracked open from the top and served whole with a straw.
Thai ice tea is served with condensed milk, which gives it a pinkish orange color and sweet flavor. Thai ice coffee (oliang) is a strong black pick me up far superior to the Nescafe that is so often served as “coffee” in many restaurants. Otherwise, there are many Starbucks throughout the Kingdom, particularly in Bangkok, if you really need a quick coffee fix.
Finally, red bull energy drink was invented in Thailand and can be procured at 7-11 and mom and pop minimarts for 10 baht. There are other local brands, but taste and potency vary widely.
Thai Gourmet Specialties
While “Thai food” has gained international recognition, Thai cuisine can
actually be broken down by the region from which it originated. Each of
Thailand’s different regions has developed its own style and is
responsible for dishes that are quite different from those of other
regions. Thai food from Issarn, in the northeast of Thailand, shares
many similarities with cuisine from neighboring Laos, though the Thai
versions of the dishes, such as Som Tam, are a lot heavier on the chili.
Southern curries on the other hand, are less spicy, with a greater
Malaysian influence, and feature more coconut and turmeric. And while
Thai people love fish, whether from the river or the sea, Thailand’s
beaches are the prime destinations to sample the best Thai seafood