Thai food by Region: A Guide to Thai Cuisine

by Travelbag on 29 May 2018, 16:05PM

Thai dishes are revered in the west by ex-backers who remember ravenously devouring Pad thai back in the glory days, health gurus whose bodies are their temples and everyone in between. But there’s a lot more regional difference than reaches the eye.

The first thing to notice about Thai food is the geography of the place. The north for example has a relatively cool climate for such a hot and humid country. Food is consequently more seasonal as weather patterns have more differentiation to them and allow a breadth of produce that can't grow in the south.

Then there are the affects of neighbours, China is of course a historical influencer of Thai cuisine and the wider Southeast Asian area. But China’s age long off shoots have developed inter-food relationships of their own as they’ve divulged on separate culinary journeys: Northern Thailand being iffluenced by neighbouring Myanmar and islands in the south taking inspiration from Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

We’ve divvied up Thailand into four bite size areas to explain the various types of Thai food available. If you’re headed south to places like Koh Lanta and Koh Samui expect fish, salt and fiery chilli flavours. If you’re not so good with spice it’s authentic northern Thai food that you’re after – broths fragrant with lemongrass and Thai basil and mild curries. Wherever you are in Thailand; Kin di (eat well).

Chiang Mai

gaeng hang lay

Food here is notably less spicy; much like the laid back atmosphere and slower pace of life in Chiang Mai. It’s where people come to hike, practice yoga and eat wholesome food that isn’t heavy or laden with chilli. To substitute the spice, northern recipes incorporate other flavours such as bitterness and sourness. Coconut milk is used but less traditionally and more emphasis on pork rather than seafood – another affect of living away from the coast. Sticky rice is more common than the white rice common elsewhere in the country.

North-eastern region

khao soi

The least frequented part of Thailand and so its food is even less known than the Chiang Mai area. Grilling and boiling are more common food preparation techniques rather than say the fried pork dishes elsewhere. As a remote area of Thailand without direct access to the ocean and the ships that dock in the Gulf, north-easterly Thailand has had to think on its feet; insects and amphibians are genuine delicacies here – not at all like the showy Bangkok stalls intended to freak visitors out.

Central Region

bangkok street market

Being central, areas like Phetchabun and Nakhon Sawan can draw on the cooking influences of the whole country. On the taste buds, this translates as more balanced dishes that aren’t really spicy or really bitter but rather a harmony of all of the flavours involved. Bangkok is of course an exception to this – yes it’s central but has access to the fresh fish of the Gulf and to ingredients that have been arriving from all over the world for so long. As a major city, its tastes have changed in a way of their own – most easily seen in the form of street food and eating on the go.

Southern Region

tom yung goong

Across the Thai islands and the coastal regions of the south, fiery flavours and plenty of salt dominate the culinary scene. Fish sauce is in everything and acts as an enhancer of other flavours as much as it does an independent ingredient of it's own right. It’s down here that coconut trees grow and so spice laden curries are thinned out with the cooling milk and salads are given crunch with dried coconut. Chefs have borrowed over the years from the southerly neighbouring countries of Indonesia and Malaysia the same way that the north has imitated Laos and Myanmar.

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