Thai cuisine

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Yam wunsen kung: a spicy Thai salad with glass noodles and prawns

Thai cuisine is the national cuisine of Thailand. Balance, detail and variety are of paramount significance to Thai chefs. In his book The Principles of Thai Cookery, renowned celebrity chef, writer and authority on Thai cuisine McDang wrote:[1]

"What is Thai food? Every country in the world has its own food profile. It reflects its culture, environment, ingenuity and values. In the case of Thailand, these words come to mind: intricacy; attention to detail; texture; color; taste; and the use of ingredients with medicinal benefits, as well as good flavor.

We not only pay attention to how a dish tastes: we are also concerned about how it looks, how it smells, and how it fits in with the rest of the meal. We think of all parts of the meal as a whole - sum rap Thai (the way Thais eat), is the term we use for the unique components that make up a characteristically Thai meal."

Thai cooking places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and a spicy edge. It known for its complex interplay of at least three and up to four or five fundamental taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy. Australian chef David Thompson, a prolific chef and expert on Thai food, observed that unlike many other cuisines:

"Thai food ain't about simplicity. It's about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord it's got to have a smooth surface but it doesn't matter what's happening underneath. Simplicity isn't the dictum here, at all. Some westerners think it's a jumble of flavours, but to a Thai that's important, it's the complexity they delight in.".[2]

Regional cuisines and historical influences[edit]

Kaeng phet pet yang, red curry cooked with fruit and Chinese-style roast duck, a legacy of the palace cuisine of Ayutthaya
Vegetable carving probably originated in Thailand about 700 years ago

Thai cuisine is more accurately described as four regional cuisines, corresponding to the four main regions of the country:

Each regional cuisine has foods derived from, or shares similar dishes with neighboring countries and regions: from Burma to the west and northwest, the Chinese province of Yunnan and Laos to the north and northeast, Vietnam and Cambodia to the east, and with Indonesia and Malaysia to the south of Thailand.[3][4][5] In addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also the Thai Royal Cuisine which can trace its history back to the cosmopolitan palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1351–1767 CE). Its refinement, cooking techniques, presentation, and use of ingredients were of great influence to the cuisine of the Central Thai plains.[6][7][8] Western influences from the 17th century CE onwards have also led to dishes such as foi thong and sangkhaya.[9]

Thai cuisine and the culinary traditions and cuisines of Thailand's neighbors have mutually influenced one another over the course of many centuries. Regional variations tend to correlate to neighboring states (often sharing the same cultural background and ethnicity on both sides of the border) as well as climate and geography. Southern Thai food tend to contain liberal amounts of coconut milk and fresh turmeric, while northeastern dishes often include lime juice and ground toasted rice grains. The cuisine of Northeastern Thailand (Isan) is similar to southern Lao cuisine whereas northern Thai cuisine shares many dishes with northern Lao cuisine and the cuisine of Shan state in Burma.

Many popular dishes eaten in Thailand were originally Chinese dishes. They were introduced to Thailand mainly by the Teochew people, who make up the majority of the Thai Chinese, and started settling in larger numbers from the late 18th century CE onward, mainly in the towns and cities.[10][11] Such dishes include chok (rice porridge), salapao (steamed buns), kuai-tiao rat na (fried rice-noodles) and khao kha mu (stewed pork with rice). The Chinese also introduced the use of a wok for cooking, the technique of deep-frying and stir-frying dishes, and noodles, oyster sauce and soybean products.[12] Dishes such as kaeng kari (yellow curry)[13] and kaeng matsaman (massaman curry) are Thai adaptations of dishes originating in the cuisine of India and the cuisine of Persia.[14][15]


Phat thai kung, accompanied with a fork and spoon
Thai meal in a village temple
A plate of raw vegetables and herbs, together with nam phrik kapi, is often served as a free complimentary dish at southern Thai eateries

Thai food was traditionally eaten with the right hand[16][17] while seated on mats or carpets on the floor as still happens in the more traditional households. It is now generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. Tables and chairs were introduced as part of the Westernization during the reign of King Mongkut, Rama IV. The use of fork and spoon were introduced by King Chulalongkorn after his return from a tour of Europe in 1897 CE.[18]

An important concept with dining etiquette in the Thai manner is khluk: the fork and spoon is used by the diner to mix different dishes into their portion of rice on their plate, getting a variety of flavors and textures each time. The food is then pushed by the fork, held in the left hand, into the spoon held in the right hand, which is then brought to the mouth. A traditional ceramic spoon is sometimes used for soup, and knives are not generally used at the table.[1] It is common practice for the both the Thais and the hill tribe peoples who live in north and northeast Thailand, to use sticky rice as an edible implement by shaping it into small, and sometimes flattened, balls by hand (and only the right hand by custom) which are then dipped into side dishes and eaten.

