Thai food is generally spicy and uses a lot of chili, ginger, garlic, pepper,
cumin seed, lemon grass, basil leaves, knob khaa, coriander, and manglak
These are used along with curry past, biachan, nam prik, and nam pla to flavor
various dishes. A lot of seafood is used in Thai dishes, whether it's
simply a meat dish or an elaborate salad made for the main course.
Thai salads are different from their Western counterparts. They are
made up of a wide variety of ingredients and prepared to have a great
presentation and flavor. Thai cooks combine colors, flavors and
aromas to give the best and most pleasurable eating experience.
Exotic fruits are found in Thailand and are commonly eaten by just removing
the skin. Tropical fruit varieties can be found throughout the year, some
examples of the luscious fruits are the lychee, durian and magosteen.
is the national cuisine of Thailand. Thai cuisine places
emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic
components. Thai cuisine is known for being spicy.
Balance, detail and variety are important to Thai cooking.
Thai food is known for its balance of the five fundamental
taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: hot
(spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and (optional) bitter.
considered a single cuisine, Thai food would be more
accurately described as four regional cuisines
corresponding to the four main regions of the country:
Northern, Northeastern (or Isan), Central, and Southern,
each cuisine sharing similar foods or foods derived from
those of neighboring countries and regions: Burma, the
Chinese province of Yunnan and Laos to the north, Cambodia
to the east and Malaysia to the south of Thailand. In
addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also
the Thai Royal Cuisine which can trace its history back to
the palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (13511767
CE). Its refinement, cooking techniques and its use of
ingredients were of great influence to the cuisine of the
Central Thai plains.
traditions and cuisines of Thailand's neighbors have
influenced Thai cuisine over many centuries. Regional
variations tend to correlate to neighboring states as well
as climate and geography. Southern curries tend to contain
coconut milk and fresh turmeric, while northeastern dishes
often include lime juice. The cuisine of Northeastern (or
Isan) Thailand is heavily influenced by Lao cuisine. Many
popular dishes eaten in Thailand were originally Chinese
dishes which were introduced to Thailand mainly by the
Teochew people who make up the majority of the Thai
Chinese. Such dishes include chok (rice porridge), kuai-tiao
rat na (fried rice-noodles) and khao kha mu
(stewed pork with rice). The Chinese also introduced the
use of a wok for cooking, the technique of deep-frying and
stir-frying dishes, and noodles and soy products.
Thai meals typically
consist of either a single dish or it will be rice (khao
in Thai) with many complementary dishes served
concurrently and shared by all. It is customary to serve
more dishes than there are guests at a table.
Thai food was
traditionally eaten with the right hand but it is now
generally eaten with a fork and a spoon; this was
introduced as part of Westernization during the reign of
King Mongkut, Rama IV. It was his brother, Vice-king
Pinklao, who, after watching demonstration of Western
dining etiquette by American missionary Dr. D. B. Bradley,
chose only the Western-style fork and spoon from the whole
set of table silverware to use at his own dining table.
The fork, held in the left hand, is used to push food into
the spoon. The spoon is then brought to the mouth. A
traditional ceramic spoon is sometimes used for soups.
Knives are not generally used at the table. Chopsticks are
used primarily for eating noodle soups, but not otherwise
It is common
practice for Thais and hill tribe peoples in north and
northeast Thailand to use sticky rice as an edible
implement by shaping it into small, and sometimes
flattened, balls by hand which are then dipped into side
dishes and eaten. Thai-Muslims frequently eat meals with
only their right hands.
Thai food is often
served with a variety of sauces (nam chim) and
condiments. These may include phrik nam pla/nam pla
phrik (consisting of fish sauce, lime juice, chopped
chilies and garlic), dried chili flakes, sweet chili
sauce, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, sriracha
sauce, or a spicy chili sauce or paste called nam phrik.
In most Thai restaurants, diners can find a selection of
Thai condiments, often including sugar or MSG, available
on the dining table in small containers with tiny spoons.
With certain dishes, such as khao kha mu (pork
trotter stewed in soy sauce and served with rice), whole
Thai peppers and raw garlic are served in addition.
