Thailand Country Guide



Thai Cuisine

Thai cuisine is characterised by its strong flavors, especially with its use of lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a reputation for its unique spicy taste and hot little torpedo-shaped chillies making their way into many dishes. Thais are well aware that the chillies are more than what most Westerners can handle and will often ask if you like it hot ("phet"). Answer "yes" at your own risk!

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Thai cuisine can be roughly categorised into dishes from the central region (around Bangkok), northern region (from the northern region around Chiang Mai with its Burmese and Chinese influence), north-eastern region (from the Isaan region bordering Laos) and southern region (with heavy influences from Malaysia). The following list covers some better-known dishes in the country.

Simple Thai restaurant in Na Wa by Mattes

Thailand's staple food is rice, so much so that in Thai eating a meal ("kin khao") literally means "eating rice". Rice dishes include:

  • "Khao suai" (beautiful rice) - Plain white steamed rice that serves as the base of almost every meal.
  • "Khao phat" - Simple fried rice usually served with some meat such as chicken mixed in. 
  • "Khao tom" - Salty rice porridge served with condiments and quite popular for breakfast.
  • "Khao niao" (sticky rice) - Glutinous rice usually eaten dry with grilled/fried meat such as pork, chicken or beef. The dish is especially popular in the Northeastern and Northern provinces but widely available throughout the country.
Thais are great noodle eaters and the most common kind is rice noodles including angel-hair ("sen mii"), small ("sen lek"), large ("sen yai") and giant ("kuay tiao"). Egg noodles ("ba mii"), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli ("kio") and glass noodles made from mung beans ("wun sen") are also popular. Unlike other Thai foods, noodles are usually eaten with chopsticks. They are also usually served with four major condiments namely dried red chillies, fish sauce, vinegar and sugar which diners can add suit their taste. Noodle dishes include:
  • "Kuay tiao phat sii-u kai" - Fried giant rice noodles with soy sauce and chicken
  • "Phat thai" (fried Thai) - Thin rice noodles fried in a tamarind-based sauce.
  • "Ba mii muu daeng" - Egg noodles served with slices of barbecued pork. 
  • "Kuai tiao ruea" - Rice noodle soup with a fiery pork blood stock and an assortment of offal.
Soups and Curries
The line between soups and curries is a little fuzzy and many dishes the Thais call curries would be soups to an Indian. A plate of rice with a ladle full of one or two curry dishes (known as "khao kaeng") is a popular quick meal if eating alone. Other dishes include:
  • "Tom yam kung" - Popular Thai dish comprising of a sour soup with prawns, lemongrass and galangal. The real thing is quite hot and spicy but toned-down versions are available on request.
  • "Tom kha kai" - Thai version of chicken soup in a rich galangal-flavoured coconut stock added with mushrooms and hot chillies.
  • "Kaeng daeng" (red curry) or "kaeng phet" (hot curry) - Spicy hot coconut-based dish and added roast duck is especially popular.
  • "Kaeng khio-waan" (sweet green curry) - Coconut-based curry with strong doses of lemongrass and kaffir lime.
  • "Kaeng som" (orange curry) - More like tamarind soup than curry and usually served with pieces of herb omelette in the soup.
The only thing Thai salads ("yam") have in common with the Western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. A uniquely Thai flavour is achieved by mixing the vegtables with fish sauce, lime juice and chillies with the end result being very spicy! Thai salads include:
  • "Som tam" - Salad made from shredded and pounded raw papaya. The salad has its origins from neighboring Laos but the Thai version is less sour and more sweet with peanuts and dried shrimp mixed in.
  • "Yam ponlamai" - Fruit salad topped with oodles of fish sauce and chillies. 
  • "Yam som-o" - Salad made from the pomelo (type of citrus fruit) and anything else added including chicken or dried shrimp. 
  • "Yam wunsen" - Common yam with glass noodles and shrimp.

Thai salad dish by deror avi

Thais don't usually eat "dessert" in the Western after-meal sense, though you may get a few slices of fresh fruits at the fancier places.

  • "Khanom" covers vast varieties of cookies, biscuits, chips and other snacks. Common is "khanom khrok", which are little lens-shaped pancakes of rice and coconut, freshly cooked and served by street vendors.
  • "Khao niao ma-muang" - Sticky rice with mango with some coconut milk drizzled on top. Filling and delicious and an excellent way to cool down after a hot and spicy Thai meal!
  • "Waan yen" (sweet cold) -  A pile of ingredients (e.g. sweet corn and kidney beans) topped with syrup, coconut cream and a heap of ice.
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