Chopsticks were foreign utensils to most ethnic groups in Thailand with the exception of the Thai Chinese, and a few other cultures such as the Akha people, who are recent arrivals from Yunnan Province, China. Traditionally, the majority of ethnic Thai people ate with their hands like the people of India. Chopsticks are mainly used in Thailand for eating Chinese-style noodle soups, or at Chinese, Japanese or Korean restaurants. Stir fried noodle dishes such as pad Thai, and curry-noodle dishes such as khanom chin nam ngiao, are also eaten with a fork and spoon in the Thai fashion.

Thai meals typically consist of a single dish if eating alone, or rice (khao in Thai) with many complementary dishes shared by all. The dishes are all served at the same time, including the soups, and it is also customary to provide more dishes than there are guests at a table. A Thai family meal would normally consist of rice with several dishes which should form a harmonious contrast of flavors and textures as well as preparation methods. Traditionally, a meal would have at least five elements: a dip or relish for raw and/or cooked vegetables (kreung chim) is the most crucial component of any Thai meal.[19][20] Kreung chim, considered a building block of Thai food by Chef McDang, may come in the form of a spicy chili sauce or relish called nam phrik (made of raw or cooked chilies and other ingredients, which are then mashed together), or a type of dip enriched with coconut milk called lon. The other elements would include a clear soup (perhaps a spicy tom yam or a mellow tom chuet), a curry or stew (essentially any dish identified with the kaeng prefix), a deep-fried dish and a stir-fried dish of meat, fish, seafood and/or vegetables.

A meal at a restaurant for four people could, for instance, consist of fish in dry red curry (chuchi pla), a spicy green papaya salad with dried prawns, tomatoes, yardlong beans and peanuts (som tam thai), deep fried stuffed chicken wings (pik kai sot sai thot), a salad of grilled beef, shallots and celery or mint (yam nuea yang), spicy stir fried century eggs with crispy-fried holy basil (khai yiao ma phat kraphao krop), and a non-spicy vegetable soup with tofu and seaweed (tom chuet taohu kap sarai) to temper it all. In most Thai restaurants, diners will have access to a selection of Thai sauces (nam chim) and condiments, either brought to the table by wait staff or in small containers with tiny spoons for self-service. These may include: phrik nam pla/nam pla phrik (consisting of fish sauce, lime juice, chopped chilies and garlic), dried chili flakes, sweet chili sauce, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, sriracha sauce, and even sugar. With certain dishes, such as khao kha mu (pork trotter stewed in soy sauce and served with rice), whole Thai peppers and raw garlic are served in addition. Cucumber is sometimes eaten to cool the mouth after particularly spicy dishes. They often also feature as a garnish, especially with one-dish meals. The plain rice, sticky rice or the khanom chin (Thai rice noodles) served alongside a spicy Thai curry or stir-fry, tends to counteract the spiciness.


Fresh ingredients for green curry paste

Thailand has about the same surface area as Spain and a length of approximately 1650 kilometers or 1025 miles (Italy, in comparison, is about 1250 kilometers or 775 miles long), with foothills of the Himalayas in the north, a high plateau in the northeast, a verdant river basin in the centre and tropical rainforests and islands in the south. And with over 40 distinct ethnic groups with each their own culture and even more languages,[21] it does not come as a surprise that Thai cuisine, as a whole, features many different ingredients and ways of preparing food. Thai food is known for its enthusiastic use of fresh (rather than dried) herbs and spices. Common flavors in Thai food come from garlic, galangal, coriander, shallots, pepper, kaffir lime and, of course, chilies. Palm sugar, made from the sap of certain Borassus palms, is used to sweeten dishes while lime and tamarind contribute sour notes. From the coconut palm comes coconut milk and coconut vinegar. The juice of a green coconut can be served as a drink and the young flesh can be eaten.

Rice flour (paeng khao chao) and tapioca flour (paeng man sampalang) are often used in desserts and as a thickening agent in some recipes.

Rice and noodles[edit]

Khanom chin, freshly made Thai rice noodles
Khao niao (sticky rice), served with som tam (papaya salad) and kai yang (grilled chicken) as part of a typical Isan meal

Like most other Asian cuisines, rice is the staple grain of Thai cuisine. According to McDang, rice is the first and most important part of any meal, and the words for rice and food are the same: khao. Highly prized, sweet-smelling jasmine rice (khao hom mali) is indigenous to Thailand. This naturally aromatic long-grained rice grows in abundance in the verdant patchwork of paddy fields that blanket Thailand's central plains. Steamed rice is accompanied by highly aromatic curries, stir-fries and other dishes, sometimes incorporating large quantities of chili peppers and lime juice. Curries, stir-fries and other dishes are sometimes served on one plate together with a portion of rice creating a single dish called khao rat kaeng (Thai: ข้าวราดแกง), a popular meal when time is limited.

