Thailand's Varied Culinary Heritage

by Travelbag on 19 January 2015, 14:01PM Thailand's Varied Culinary Heritage

Thai cuisine has for over a decade well established itself within the international culinary scene; the sheer number of restaurants sprung up in the major capitals of the world attests to its phenomenal popularity.

Offering a variety of flavours and tastes, with enthusiastic use of herbs, spices and market-fresh ingredients, Thai food is famed for its balance and harmony. Ann exciting combination of five fundamental tastes – hot, sweet, sour, salty and bitter, brings contrasting yet complimenting flavours and textures to each dish. Coconut milk, seafood and fruit also play a key part in Thai cuisine.

Although considered as a single cuisine, Thai food is better described according to the country’s four main regions; North, Northwest, Central Plains and South. With cultural and ethnic infusions over centuries, regional cuisines have absorbed some Eastern and Western influences while maintaining their own unique flavours and characters.

The fertile plain along the Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s traditional heartland, is home to various dishes of foreign influences. For centuries inspirations from the Middle East Europe, China, Japan, Persia and Portugal had contributed to making distinctive dishes that later were transformed to suit Thai tastes.

Their signatures are now evident in several dishes such as Phat Phak Bung Fai Saeng (stir fried water spinach), Kaeng Khiao Wan (green curry), or even the famous Phat Thai.

Thais living in the Central Plains region, unlike those in the North and Northeast, prefer fragrant steamed rice. Also, Sino-Thai food has bar far become popular in major cities like Bangkok, especially in the form of numerous noodle dishes. 

As unique as its culture the food from the North, where steamed glutinous rice is preferred. Traditionally, glutinous rice is kneaded into small balls with the fingers. Reflecting Burmese influences, northern curries are generally milder than those of the central and southern regions. Popular dishes under such influences include Kaeng Hang Le (traditional pork curry), Khao Soi (curry broth with egg noodles and meat, topped with shallots and slices of lime), Sai-Ua (spicy pork sausage), to name but a few. Visitors to the North should not miss Khantok dinner, the traditional form of meal during which diners sit around a small low table.

The Northeast, locally referred to as I-san, is perhaps the least known region to foreign  tourists. But this only serves to enhance its allure. I-san food is highly seasoned, often cooked with herbs and spices. Influences of neighbouring Laos are evident in several dishes including So Tam (green papaya salad), Lap (spicy minced meat or chicken salad) and Kai Yang (barbecued chicken). Freshwater fish and shrimp, usually fermented, are also popular. Like residents of the North, I-san people prefer glutinous rice, which sometimes is used as a sweet.

The South houses not only well-known destinations, but also hidden treasures in its renowned culinary treasure chest. Local ingredients play and important role in developing the distinct aroma and flavours of southern cuisine. As fresh seafood from the surrounding waters is abundant, fish, prawns, lobsters, crab, squid, scallops, clams and mussels are commonly used in main dishes. In addition to cashew nuts stir-fried with chicken and dried chilies, a pungent flat bean called sator adds an exotic flavour to many southern dishes. Coconut also plays a prominent role in many dishes and local sweets. Other foreign influences, namely Malaysian, Indonesian and Chinese, can be found in such dishes as Kaeng Mussaman (a mild curry seasoned with cardamom), Khao Yam Nam Budu (rice salad with southern fish sauce), Kaeng Lueang (yellow curry), Kaeng Tai Pla (spicy curry of fish vescera) and Sa Te (skewered barbecued meat with spicy peanut sauce).

Copy provided by Tourism Authority of Thailand

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