The wonderful diversity of Thai cuisine makes Thailand one of the most fascinating countries in the world to visit. Thai cuisine offers a huge culinary assortment and encompasses dishes from four distinct regions: the Central Plains, the North, Northeast and the South including the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket. Whether it’s frying, stewing, or grilling, the essential flavors to many delicious Thai dishes can be summarised as spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Essential ingredients include the familiar chili, which is used to add spice to almost every dish. Tamarind and lime juice brings the sour taste while sweetness often comes from palm sugar. The salty quality is added using fish sauce (known as Nam Pla), shrimp paste (known as Kapi) or in the landlocked region of the Northeast fermented fish (known as Pla Ra).
Discover some of Thailand’s diverse regional cuisine:
The central region of Thailand is also home to the royal cuisine which practiced more complex cooking techniques to create extravagant meals for the royal palace. The cuisine probably comes closest to what visitors view as ‘Thai’ food, with well-known dishes; such as, Pad Thai and curry pastes involving the staple ingredients of chilies, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and shrimp paste. The central region offers cuisine that is midway between the north and south and is also home to jasmine rice, a top Thai export used for cooking around the globe. It’s also the birthplace of Kaeng Khiao Wan (green curry), and the equally loved Tom Yam Kung (hot and sour shrimp soup).
Sharing its border with Myanmar and Laos, the main flavors of the north are milder with mainly bitter and sour tastes. Much of the cuisine also differs from other parts of Thailand because of the northern region’s unique climate, which is both comfortable and cool, making it an ideal place to grow a number of different vegetables and herbs. Khao Soi Gai is a mild, coconut based curry served over soft egg noodles and topped with crisp egg noodles. The addition of chicken, lime, onion, chili and pickled cabbage makes this a favorite not only in the north. Other favorites are Naam Prik Ong (chili dip with ground pork), Sai Oua (seasoned pork sausage), Kanom Jeen (fresh rice noodles served with various broths and vegetables).
Known for its vibrant culture, north eastern Thailand (or Isaan) is also the region to savour some unique Thai dishes. Because it’s very hot and humid in the area, the cuisine relies heavily on the method of preservation and fermentation and the food is also characterised by local herbs, vegetables and spices. The most famed and succulent dishes include Kai Yang (barbecued chicken), served with sweet sauce and sticky glutinous rice, Som Tam (green papaya salad), Laab (spicy ground meat or fish) salads flavoured with lime and mint, grilled pork neck and super spicy sausage. Tasty edible insects are another Isaan staple that are a favourite snack for its rice farmers.
Southern Thai food tends to be much hotter than Thai food from other regions of Thailand and being heavily influenced by flavours and spices used in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is known for its sharp and intense taste. To tone down the hotness, fresh cucumber, eggplant, aubergine and other greens are indispensable components of a southerner’s meal. And of course, its proximity to the sea on the Malaysian Peninsula, means that the seafood here is some of the best that you will have the pleasure of sampling in Thailand. Staples include Kaeng Tai Pla (fermented fish curry), Kaeng Som Pla (hot and sour fish soup), and Kua Kling (dry fried meat curry). Massaman, a stewed curry of meat and potatoes, is another key specialty.