Other varieties eaten in Thailand include: sticky rice (khao niao), a unique variety of rice which contains an unusual balance of the starches present in all rice, causing it to cook up to a sticky texture. Sticky rice, not jasmine rice, is the staple food in the local cuisines of Northern Thailand and of Isan (Northeastern Thailand), both regions of Thailand directly adjacent to Laos with which they share many cultural traits. Thai Red Cargo rice, an unpolished long grain rice with an outer deep reddish-brown colour and a white center, has a nutty taste and slightly chewy compared to the soft and gummy texture of jasmine rice. Only the husks of the red rice grains are removed which allows it to retain all its nutrients and vitamins, but unlike brown rice, its red color comes from antioxidants in the bran. Black sticky rice is a type of sticky rice with a deep purple-red color that may appear black. Another unpolished grain, black sticky rice has a rich nutty flavor that is most often enjoyed in desserts.

Noodles are usually made from either rice flour, wheat flour or mung bean flour. Khanom chin is fresh rice vermicelli made from fermented rice, and eaten with spicy gravies like a green curry of chicken (khanom chin kaeng khiao wan kai). Flat rice noodles, adapted from Chinese cuisine to suit Thai taste, are called kuai tiao in Thailand and come in three varieties: sen yai are wide flat noodles, sen lek are thin flat rice noodles, and sen mi (also known as rice vermicelli in the West) are round and thin. Bami is made from egg and wheat flour and usually sold fresh, and are essentially similar to the Teochew mee pok. Wun sen, called cellophane noodles in English, are extremely thin noodles made from mung bean flour which are sold dried.

Thai noodle dishes, whether stir-fried like phat thai or in the form of a noodle soup, usually come as an individual serving and are not meant to be shared and eaten communally.

Pastes and sauces[edit]

Kapi is indispensable in Thai curry paste
Nam phrik kapi is often eaten together with raw, steamed or fried vegetables, and with fried fish such as pla thu (shortbodied mackerel)

The ingredients found in almost all Thai dishes and every region of the country is nam pla, a very aromatic and strong tasting fish sauce. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine and imparts a unique character to Thai food. Fish sauce is prepared with fermented fish that is made into a fragrant condiment and provides a salty flavor. There are many varieties of fish sauce and many variations in the way it is prepared. Some fish may be fermented with shrimp and/or spices. Pla ra is also a sauce made from fermented fish. It is more pungent than nam pla, and, in contrast to nam pla which is a clear liquid, it is opaque and often contains pieces of fish. To use it in som tam (spicy papaya salad) is a matter of choice. Kapi, Thai shrimp paste, is a combination of fermented ground shrimp and salt. It is used, for instance, in red curry paste, in the famous chili paste called nam phrik kapi and in rice dishes such as khao khluk kapi. Tai pla is a sauce used in the Southern Thai cuisine made with the fermented innards of the shortbodied mackerel (pla thu).[22] It is one of the main condiments of kaeng tai pla curry and is also used to make nam phrik tai pla.[23]

Nam phrik are Thai chilli pastes, similar to the Indonesian and Malaysian sambals. Each region has its own special versions. The words "nam phrik" are used by Thais to describe many pastes containing chilies used for dipping, although the more watery version tend to be called nam chim. Thai curry pastes are normally called phrik kaeng or khrueang kaeng (lit. curry ingredients) but some people also use the word nam phrik to designate a curry paste. Red curry paste, for instance, could be called phrik kaeng phet or khrueang kaeng phet in Thai, but also nam phrik kaeng phet. Both nam phrik and phrik kaeng are prepared by crushing together chillies with various ingredients such as garlic and shrimp paste using a mortar and pestle. Some nam phrik are served as a dip with vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw or blanched. One such paste is nam phrik num, a paste of pounded fresh green chilies, shallots, garlic and coriander leaves. The sweet roasted chili paste called nam phrik phao is often used as an ingredient in Tom yam or when frying meat or seafood, and it is also popular as a spicy "jam" on bread. The dry nam phrik kung, made with pounded dried prawns (kung haeng, Thai: กุ้งแห้ง), is often eaten with rice and a few slices of cucumber.

The soy sauces which are used in Thai cuisine are of Chinese origin and the Thai names for them are (wholly or partially) loanwords from the Teochew dialect: si-io dam (dark soy sauce), si-io khao (light soy sauce), and taochiao (fermented whole soy beans). Namman hoi (oyster sauce) is also of Chinese origin. It is used extensively in vegetable and meat stir-fries.

Vegetables, herbs and spices[edit]

A vegetable stall at a market in Chiang Mai.
Snakehead fish packed with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves ready for steaming
The elaborate spice mix needed for northern Thai larb

Thai dishes use a wide variety of herbs, spices and leaves rarely found in the West. The characteristic flavor of kaffir lime leaves (bai makrut) appears in many Thai soups (e.g., the hot and sour Tom yam) or curry from the southern and central areas of Thailand. The Thai lime (manao) is smaller, darker and sweeter than the kaffir lime, which has a rough looking skin with a stronger lime flavor. Kaffir lime leaves or rind is frequently combined with galangal (kha) and lemongrass (takhrai), either kept whole in simmered dishes or blended together with liberal amounts of chilies and other aromatics to make curry paste. Fresh Thai basil, redolent with a distinctive scent reminiscent of cloves and stems which are often tinged with a purple color, are used to add fragrance in certain dishes such as green curry. Other commonly used herbs in Thai cuisine include phak chi, (coriander or cilantro leaves), rak phak chi (cilantro/coriander roots), spearmint (saranae), holy basil (kraphao), ginger (khing), turmeric (khamin), fingerroot (krachai), culantro (phak chi farang), pandanus leaves (bai toei), and Thai lemon basil (maenglak). Spices and spice mixtures used in Thai cuisine include phong phalo (five-spice powder), phong kari (curry powder), and fresh and dried peppercorns (phrik thai).

