Thai Regional Food and Must-Try Recipes
The characteristic flavors of Thai dishes come from the emphasis Thai cuisine puts on light dishes seasoned with a lot of aromatic spices. Thai cuisine tries to balance different flavors, temperatures, textures, and cooking methods.
Many dishes combine the “four flavors” – sweet, sour, salty and spicy. The sweetness usually comes from palm sugar, and the sourness from lime, mango, and other fruit. Thai dishes use a lot of fish sauce, which adds a salty flavor; and to spice up their dishes they use five different kinds of chilies.
A famous dish that combines all four flavors at once is green papaya salad: a fresh salad with papaya, fish sauce, palm sugar, and hot chili. Read our article below and find more about the must-try recipes.
Common ingredients of Thai Dishes
Thai cuisine uses many different ingredients. Sauces and pastes (mostly used as dips) are extremely common. Nan pla is the most common fish sauce; and nam phrik, a paste used as a dip with raw vegetables, is used throughout the country.
Vegetables like bean sprouts, cucumbers and eggplant, are eaten raw or used in soups or stir-fried dishes. Flowers are also used (especially the flower bud of the banana) as vegetables or as food coloring.
Herbs and spices, of course, are a must. Kaffir lime is used for many soups, along with galangal and lemongrass. The most common spice is chili, coming in five varieties: the smaller the chili, the hotter the flavor.
Finally, fruit is served mostly as dessert, or used in dishes like salads. Coconut is generally popular, and its juice or oil is commonly used in many dishes.
Regional food differences in Thailand
When it comes to food, Thailand can be divided into 4 regions:
- Southern Thailand has very spicy food, using coconut and all its derivates (oil, water, cream, etc). One characteristic dish is massaman curry, made with roasted spice not commonly used for other Thai dishes.
- A typical dish of Central Thailand is kaeng khiao wan, “green curry”, a coconut curry made with fresh green chilies, basil, and chicken meatballs. It is one of the spiciest curries in Thai cuisine.
- Northeast Thailand shares a lot of dishes with southern Laos and Cambodia. The food is simple and spicy, and we recommend trying phat mi khorat, a stir-fried dish with noodles, served with papaya salad.
- Northern Thailand uses a lot of freshwater fish and meat from domesticated animals. It is common to eat soup, broth, or steamed food. A typical northern dish (found also in Laos) is laap, a mea
Classic Must-Try Recipes from Thailand
A lot of cooking classes in Thailand share the same traditional dishes, the same dishes you can easily find in restaurants or from street vendors. Maybe you fell in love with one of them, and you want to cook it at home.
Here is a selection of six classic must-try recipes, often taught in a Thai Cooking Class. From the ubiquitous pad Thai, to one of the many kinds of Thai curry; from the delicious shrimp soup tom yum goong, to the rich papaya salad, you will surely find your favorite!
Rice and Noodles
Rice, as in many other Asian countries, is the staple food of the country, to the extent that Thai language uses the same word for “rice” and “food”: khao. A popular rice dish is mango sticky rice, a classic Thai dessert. The sticky rice, cooked in a pot, is accompanied by slices of sweet mango and garnished with coconut milk. A must try!
Noodles are also important. They are usually made from rice or wheat flour. Most noodles originated in China, and they are eaten in many ways: for example, stir-fried, with spicy curry, or with soup. We recommend trying khanom chin, fresh vermicelli used in many Thai dishes like khanom chim nam ya, with a spicy fish sauce, or khanom chim tai pla, a spicy soup from the south of Thailand.
One of Thailand’s signature dishes, pad Thai is a stir-fried noodle dish with a rich flavor given by tamarind pulp, fish sauce, shrimps, garlic, red chili pepper, and brown sugar, often topped with chopped peanuts.
The dish is extremely popular, and there are many different versions. Some restaurants try to match their clients’ preferences, creating new variations every time.
A typical Thai curry is made with curry paste, water (or coconut milk), and meat, seafood, or vegetables. Flavor is often added with fresh herbs like kaffir lime, Thai basil, fingerroot, and the like.
There are many different kinds of curry, and they are usually eaten with rice or roti, the Thai version of a flat bread popular in India and Malaysia.
Tom Yum Gong
This delicious soup is made with shrimps and a rich broth cooked with lemongrass, kaffir lime, lime juice, and chili peppers.
Its flavor is intense and spicy. In Bangkok it is easy to find a creamier version, obtained by adding a spoonful of milk.
Papaya salad has an incredibly rich flavor that encompasses all five tastes: spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and savory.
This rich combination is achieved with ingredients like red chili, lime, brown sugar, and fish sauce mixed together in a mortar. The papaya used in the salad has a pungent flavor and a crispy, firm texture.
Coconut Chicken Soup
This soup uses some typical Thai ingredients: coconut milk, ginger, lime juice, fish sauce, chili, basil, and cilantro.
The dish is quick to prepare, and many locals like to eat it the day after, to allow all the ingredients to release fully their flavor inside the thick and savory broth.
Knowing and respecting local etiquette is a good way to interact with locals and avoid misunderstandings. Read the following and learn how to honor your host during your trip in Thailand:
- Spoon in the right hand, fork in your left. You should use the fork to push the food onto the spoon. In a formal dinner, you should avoid eating the food directly from your fork.
- When you have done eating, place fork and spoon on your plate at the 6:30 position. This will tell the staff they can take the dirty plate away.
- Usually, Thai dishes are meant to be shared. The plates will be placed on the center of the table, so that everyone can help himself/herself.
- The host usually orders for the whole table, and you can tell him/her what you would like to eat (if the meal is not pre-arranged).
- It is a good habit to take only the food you are going to eat. It is impolite to have leftovers in one’s plate or to take too much food, preventing others from trying it.
- A common rule in many countries is “elders and hosts first”: before starting to eat, wait for your host (or the oldest person) to begin.
Explore Thai Flavor with Asia Highlights
Thai cuisine is full of distinctive flavors and is nutritionally balanced, making it one of the most interesting things to try when visiting Thailand. Our professional advisors will arrange a street food tour and select restaurants carefully, to help all our clients to explore the most authentic flavors of Thailand.