Thai cuisine is much more than just pad thai, green curries and mango sticky rice. The varied topography of the land is echoed in its culinary spread, with an array of cuisines and recipes to tantalise your taste buds all over the country.
A trip to Thailand is the perfect opportunity to venture from your usual favourites and be a little adventurous, trying all the different local cuisines wherever you go.
Let’s venture off the beaten ‘pad thai trail’ and discover some more of Thailand’s fascinating food culture.
IN THE NORTH
Thailand’s north is where you’ll find some of Thailand’s spiciest food. Up here, must-eats include khao soi noodle (a coconut milk-based curry soup), Sai Ua sausage (made from minced pork) and various chili pastes
Of course, rice is central to Thai cuisine, and you’ll find it eaten with just about every meal. It’s also made into flour used in noodles, dumplings and desserts.
FYI: Thai people eat two kinds of rice: white and glutinous (or sticky) rice. Rice also has cultural significance, and Thai people have several beliefs, customs and ceremonies that show how important rice is to them.
IN THE NORTHEAST
Bordering Laos and Cambodia, northeast Thailand’s food is influenced by its neighbours – deliciously influenced, we should add.
Udon Thani, the provincial capital city, is a foodie’s paradise, and you can’t leave the region without sinking your teeth into Som Tum (green papaya salad) and another regional specialty, roasted chicken.
Thai cuisine is known for its unique balance of seasoning to bring out all the different flavours in a dish. A typical Thai meal includes four main seasonings: salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. Examples of the common ingredients include curry paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, shrimp paste, chili, lime juice, coriander, basil, garlic, lemon grass, ginger and coconut milk.
IN CENTRAL THAILAND
Separated from northeast Thailand by the Phetchabun mountain range, the central plains of Thailand is home to Bangkok. This rich melting pot of flavours and culinary traditions will most likely be your first introduction to the Land of Smiles.
Culinary specialities from this region of Thailand are BBQ river prawn and Thai desserts, especially in Petchaburi province which borders Myanmar.
Of course, you must spend an evening (or three) grazing in a Bangkok street market. Led by the smell of street vendor stands, they serve up everything from these Central Thailand favourites as well as, yes, pad thai, green curry and mango sticky rice!
Alternatively, join a midnight Tuk Tuk Food Tour through Bangkok’s night markets.
IN THE SOUTH & THE EAST
It’s all about the fresh seafood in Thailand’s south and south east. For local experiences away from the tourist hoards, head to Rawai beach and the floating restaurants near Laem Hin Pier in Phuket. Other areas such as Bo Phut Fisherman’s village in Samui, Ban Phe Market in Rayong and Khao Takiab Market in Hua Hin must also be on the list.
Like Thais in the north, people in the south tend to eat more spicy food than people in other regions. But don’t worry: you can wash down all the spicy (yet delicious) food with traditional iced/milk tea and iced/milk coffee!
Finally, a definite must-do when in Thailand is to sign up for a cooking class. This is where you’ll leave not only with memories of amazing food and a jolly good time, but a recipe book to impress your friends and family back home.
You’ll find plenty of schools in the south (and north, especially in Chiang Mai).