Besides kaffir lime leaves, several other tree leaves are used in Thai cuisine such as cha-om, the young feathery leaves of the Acacia pennata tree. These leaves can be cooked in omelettes, soups and curries or eaten raw in Northern Thai salads. Banana leaves are often used as packaging for ready-made food or as steamer cups such as in ho mok pla, a spicy steamed pâté or soufflé made with fish and coconut milk. Banana flowers are also used in Thai salads or as a vegetable ingredient for certain curries. The leaves and flowers of the neem tree (sadao) are also eaten blanched. Phak lueat (leaves from the Ficus virens) are cooked in curries, and bai makok (from the Spondias mombin) can be eaten raw with a chili paste.

Five main chilies are generally used as ingredients in Thai food. One chili is very small (about 1.25 centimetres (0.49 in)) and is known as the hottest chili: phrik khi nu suan ("garden mouse-dropping chili"). The slightly larger chili phrik khi nu ("mouse-dropping chili") is the next hottest. The green or red phrik chi fa ("sky pointing chili") is slightly less spicy than the smaller chilies. The very large phrik yuak, which is pale green in color, is the least spicy and used more as a vegetable. Lastly, the dried chilies: phrik haeng are spicier than the two largest chilies and dried to a dark red color.

Other typical ingredients are the several types of eggplant (makhuea) used in Thai cuisine, such as the pea-sized makhuea phuang and the egg-sized makhuea suai, often also eaten raw. Although broccoli is often used in Asian restaurants in the west in phat phak ruam (stir-fried mixed vegetables) and rat na (rice noodles served in gravy), it was never actually used in any traditional Thai food in Thailand and is still rarely seen in Thailand. Usually in Thailand, khana is used, for which broccoli is a substitute. Other vegetables which are often eaten in Thailand are thua fak yao (yardlong beans), thua ngok (bean sprouts), no mai (bamboo shoots), tomatoes, cucumbers, phak tam leung (Coccinia grandis), phak kha na (Chinese kale), phak kwangtung (choy sum), sweet potatoes (both the tuber and leaves), a few types of squash, phak krathin (Leucaena leucocephala), sato (Parkia speciosa), tua phū (winged beans) and khaophot (corn).

Among the green, leafy vegetables and herbs that are usually eaten raw in the meal or as a side dish in Thailand, the most important are: phak bung (morning glory), horapha (Thai basil), bai bua bok (Asian pennywort), phak kachet (water mimosa), phak kat khao (Chinese cabbage), phak phai (praew leaves), phak kayang (rice paddy herb), phak chi farang (culantro), phak tiu (Cratoxylum formosum), phak "phaai" (yellow burr head) and kalamplī (cabbage).[24] Some of these leaves are highly perishable and must be used within a couple of days.

Several types of mushroom (het) also feature in Thai cuisine such as straw mushrooms (het fang), shiitake (het hom), and white jelly fungus (het hu nu khao).[25]

Flowers are also commonly used ingredients in many Thai dishes, either as a vegetable, such as dok khae (Sesbania grandiflora) and huapli (the flower bud of the banana), or as a food coloring, such as with the blue-colored dok anchan (the flowers of the Clitoria ternatea, which can also be eaten raw or fried).


Durians at a Thai market

Fresh fruit forms a large part of the Thai diet, and are customarily served after a meal as dessert. Fruits are also used extensively in dishes, such as in som tam (green papaya salad) and yam som-o (pomelo salad), in soups containing tamarind juice such as tom khlong and kaeng som, and in Thai curries such as kaeng kanun (jackfruit curry) and kaeng pet phet yang (grilled duck curry with pineapple or grapes).

Although many of the exotic fruits of Thailand may have been sometimes unavailable in Western countries, many Asian markets import such fruits as rambutan and lychees. In Thailand one can find papaya, jackfruit, mango, mangosteen, langsat, longan, pomelo, pineapple, rose apples, durian, Burmese grapes and other native fruits. Chantaburi in Thailand each year holds the World Durian Festival in early May. This single province is responsible for half of the durian production of Thailand and a quarter of the world production.[26][27][28] The Langsat festival is held each year in Uttaradit province around the middle to end of September. The langsat (Lansium parasiticum), for which Uttaradit is famous, is a fruit that is similar in taste to the longan.[29]

Apples, pears, peaches, grapes, and strawberries, which do not traditionally grow in Thailand and in the past had to be imported, have become increasingly popular in the last few decades since they were introduced to Thai farmers by the Thai Royal Projects, starting in 1969, and the Doi Tung Project since 1988. These temperate fruit grow especially well in the cooler, northern Thai highlands, where they were initially introduced as a replacement for the cultivation of opium, together with other crops such as cabbages, tea, and aribica coffee.