Cucumber is sometimes eaten to cool the mouth after
particularly spicy dishes. They often also feature as a
garnish, especially with one-dish meals. The plain rice,
sticky rice or the khanom chin (Thai rice noodles)
served alongside a spicy curry or stir-fry, tends to
counteract the spiciness.
A Thai family meal
will normally consist of rice with several dishes which
form a harmonious contrast of ingredients and preparation
methods. The dishes are all served at the same time. A
meal at a restaurant for four people could, for instance,
consist of fish in dry red curry (chuchi pla), a
spicy green papaya salad with dried prawns, tomatoes,
yardlong beans and peanuts (som tam thai), deep
fried stuffed chicken wings (pik kai sot sai thot),
a salad of grilled beef, shallots and celery or mint (yam
nuea yang), spicy stir fried century eggs with crispy
basil (khai yiao ma phat kraphao krop), and a
non-spicy vegetable soup with tofu and seaweed (tom
chuet taohu kap sarai) to temper it all.
Thailand has about
the same surface area as Spain and a length of
approximately 1650 kilometers or 1025 miles (Italy, in
comparison, is about 1250 kilometers or 775 miles long),
with foothills of the Himalayas in the north, a high
plateau in the northeast, a verdant river basin in the
centre and tropical rainforests and islands in the south.
And with over 40 distinct ethnic groups with each their
own culture and even more languages, it doesn't come as a
surprise that Thai cuisine, as a whole, is extremely
varied and features many different ingredients and ways of
preparing food. Thai food is known for its enthusiastic
use of fresh (rather than dried) herbs and spices. Common
herbs include cilantro, lemon grass, Thai basils and mint.
Some other common flavors in Thai food come from ginger,
galangal, tamarind, turmeric, garlic, soy beans, shallots,
white and black peppercorn, kaffir lime and, of course,
The ingredient found
in almost all Thai dishes and every region of the country
is nam pla, a very aromatic and strong tasting fish
sauce. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine
and imparts a unique character to Thai food. Fish sauce is
prepared with fermented fish that is made into a fragrant
condiment and provides a salty flavor. There are many
varieties of fish sauce and many variations in the way it
is prepared. Some fish may be fermented with shrimp and/or
Pla ra is also a sauce made from fermented fish. It is
more pungent than nam pla, and, in contrast to nam
pla which is a clear liquid, it is opaque and often
contains pieces of fish. To use it in som tam
(spicy papaya salad) is a matter of choice. Kapi, Thai shrimp paste, is a combination of
fermented ground shrimp and salt. It is used, for
instance, in red curry paste, in the famous chili paste
called nam phrik kapi and in rice dishes such as khao
are Thai chilli pastes, similar to the Indonesian and
Malaysian sambals. Each region has its own special
versions. The wording "nam phrik" is used
by Thais to describe any paste containing chilies used for
dipping. Curry pastes are normally called phrik kaeng
or khrueang kaeng, litt. curry ingredients) but
some people also use the word nam phrik to
designate a curry pastes. Red curry paste, for instance,
could be called phrik kaeng phet or khrueang
kaeng phet in Thai, but also nam phrik kaeng phet.
Both nam phrik and phrik kaeng are prepared
by crushing together chillies with various ingredients
such as garlic and shrimp paste using a mortar and pestle.
Some nam phrik are served as a dip with vegetables
such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw
or blanched. One such paste is nam phrik num, a
paste of pounded fresh green chilies, shallots, garlic and
coriander leaves. The sweet roasted chili paste called nam
phrik phao is often used as an ingredient in Tom
yam or when frying meat or seafood, and it is also
popular as a spicy "jam" on bread. The dry nam
phrik kung, made with pounded dried prawns (kung
haeng, Thai: กุ้งแห้ง),
is often eaten with rice and a few slices of cucumber.
The soy sauces which
are used in Thai cuisine are of Chinese origin and the
Thai names for them are (wholly or partially) loan words
from the Teochew language: si-io dam (dark soy
sauce), si-io khao (light soy sauce), and taochiao
(fermented whole soy beans). Namman hoi (oyster
sauce) is also of Chinese origin. It is used extensively
in vegetable and meat stir-fries.
