A culinary journey through Thailand
Thai food and the regional flavours
Thai cuisine has understandably become extremely popular in the United Kingdom. If you’re planning a trip to Thailand then it will be useful for you to know a little bit about the different types of food. Generally speaking, Thai food is hot and spicy and has a balance of five flavours in each dish – spicy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter. The cuisine is also well-known for its use of fresh and colourful ingredients which result in healthy and visually attractive dishes. Local food is also very cheap, especially if you take advantage of the many street stalls. Thailand boasts hundreds of delicious dishes with a wealth of wonderful flavours, but the characteristics of these foods can differ quite a lot depending on which region you’re in. The cuisine can be divided into four regional groups: northern, northeastern, central and southern.
In the north of the country the dishes are typically milder with light flavours; they are prepared with little spice and not so much chilli, salt and sugar. Sai-ua (Thai northern sausages), nam prik ong (minced pork with a hot tomato dip) and kaeng kare (vegetable curry) are popular dishes and highly recommended. Whilst in the north you may find yourself sat at a khantoke, a small round table traditionally used by the Lanna people. Hopefully you’ll have the chance to try a khantoke feast, a food showcase with various dishes derived for tourists in the 1950s. These are especially popular in Chiang Mai. The delicious food is served in khans (small serving bowls) and the feast is often accompanied by a thrilling knife show or traditional tribal dance.
Food in Northeastern (or Isan) Thailand is heavily influenced by neighbouring Laos. Dishes here are typically very spicy with strong flavours. Some of the dishes originated from the ancient kingdom of Lanna and are difficult to find in other parts of the country, so make sure you sample these whilst you’re in the area. Pla ra (fermented fish) is frequently used as a main dish in Isan food and is often enjoyed with glutinous rice or added to other dishes. One of the most popular dishes in Thailand originates in the northeast: som tam (green papaya salad). This is often served with glutinous rice and grilled chicken and is not to be missed.
The cuisine of central Thailand typically has a moderate flavour with various herbs and sugar used in the preparation. The well-known curries with coconut milk originate from the central provinces. The popular kaeng kaew wan (green curry), tom kha (coconut milk soup), tom yam (spicy and sour soup) and Panang curry (dry red curry) are mouthwatering and simply must be sampled during your culinary trip. This region is a basin with many rivers and canals so fish, prawn and crab form a large part of the local diet. You’ll find that fish can even be used in desserts – khao niao na pla haeng (glutinous rice with dried fish) for example. Although a Western style of eating has been introduced, many locals still sit on the floor to eat – trays of food are placed on mats or small tables and people use their hands to pick up rice. You’ll discover that due to the large Chinese population in central Thailand many dishes have a Chinese influence.
The cuisine in the south is characterised by strong flavours, spicy herbs and rich ingredients. Coconut milk is frequently used in cooking. Much of southern Thailand is coastal and so the dishes here consist mainly of sea fish. The fish is cooked with turmeric which gives it a delicious sour, salty and hot flavour. Khanom chin (Thai rice vermicelli) is often served in this part of the country and is eaten with vegetables and a hot curry. Sometimes rice is replaced with hot flat breads like naan and roti. Whilst in this part of the country you should try the wonderful gaeng massaman (an Indian-influenced beef curry) and the extremely spicy kaeng lueang (Southern yellow curry). If you want an alternative to the highly spiced dishes of the south, why not try one of the more mild Arab-inspired meals?