Food in Thailand reflects the culture of the country: warm, generous and inviting. In fact, meals often become a social occasion in itself, a reason to celebrate. Depending on the part of country you are visiting, you will find different specialties according to the available ingredients and local tastes.
A typical Thai meal includes four main seasonings: sweet, spicy, sour and salty. Some areas’ dishes may appeal to you more than others, but sample all of it to get a whole picture of cuisine in Thailand—you won’t be disappointed you did!
Until the 1800s, Northern Thailand operated almost as a separate kingdom, with isolation from the south created by rivers, mountains and trees. Because of this divide, the northern Thai people developed their own unique style of cooking. Fish and coconut milk is uncommon in these parts because of that lack of access to water sources. Red meat is much more common and can be found all over menus in this part of the country.
A northern Thai specialty is Thai Jungle Curry, a famous dish from Chiang Mai, which is a variation on red chili with ingredients readily available in the north. These protein-rich dishes are often pared with vegetable dishes (raw and cooked) and sticky rice is eaten every day as a part of the main course (as opposed to dessert like in other regions) to off-set the spicy meat dishes they prepare.
Like the northern region, coconut milk and fish are scare in the northeast parts of Thailand. Instead animals are the go-to food, where every part of the animal is utilised. Expect to see tongue, stomach, heart and liver items liberally listed on menus in the Northeast. Many cooks rely on roasting and broiling to cook their meat and clear curries are popular dishes.
The most famous dish from this region is the Green Papaya Salad, which is often enjoyed with Sticky Rice. Locally called “Som Tam,” this dish has gained popularity the world over, but only in Northeast Thailand will you taste the original recipe with tart green papaya contrasting the spice of red chilies, the saltiness of the fish sauce and the sweetness of the honey.
In the south of Thailand there is a long peninsula that connects with Malaysia. There is a mountain range that runs the length of the peninsula that creates to-die-for beaches along both coastlines. On the west side of the peninsula there are a large number of islands that draw tourists from near and far. The main industries for the islands and coastal Thailand are fishing and the production of fish sauce, one of the most important ingredients in Thai cooking. With the abundance of fresh fish available and plenty of coconuts from the palm-tree lined beaches, southern Thai cooking tends to be rich in fish and seafood, with a focus on coconut-milk-based curries.
The specialty from southern Thailand is their fresh tropical fruit, which is usually served as dessert. For example, mango, pineapple, mangosteen, papaya and many others are readily available for consumption. Check local restaurants for their servings and indulge in the sweetness and uncommon flavours of local tropical fruits on the menu.
The central plains are the heartland of Thailand, and are known as one of the great rice bowls of Asia with countless fertile rice farms. While the region started off as a swamp, farmers have adapted and used this excess of water to create easier rice production. Every year tons of jasmine-scented rice is exported around the world. Specialties for this region centre on dishes with rice noodles and the protein they rely on is varied: from beef to chicken to fish. Desserts with mangos and bananas are especially popular items as well!
Specific to the central plains, Pad Thai is their most famous dish. Thick rice noodles are stir-fried with your choice of protein and then mixed with chopped nuts, basil and a tangy sauce. There is a sweet-and-sour balance in the dish that makes this everyday dish comforting and memorable.
Bangkok is a city that revolves around food. You will never go hungry in this city where restaurants can literally be found on every street and corner. From five-star dining to the corner street food carts, you’ll find representations of all the regions’ favourite foods. There is also strong Chinese influence in Bangkok, where the Chinatown is thriving and its meals are a must-try for travellers.
Besides sampling the street vendors that may be nerve-wracking to try but are almost always delicious, there is one food item that must be sampled on a holiday to Bangkok: Thai desserts. There are hundreds of different kinds of cakes, puddings, jellies and other desserts that are mostly based on coconut, rice, egg and sugar. Don’t let the appearances put you off though—the desserts are worth the taste!
Travel to Thailand and treat your taste buds to the best. Travel to all five regions of the country and explore the delicious and differing menus as you go. No matter where you decide to visit, protect your health and your holiday with a travel health insurance plan from Cover-More Australia.
Image courtesy of Flickr user NeilsPhotography