Thai cuisine is known for its balance of five fundamental flavors in each
dish or the overall meal - hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty and bitter
(optional). Although popularly considered as a single cuisine, Thai food
is really better described as four regional cuisines corresponding to the
four main regions of the country: Northern, Northeastern (or Isan),
Central and Southern. Southern curries, for example, tend to contain
coconut milk and fresh turmeric, while northeastern dishes often include
Instead of a single main course with side dishes found in Western cuisine,
a Thai full meal typically consists of either a single dish or rice khao
with many complementary dishes served concurrently.
Rice is a staple component of Thai cuisine, as it is of most Asian
cuisines. The highly prized, sweet-smelling jasmine rice is indigenous to
Thailand. This naturally aromatic long-grained rice grows in abundance in
the verdant patchwork of paddy fields that blanket Thailand's central
plains. Its aroma bears no resemblance to the sweet smell of jasmine
blossoms, but like jasmine flowers, this rice is precious and fragrant, a
small everyday delight. Steamed rice is accompanied by highly aromatic
curries, stir-frys and other dishes, incorporating sometimes large
quantities of chilies, lime juice and lemon grass. Curries, stir-frys and
others may be poured onto the rice creating a single dish called khao rad
gang, a popular meal when time is limited. Sticky rice khao neow is a
unique variety of rice that contains an unusual balance of the starches
present in all rice, causing it to cook up to a pleasing sticky texture.
It is the daily bread of Laos and substitutes ordinary rice in rural
Northern and Northeastern Thai cuisine, where Lao cultural influence is
Noodles, known throughout parts of Southeast Asia by the Chinese name
kwaytiow, are popular as well but usually come as a single dish, like the
stir-fried Pad Thai (Thai: ผัดไทย) or noodle soups. Many Chinese cuisine
are adapted to suit Thai taste, such as khuaytiow rue, a sour and spicy
rice noodle soup.
There is a uniquely Thai dish called nam prik which refers to a chile
sauce or paste. Each region has its own special versions. It is prepared
by crushing together chillies with various ingredients such as garlic and
shrimp paste using a mortar and pestle. It is then often served with
vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw or
blanched. The vegetables are dipped into the sauce and eaten with rice.
Nam prik may also be simply eaten alone with rice or, in a bit of Thai and
Western fusion, spread on toast.
Thai food is generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. Chopsticks are used
rarely, primarily for the consumption of noodle soups. The fork, held in
the left hand, is used to shovel food into the spoon. However, it is
common practice for Thais and hill tribe peoples in the North and
Northeast to eat sticky rice with their right hands by making it into
balls that are dipped into side dishes and eaten. Thai-Muslims also
frequently eat meals with only their right hands.
Often Thai food is served with a variety of spicy condiments to embolden
dishes. This can range from dried chili pieces, or sliced chili peppers in
rice vinegar, to a spicy chili sauce such as the nam prik mentioned above.
Many Thai dishes are familiar in the West. In many dishes below, different
kinds of meat can be chosen as the ingredient, such as beef, chicken,
pork, or seafood.
Popular Thai Dishes:
- rice noodles pan fried with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice or tamarind
pulp, chopped peanuts, and egg combined with chicken, seafood, and tofu
Rad na - wide rice noodles in gravy, with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, or
seafood. (Originally from China)
Khao pad naem
- fried rice with fermented sausage (typically from the Northeast)
Pad see ew - noodles stir-fried with see ew dum (thick soy sauce) and nahm
plah (fish sauce) and pork or chicken.
Pad kee mao - noodles stir-fried with Thai basil
Khao khluk kapi - rice stir-fried with shrimp paste, served with sweeten
pork and vegetables
Khanom chin namya - round boiled rice noodles topped with various curry
sauces and eaten with fresh leaves and vegetables.
Khao soi - crispy wheat noodles in sweet chicken curry soup (a Northern
Khao pad gai - fried rice with chicken
Kaphrao gai - minced chicken in sauce made up of a combination of hot
green chilies, garlic, and basil
Gai himaphan - juicy chunks of chicken with cashew nuts and chilies
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