Representative dishes[edit]

Whereas many Thai dishes are now familiar in the West, the vast majority still is not. In many of the dishes below, different kinds of protein, or combinations of protein, are interchangeable as the main ingredient. Beef (nuea), chicken (kai), pork (mu), duck (pet), tofu (taohu), fish (pla), prawns or shrimp (kung), crab (pu), shellfish (hoi), or egg (khai) can, for example, all be used as main ingredients for kaeng phet (red curry). Kaeng phet kai will be red curry with chicken, kaeng phet mu with pork, etc..

Breakfast dishes[edit]

A typical family breakfast in Isan (northeastern Thailand)

Thai cuisine does not have very specific breakfast dishes. Very often, a Thai breakfast can consist of the same dishes which are also eaten for lunch or dinner. Fried rice, noodle soups, and steamed rice with something simple such as an omelette, fried/grilled pork or chicken, or a stir-fry with vegetables, are commonly sold for breakfast from street stalls as a quick take-out.

The following dishes are viewed as being specific breakfast dishes but they can also be found at any other moment of the day:[30][31]

  • Chok - a rice porridge commonly eaten in Thailand for breakfast. Similar to the rice congee eaten in other parts of Asia.
  • Khao khai chiao - an omelet (khai chiao) with white rice, often eaten with a chili sauce and slices of cucumber.
  • Khao tom - a Thai style rice soup, usually with pork, chicken, fish or shrimp.
  • Pathongko - The Thai version of the Chinese deep-fried bread called youtiao, it can be topped up with spreads such as sangkhaya or with chocolate and sweetened condensed milk.[32]
  • Nam taohu - Soy milk which is often served with sweet jellies.

Individual dishes[edit]

Khanom chin namya
Khao soi with traditional accompaniments in Chiang Mai, Thailand

In addition to many true single plate dishes, many places in Thailand also serve food "rat khao": one or more dishes are served together with rice on one plate. Some of these eateries offer a large selection of (pre-cooked) dishes, others are specialized in only a one, or a few dishes with rice.

  • Kaphrao mu rat khao - minced pork fried with chilies, garlic, soy sauce and holy basil, served together with rice, and with phrik nam pla as a condiment.
  • Khanom chin kaeng kiao wan kai - fresh Thai rice noodles (khanom chin) is served in a bowl with green chicken curry as a sauce. Raw vegetables, herbs, and fish sauce are served on the side and can be added to taste.
  • Khanom chin nam ngiao - A speciality of Northern Thailand, it is Thai fermented rice noodles served with pork blood tofu in a sauce made with pork broth and tomato, crushed fried dry chilies, pork blood, dry fermented soy bean, and dried red kapok flowers.[33]
  • Khanom chin namya - round boiled rice noodles topped with a fish based sauce and eaten with fresh leaves and vegetables.
  • Khao kha mu - steam rice served with red cooked pork leg, steamed mustard greens, pickled cabbage, sweet chili sauce, raw garlic, fresh bird's eye chilies, and boiled egg.
  • Khao khluk kapi - rice stir-fried with shrimp paste, served with sweetened pork and vegetables.
  • Khao man kai - rice steamed in chicken stock with garlic, with boiled chicken, chicken stock and a dipping sauce. It is usually served with a bowl of radish soup, or nam kaeng hua chai thao.
  • Khao mu daeng - slices of Thai-style Chinese char siu is served with rice, sliced cucumber, and a thickened gravy. This often comes with a bowl of broth and a few stalks of raw scallions. Thick, black soy sauce with sliced chilies is used as condiment.
  • Khao na pet - rice served with slices of red-roast duck, sliced cucumber, and a thickened gravy. It is served with the same spicy soy-sauce condiment as aforementioned khao mu daeng and also often comes with a bowl of soup, and additional stalks of raw scallions.
  • Khao phat - One of the most common rice dishes in Thailand. Usually with chicken, beef, shrimp, pork, crab or coconut or pineapple, or vegetarian (che; Thai: เจ).
    • Khao phat American - although devised in Thailand, it is called "American-style" fried rice because the rice is fried with tomato ketchup, contains raisins, and is served with a fried egg, hot dogs and bacon, which were all viewed as being typically American ingredients.
    • Khao phat kai - fried rice with chicken.
    • Khao phat mu - fried rice with pork.
    • Khao phat pu - fried rice with crab meat.
    • Khao phat kung - fried rice with shrimp.
    • Khao phat naem - fried rice with fermented sausage (naem, a typically sausage from the Northeast, it is similar to the Vietnamese nem chua).
  • Khao soi - curried noodle soup enriched with coconut milk (traditionally a novel ingredient in the cooking traditions of northern Thailand), garnished with crispy fried wheat noodles, and served with pickles, lime and red shallots on the side. Arguably Chiang Mai's most iconic dish, Thai khao soi is vastly different from the Lao version.
  • Kuaitiao nam and bami nam - noodle soup can be eaten at any time of day; served with many combinations of proteins, vegetables, and spicy condiments. The word kuaitiao is, although originally designating only one type of rice noodle, the sen yai (wide rice noodles), now used colloquially for rice noodles in general: sen mi (rice vermicelli), sen lek (narrow rice noodles) and the aforementioned sen yai. The yellow egg noodles are called bami. Four condiments are usually provided: sugar, fish sauce, chili flakes, and sliced chilies in vinegar.
    • Kuaitiao luk chin pla - noodle soup with fish balls.
    • Bami mu daeng - egg noodles with Thai-style char siu.
  • Kuaitiao rat na - wide rice noodles covered in a gravy, with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, or seafood.
  • Mi krop - deep fried rice vermicelli with a sweet and sour sauce.
  • Phat khi mao - noodles stir-fried with holy basil.
  • Phat si-io - rice noodles (often kuai tiao) stir-fried with si-io dam (thick sweet soy sauce) and nam pla (fish sauce) and pork or chicken.
  • Phat thai - rice noodles pan fried with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice or tamarind pulp, chopped peanuts, and egg combined with chicken, seafood, or tofu. It is listed at number 5 on World's 50 most delicious foods readers' poll compiled by CNNGo in 2011.