Rice is a staple
grain of Thai cuisine, as in 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. Steamed
rice is accompanied by highly aromatic curries, stir-fries
and other dishes, sometimes incorporating large quantities
of chili peppers, lime juice and lemon grass. Curries,
stir-fries and others may be poured onto the rice creating
a single dish called khao rat kaeng (Thai: ข้าวราดแกง),
a popular meal when time is limited. Sticky rice (khao
niao) 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 sticky texture. Sticky rice,
not jasmine rice, is the staple food in the local cuisines
of Northern Thailand and of Isan (Northeastern Thailand),
both regions of Thailand directly adjacent to Laos with
which they share this, and many other cultural traits.
Noodles are popular
as well but usually come as a single dish, like the
stir-fried phat thai or in the form of a noodle
soup. Many Chinese dishes have been adapted to suit Thai
taste, such as kuai-tiao ruea (a sour and spicy
rice noodle soup). In Northern Thailand, khao soi,
a curry soup with bami (egg noodles), is extremely
popular in Chiang Mai.
Noodles are usually made from either rice flour, wheat
flour or mung bean flour and include six main types. Rice
noodles are called kuai tiao in Thailand and comes
in three varieties: sen yai are wide flat noodles, sen
lek are thin flat rice noodles, and sen mi
(also known as rice vermicelli in the West) is round and
thin. Bami is made from egg and wheat flour and
usually sold fresh. It is similar to the Chinese mee
pok and la mian. Wun sen are extremely
thin noodles made from mung bean flour which are sold
dried. They are called cellophane noodles in English. Khanom
chin is fresh Thai rice vermicelli made from fermented
rice, well-known from dishes such as khanom chin kaeng
khiao wan kai (rice noodles with green chicken curry).
Rice flour (paeng
khao chao) and tapioca flour (paeng man sampalang)
are often used in desserts and as thickening.
Many Thai dishes are
familiar in the West. In the many dishes below, different
kinds of protein, or combinations of protein, can be
chosen as ingredients, such as beef
Thai cuisine doesn't
have very specific breakfast dishes. Very often, a Thai
breakfast can consist of the same dishes which are also
eaten for lunch or dinner. Fried rice, noodle soups and
steamed rice with something simple such as an omelette,
fried pork or chicken, are commonly sold from street
stalls as a quick take-out. The following dishes tend to
be eaten only for breakfast:
- a rice porridge commonly eaten in Thailand for
breakfast. Similar to the rice congee eaten in other
parts of Asia.
khai chiao - an omelet (khai
chiao) with white rice, often eaten with a chili
sauce and slices of cucumber.
- a Thai style rice soup, usually with pork, chicken
Thai shared dishes
pla kaphong - snapper in
chuchi curry sauce (thick red curry sauce)
pla - a patι of fish,
spices, coconut milk and egg, steamed in a banana leaf
cup and topped with thick coconut cream before
khing - chicken
stir-fried with sliced ginger.
khiao wan - called
"green curry" in English, it is a coconut
curry made with fresh green chillies and flavoured
with Thai basil, and chicken or fish meatballs. This
dish can be one of the spiciest of Thai curries.
phanaeng - a mild creamy
coconut curry with beef (Phanaeng nuea),
chicken, or pork. It includes some roasted dried
spices similar to Kaeng matsaman.
phet (lit. 'spicy
curry') - also known as red curry in English,
it is a coconut curry made with copious amounts of
dried red chillies in the curry paste.
met mamuang himmaphan -
The Thai Chinese version of the Sechuan style chicken
with cashew nuts known as Kung Pao chicken,
fried with whole dried chilies.
kham - dried shrimp and
other ingredients wrapped in cha plu leaves;
often eaten as a snack or a starter.
bung fai daeng - stir
fried morning-glory with yellow bean paste.
khana mu krop - khana
(gailan) stir fried with crispy pork.
kraphao - beef, pork,
prawns or chicken stir fried with Thai holy basil,
chillies and garlic; for instance kai phat kraphao
with minced chicken.
phak ruam - stir fried
combination of vegetables depending on availability
phrik - usually beef
stir fried with chilli, called Nuea phat phrik
nueng manao - steamed
fish with a spicy lime juice dressing.
rot - literally
"Three flavours fish": deep fried fish with
a sweet, tangy and spicy tamarind sauce.
