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A big pleasure that goes with travelling to a distant country, is discovering its cuisine. Thai cuisine is famous all over the world, and rightfully so. Influenced by its neighboring countries and by distant cultures as well, Thai cuisine achieves its peculiar, strong, and amazing flavors by mixing fresh ingredients, different textures, temperatures, and cooking styles.
The local cuisine shares common ground with countries like Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, but its flavors are unique. It uses a huge variety of different ingredients, from spices, herbs and raw vegetables, to fresh fish and lean meat. And the street food easily found in Thailand is freshly cooked and wrapped in a banana leaf.
It would be incorrect to talk about a single Thai cuisine. Thailand is a big country that has been influenced by its neighboring cultures and traditions; this is particularly evident when it comes to food.
We can divide Thailand into four regions: Central, southern, northeastern, and northern Thailand, each one with its own peculiar features.
The land around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is covered by jungles and mountains. The traditional food, that shares some characteristics with the Shan State in Myanmar, can have a mild or hot and salty flavor. Sticky rice, the staple food of the region, will be served with vegetables and meat.
Curries and soups are quite common. You will find many varieties of curry, like kaeng khae, a spicy curry with herbs, vegetables, and meat like chicken or water buffalo; or kaeng pa (also known as “jungle curry”), made with boar.
The North is also famous for its naem, a sour sausage made of fermented minced pork, wrapped and steamed inside a banana leaf.
This region, also known as Isan, is characterized by simple food eaten at a traditional bamboo table, pa kao. The food, hot and salty, is based on sticky rice (khao) and a strong paste called nam phik pla ra (made with fermented fish and chilis). Salads are the most common dishes.
Here you will find the famous som tam, a green papaya salad with gourami fish, white eggplants, and long beans. Another common dish (originating from Laos) is laap, a salad of minced meat with onions, chili, roasted rice powder, and mint.
The food from the central region (Ahan Phak Klang) is usually eaten with jasmine rice and it is spicy, salty, sweet, and sour, in a harmonious combination of flavors. A typical local dish is tom yam, a hot and sour soup with meat. Its most famous variation is tom yam goong, with plenty of seafood (especially shrimps).
Another feature dish of central Thailand is ho mok pla, a soufflé of fish, egg and coconut milk, seasoned with plenty of spices and steamed inside a banana leaf. The fish is extremely tender and will melt in your mouth.
The South of Thailand has plenty of coconut trees and seafood, and all its food has a strong flavor. A daily meal can consist of spicy curries like kaeng matsaman, an Indian style curry with stewed beef and roasted spices.
Fish pastes (used as dips) are also very common. Nam phrik kapee is the most common one, eaten with raw vegetables or crispy fried fish. The paste is prepared with shrimp paste, chilies, palm sugar, and lime juice.
If you are travelling in Thailand, you might want to try some of the best restaurants the country has to offer. Choosing the right place to eat is fundamental if you want to enjoy amazing food in a cozy and warming atmosphere, served by friendly staff – without forgetting a convenient location.
If you are in Bangkok, we suggest two restaurants: Err: Urban Rustic Thai and The Deck.
Err: Urban Rustic Thai
Err: Urban Rustic Thai, as the name says, is the perfect spot for a rustic experience of Thailand. Its menu, designed to be enjoyed with drinks, focuses on dishes prepared with fermented (like the Isan style pork sausage) or pickled food (like sour green mango macerated in fish sauce).
They also offer a wide array of grilled meat, like chicken satay with cucumber; crunchy and crispy food like the delicious freshly toasted watermelon seeds with kefir lime leaves; and much more.
The Deck offers an amazing view of the river running though the city, a more formal ambience, and the perfect setting for a romantic dinner. The restaurant, ideal for fish lovers, offers a range of international and Thai dishes. A must-try among the Thai dishes are king river prawns, deep-fried with garlic or served with a pla kung salad. New Zealand mussels with spicy sauce are recommended.
The restaurant is inside the stylish setting of the Ruen Tamarind Village, a nice resort for those willing to relax and enjoy their stay in Chiang Mai. You can have dinner inside the cozy café or in the fascinating outdoor atmosphere. Their menu, with international and Thai food, ranges from delicious appetizers like a spicy papaya salad with crispy soft-shell crab, to soups like the famous tom yam goong.
Among the many Thai mains, you will find stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts, and sliced roast duck breast and lychees in a red curry sauce. You can also choose among noodle dishes like Kanon jeen sao nam (fermented rice vermicelli with prawns in coconut milk), or salads like the organic mixed green salad with crispy tofu.
The restaurant also offers plenty of International dishes, from burgers, sandwiches and Vietnamese summer rolls, to a selection of meals for kids (like chicken nuggets and fish & chips).
As the name says, De Lanna offers a nice view of the river running through Chiang Rai, and we recommend you have dinner there and enjoy the view of the sunset. The restaurant, spacious and well-furnished, has a cozy yet elegant environment, and friendly staff will assist you throughout your dinner.
De Lanna offers contemporary Thai food that is never too spiced up or too hot. The specialty of the restaurant is fish. The Tom Yam with seafood is excellent; the deep-fried seafood is always cooked in a perfect way. All their fish dishes are a must-try.
We always wish to get a full experience from our trips, an experience that involves all the senses. Food is an important part of it. Let Asia Highlights help you start your culinary adventure in Thailand.