Central Thai shared dishes[edit]

Ho mok pla can be likened to a fish curry pâté
Kung pao, grilled prawns, made with the giant river prawns that are native to the rivers of central Thailand

Central Thai food is most often eaten with the non-glutinous jasmine rice. The cuisine has also incorporated many Thai Chinese dishes.

  • Chuchi pla kaphong - snapper in chuchi curry sauce (thick red curry sauce)
  • Kai phat khing - chicken stir-fried with sliced ginger.
  • Kaeng khiao wan - called "green curry" in English, it is a coconut curry made with fresh green chillies and flavoured with Thai basil, and chicken or fish meatballs. This dish can be one of the spiciest of Thai curries.
  • Ho mok pla - a pâté or soufflé of fish, spices, coconut milk and egg, steamed in a banana leaf cup and topped with thick coconut cream before serving.
  • Kaeng phanaeng - a mild creamy coconut curry with beef (phanaeng nuea), chicken, or pork. It includes some roasted dried spices similar to kaeng matsaman.
  • Kaeng phet (lit. 'spicy curry') - also known as red curry in English, it is a coconut curry made with copious amounts of dried red chillies in the curry paste.
  • Kaeng som - a hot and sour soup/curry usually eaten together with rice
  • Kai phat met mamuang himmaphan - The Thai Chinese version of the Sichuan style chicken with cashews known as kung Pao chicken, fried with whole dried chilies.
  • Miang kham - dried shrimp and other ingredients wrapped in cha plu leaves; often eaten as a snack or a starter.
  • Phak bung fai daeng - stir fried morning glory with yellow bean paste.
  • Phat khana mu krop - khana (gailan) stir fried with crispy pork.
  • Phat kaphrao - beef, pork, prawns or chicken stir fried with Thai holy basil, chillies, garlic and soy sauce; for instance mu phat kaphrao /kaphrao mu with minced pork.
  • Phat phak ruam - stir fried combination of vegetables depending on availability and preference.
  • Phat phrik - often eaten as nuea phat phrik: beef stir fried with chilli.
  • Pla nueng manao - steamed fish with a spicy lime juice dressing.
  • Pla sam rot - literally "Three flavours fish": deep fried fish with a sweet, tangy and spicy tamarind sauce.
  • Pu cha - a mixture of cooked crab meat, pork, garlic and pepper, deep fried inside the crab shells and served with a simple spicy sauce, such as Sri Rachaa sauce, sweet-hot garlic sauce, nam phrik phao (roasted chilli paste), nam chim buai (plum sauce), or in a red curry paste, with chopped green onions. It is sometimes also served as deep fried patties instead of being fried in the crab shell.
  • Suki - a Thai variant of the Chinese hot pot.
  • Thot man - deep fried fishcake made from knifefish (thot man pla krai) or shrimp (thot man kung).
  • Tom chuet or kaeng chuet - a clear soup with vegetables and, for instance, wunsen (cellophane noodles), tauhu (silken tofu), mu sap (minced pork), or het (mushrooms). It is of Thai Chinese origin.
  • Tom kha kai - hot spicy soup with coconut milk, galangal and chicken.
  • Tom yam - hot & sour soup with meat. With shrimp it is called tom yam goong or tom yam kung, with seafood (typically shrimp, squid, fish) tom yam thale, with chicken tom yam kai.
  • Yam - general name for many different kinds of sour Thai salads, such as those made with glass noodles (yam wunsen), with seafood (yam thale), or grilled beef (yam nuea). The dressing of a "yam" will normally consist of shallots, fish sauce, tomato, lime juice, sugar, chilies and Thai celery (khuenchai), or coriander.
  • Yam pla duk fu - crispy fried catfish with a spicy, sweet-and-sour, green mango salad.