- a mixture of cooked crab meat, pork, garlic and
pepper, deep fried inside the crab shells and served
with a simple spicy sauce, such as Sri Rachaa sauce,
sweet-hot garlic sauce, nam phrik phao (Thai: น้ำพริกเผา,
roasted chilli paste), nam chim buai (Thai: น้ำจิ้มบ๋วย,
plum sauce), or in a red curry paste, with chopped
green onions. It is sometimes also served as deep
fried patties instead of being fried in the crab
- grilled meat, usually pork or chicken, served with
cucumber salad and peanut sauce (actually of
Indonesian origin, but now a popular street food in
- a Thai variant of the Chinese hot pot.
- deep fried fishcake made from knifefish (Thot man
pla krai, Thai: ทอดมันปลากราย)
or shrimp (Thot man kung, Thai: ทอดมันกุ้ง).
chuet wun sen or Kaeng
chuet wunsen - a clear soup with vegetables and
wunsen (cellophane noodles made from mung bean).
kai - hot spicy soup
with coconut milk, galangal and chicken.
- hot & sour soup with meat. With shrimp it is
called Tom yam goong or Tom yam kung
with seafood (typically shrimp, squid, fish) Tom
yam thale (Thai: ต้มยำทะเล),
with chicken Tom yam kai (Thai: ต้มยำไก่).
- general name for any type of sour salad, such as
those made with glass noodles (Yam wunsen,
with seafood (Yam thale, Thai: ยำทะเล),
or grilled beef (Yam nuea Thai: ยำเนื้อ).
The dressing of a "Yam" will normally
consist of shallots, fish sauce, tomato, lime juice,
sugar, chilies and Thai celery (khuenchai,
duk fu - crispy fried
catfish with a spicy, sweet-and-sour, green mango
The cuisine of
Northeastern Thailand generally feature dishes similar to
those found in Laos, as Isan people historically have
close ties with Lao culture and speak a language that is
generally mutually intelligible with the Lao language.
- marinated, grilled chicken.
niao - Glutinous rice is
eaten as a staple food both in the Northeast as in the
North of Thailand; it is traditionally steamed.
- marinated, grilled pork on a stick.
- a traditional Lao salad containing meat, onions,
chillies, roasted rice powder and garnished with mint.
chaeo - is a sticky,
sweet and spicy dipping sauce made with dried chilies,
fish sauce, palm sugar and black roasted rice flour.
It is often served as a dip with mu yang (Thai:
- made with pork (mu) or beef (nuea) and somewhat
identical to lap, except that the pork or beef
is cut into thin strips rather than minced.
- grated papaya salad, pounded with a mortar and
pestle, similar to the Laos Tam mak hoong. There are
three main variations: som tam pu (Thai: ส้มตำปู)
with salted black crab, and som tam thai (Thai:
with peanuts, dried shrimp and palm sugar and som
tam pla ra (Thai: ส้มตำปลาร้า)
from the north eastern part of Thailand (Isan), with
salted gourami fish, white eggplants, fish sauce and
long beans. Som tam is usually eaten with sticky rice
but a popular variation is to serve it with khanom
chin (rice noodles) instead.
rong hai - grilled beef
- Northeastern-style hot & sour soup.
hang-le - a Burmese
influenced stewed pork curry which uses peanuts, dried
chilies and tamarind juice in the recipe but
containing no coconut milk.
khae - is a spicy
northern Thai curry of herbs, vegetables, the leaves
of an acacia tree (chaom) and meat (chicken,
water buffalo, pork or frog). It also does not contain
any coconut milk.
- deep fried crispy pork rinds, often eaten with nam
phrik num. Also eaten as a snack.
phrik num - a chili
paste of pounded large green chilies, shallots,
garlic, coriander leaves, lime juice and fish sauce;
eaten with steamed and raw vegetables, and sticky
phrik ong - resembling a
thick Bolognese sauce, it is made with dried chilies,
minced pork and tomato; eaten with steamed and raw
vegetables, and sticky rice.