Northeastern shared dishes[edit]

Som tam, lap, and sticky rice are iconic dishes of the Isan region of Thailand

The cuisine of Isan (Northeastern Thailand) generally features dishes similar to those found in Laos, as Isan people historically have close ties with Lao culture and speak a language that is generally mutually intelligible with the Lao language. The staple food of Isan is glutinous rice.

  • Kai yang - marinated, grilled chicken.
  • Khao niao - Sticky rice is eaten as a staple food both in the Northeast as in the North of Thailand; it is traditionally steamed.
  • Mu ping - marinated, grilled pork on a stick.
  • Pad mhee korat - a stir-fried rice noodle thai style dish commonly served with papaya salad (somtum) in Thailand. Dried rice oodle (many colors) is a specific ingredient for pad mhee korat. It is made with dried rice noodle, garlic, shallot, pork, salt soya bean, fish suce, palm sugar, redpepper, dark soy sauce, ripe tmarind, water, spring onion and bean sprouts.
  • Lap - a traditional Lao salad containing meat, onions, chillies, roasted rice powder and garnished with mint.
  • Nam chim chaeo - is a sticky, sweet and spicy dipping sauce made with dried chilies, fish sauce, palm sugar and black roasted rice flour. It is often served as a dip with mu yang (grilled pork).
  • Nam tok - made with pork (mu) or beef (nuea) and somewhat identical to lap, except that the pork or beef is cut into thin strips rather than minced.
  • Som tam - grated green papaya salad, pounded with a mortar and pestle, similar to the Lao tam mak hoong. There are three main variations: som tam pu with pickled rice-paddy crab, and som tam Thai with peanuts, dried shrimp and palm sugar and som tam pla ra from the northeastern part of Thailand (Isan), with salted gourami fish, white eggplants, fish sauce and long beans. Som tam is usually eaten with sticky rice but a popular variation is to serve it with khanom chin (rice noodles) instead.
  • Suea rong hai - grilled beef brisket.
  • Tom saep - Northeastern-style hot & sour soup.
  • Yam naem khao thot or naem khluk - a salad made of crumbled rice-and-curry croquettes and sour pork sausage.

Northern shared dishes[edit]

A selection of Northern Thai dishes, served as starters

Northern Thai cuisine shares certain dishes with neighboring Shan State, in Burma, and with northern Laos. As in northeastern Thailand, glutinous rice, not jasmine rice, is eaten as the staple food.

  • Aep - Slow-grilled wrapped in banana leaves, this dish is most often made with chopped meat, small fish or edible insects, mixed with beaten eggs and spices.
  • Kaeng hang-le - a Burmese-influenced stewed pork curry which uses peanuts, dried chilies, tamarind juice and curry paste in the recipe, but containing no coconut milk.
  • Kaeng khae - is a spicy northern Thai curry of herbs, vegetables, the leaves of an acacia tree (cha-om) and meat (chicken, water buffalo, pork or frog). It also does not contain any coconut milk.
  • Kaeng khanun - a curry of pork stewed with green jackfruit, which is very popular in the region. Like all northern Thai curries, it does not contain any coconut milk.
  • Kaeng pa - better known as "Jungle Curry" internationally. Traditionally made with wild boar, most often pork or chicken is used nowadays.
  • Kaep mu - deep fried crispy pork rinds which often eaten with chili pastes such as nam phrik num but also eaten as a snack on their own.
  • Larb Lanna - drier and smokier in taste, Northern Thai larb does not contain lime or fish sauce. Instead it's flavoured and seasoned with an elaborate mix of ground dried chillies, dried spices like cumin, cloves, long pepper, star anise, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon, and occasionally blood of the animal used.
  • Nam phrik kha - thick relish made with roasted chilies, garlic, galangal and salt. This northern Thai specialty is often served as a dip for steamed mushrooms.
  • Nam phrik num - a chili paste of pounded large green chilies, shallots, garlic, coriander leaves, lime juice and fish sauce; eaten with steamed and raw vegetables, and sticky rice.
  • Nam phrik ong - resembling a thick Bolognese sauce, it is made with dried chilies, minced pork, fermented soy beans, and tomato; eaten with steamed and raw vegetables, and sticky rice.
  • Sai ua - a grilled sausage of ground pork mixed with spices and herbs; it is often served with chopped fresh ginger and chilies at a meal. It is also sold at markets in Chiang Mai as a snack.
  • Tam som-o - a salad made from the slightly pounded flesh of a pomelo fruit, which is mixed with garlic, sliced lemongrass, and a thick pungent black paste (nam pu) made from boiling down the juices and meat of rice-paddy crab.