- a grilled sausage of ground pork mixed with spices
and herbs, similar to Lao sausage; it is often served
with chopped fresh ginger and chilies at a meal. It is
also sold at markets in Chiang Mai as a snack.
lueang - a sour spicy
yellow curry that does not contain coconut milk, often
with fish and vegetables.
matsaman - also known in
English as Massaman curry, it is an Indian
style curry, usually made by Thai-Muslims, of stewed
beef and containing roasted dried spices, such as
coriander seed, that are rarely found in other Thai
tai pla - a thick sour
vegetable curry made with tumeric and shrimp paste,
often containing roasted fish or fish innards, bamboo
shoots and eggplant.
kling - a very dry spicy
curry made with minced or diced meat with sometimes
yardlong beans added to it; often served with fresh
green phrik khi nu (thai chilies) and copious
amounts of finely shredded bai makrut (kaffir
sweet snacks and drinks
Most Thai meals
finish with fresh fruit but sometimes a sweet snack will
be served as a dessert.
- grass jelly is often served with only shaved ice and
bua loi taro root
mixed with flour into balls in coconut milk.
chan multi-layers of
pandan-flavored sticky rice flour mixed with coconut
mo kaeng - a sweet baked
pudding containing coconut milk, eggs, palm sugar and
flour, sprinkled with sweet fried onions.
tan palm flavored
mini cake with shredded coconut on top.
thuai talai' - steamed
sweet coconut jelly and cream
niao mamuang - sticky
rice cooked in sweetened thick coconut milk, served
with slices of ripe mango.
chong nam kathi
pandan flavored rice flour noodles in coconut milk,
similar to the Indonesian cendol.
mixed ingredients, such as chestnuts covered in
flour, jackfruit, lotus root, tapioca, and lot
chong, in coconut milk.
multi-colored mung bean flour noodles in sweetened
coconut milk served with crushed ice.
fak thong - egg and
coconut custard served with pumpkin, similar to the
coconut jam of Malaysia, Indonesia and the
- jasmine scented coconut pudding set in cups of
fragrant pandanus leaf.
- Thai iced tea
Daeng - an energy drink
and the origin of Red Bull.
- a sweet Thai black ice coffee.
- a traditional rice wine from the Isan region.
beverages from Thailand include Mekhong whiskey and Sang
Som. Several brands of beer are brewed in Thailand, the
two biggest brands being Singha and Chang.
in Thai cuisine
Certain insects are
also eaten in Thailand, especially in Isan and in the
North. Many markets in Thailand feature stalls which sell
deep-fried grasshoppers, crickets (chingrit, Thai: จิ้งหรีด),
bee larvae, silkworm (non mai, Thai: หนอนไหม),
ant eggs (khai mot, Thai: ไข่มด).
The culinary creativity even extends to naming: one tasty
larva, which is also known under the name "bamboo
worm" (non mai phai, Thai: หนอนไม้ไผ่,
Omphisa fuscidentalis), is colloquially called
"freight train" (rot duan; Thai: รถด่วน)
due to its appearance.
Most of the insects taste fairly bland when deep-fried,
somewhat like popcorn and prawns, which is still fairly
tasty, but when deep-fried together with kaffir lime
leaves, chilies and garlic, the insects become an
excellent snack to go with a drink. In contrast to the
bland taste of most of these insects, the maeng da
or maelong da na (Thai: แมลงดานา,
Lethocerus indicus) has been described as having a very
penetrating taste, similar to that of a very ripe
gorgonzola cheese. This giant water bug is famously used
in a chili dip called nam phrik maengda. Some
insects, such as ant eggs and silk worms, are also eaten
boiled in a soup in Isan.
tours and cooking courses
Culinary tours of
Thailand have gained popularity in recent years. Alongside
other forms of tourism in Thailand, food tours have carved
a niche for themselves. Many companies offer culinary and
cooking tours of Thailand and many tourists visiting
Thailand attend cooking courses offered by hotels,
guesthouses and cooking schools.
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