Southern shared dishes[edit]

Khua kling

Southern Thai cuisine shares certain dishes with the cuisine of northern Malaysia. Southern Thais, just like the people of central Thailand to the north, and the people of Malaysia to the south, eat non-glutinous rice as their staple food.

  • Kaeng lueang - a sour spicy yellow curry that does not contain coconut milk, often with fish and vegetables.
  • Kaeng matsaman - also known in English as Massaman curry, it is an Indian style curry, usually made by Thai-Muslims, of stewed beef and containing roasted dried spices, such as coriander seed, that are rarely found in other Thai curries. In 2011 CNNGo ranked massaman as number one in an article titled World's 50 most delicious foods.
  • Kaeng tai pla - a thick sour vegetable curry made with turmeric and shrimp paste, often containing roasted fish or fish innards, bamboo shoots and eggplant.
  • Khao mok - Thai-style biryani, a specialty of Southern Thailand's Muslim community.
  • Khao yam - a rice salad from Southern Thailand.[4]
  • Khua kling - a very dry spicy curry made with minced or diced meat with sometimes yardlong beans added to it; often served with fresh green phrik khi nu (thai chilies) and copious amounts of finely shredded bai makrut (kaffir lime leaves).
  • Sate - grilled meat, usually pork or chicken, served with cucumber salad and peanut sauce (actually of Indonesian origin, but now a popular street food in Thailand).

Desserts, sweet snacks and drinks[edit]

Desserts and sweet snacks[edit]

A selection of sweet snacks at a market in Thailand
Khao tom mat, sticky rice and banana

Most Thai meals finish with fresh fruit but sometimes a sweet snack will be served as a dessert.

  • Chaokuai - grass jelly is often served with only shaved ice and brown sugar.
  • Kanom khrok - coconut-rice pancakes, one of the ancient Thai desserts
  • Khao tom mat - a traditional Thai dessert prepared from sticky rice, coconut milk, and banana.
  • Khanom bua loi – mashed taro root and pumpkin are mixed with rice flour into small balls, boiled and then served in coconut milk.
  • Khanom chan – multi-layers of pandanus-flavoured sticky rice flour mixed with coconut milk. It is the one of The 9 auspicious Thai desserts.
  • Khanom mo kaeng - a sweet baked pudding containing coconut milk, eggs, palm sugar and flour, sprinkled with sweet fried onions.
  • Khanom tan – palm flavoured mini cake with shredded coconut on top.
  • Khanom thuai talai - steamed sweet coconut jelly and cream.
  • Khao lam - A cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk.
  • Khao niao mamuang - sticky rice cooked in sweetened thick coconut milk, served with slices of ripe mango.
  • Lot chong nam kathipandan flavoured rice flour noodles in coconut milk, similar to the Indonesian cendol.
  • Ruam mit – mixed ingredients, such as chestnuts covered in flour, jackfruit, lotus root, tapioca, and lot chong, in coconut milk.
  • Sarim – multi-colored mung bean flour noodles in sweetened coconut milk served with crushed ice.
  • Sangkhaya fak thong - egg and coconut custard served with pumpkin, similar to the coconut jam of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
  • Tako - jasmine scented coconut pudding set in cups of fragrant pandanus leaf.
  • Mamuang-kuan - sweets made from preserved mango, often sold as flat wafers, or as a roll.
  • Thong yod - a sweet round egg ball one of the nine auspicious Thai desserts.


Other alcoholic beverages from Thailand include Mekhong whisky and Sang Som. Several brands of beer are brewed in Thailand, the two biggest brands being Singha and Chang.


A street stall selling fried insects

Certain insects are also eaten in Thailand, especially in Isan and in the North. Many markets in Thailand feature stalls which sell deep-fried grasshoppers, crickets (ching rit), bee larvae, silkworm (non mai), ant eggs (khai mot) and termites. The culinary creativity even extends to naming: one tasty larva, which is also known under the name "bamboo worm" (non mai phai, Omphisa fuscidentalis),[34] is colloquially called "express train" (rot duan) due to its appearance.

Most of the insects taste fairly bland when deep-fried, somewhat like popcorn and prawns. But when deep-fried together with kaffir lime leaves, chilies and garlic, the insects become an excellent snack to go with a drink. In contrast to the bland taste of most of these insects, the maeng da or maelong da na (Lethocerus indicus) has been described as having a very penetrating taste, similar to that of a very ripe gorgonzola cheese. This giant water bug is famously used in a chili dip called nam phrik maengda. Some insects, such as ant eggs and silk worms, are also eaten boiled in a soup in Isan, or used in omelets in northern Thailand.

Thai vegetarian cuisine[edit]

Traditional Thai vegetarian restaurants will carry this yellow sign with the word che written in red in Thai script
A salad made with deep-fried banana blossom at a vegetarian restaurant in Chiang Mai

Although a vegetarian festival is celebrated each year by a portion of Thailand's population, and many restaurants in Thailand will offer vegetarian food during this festival period, pure vegetarian food is normally difficult to find in Thailand. All traditionally made Thai curries, for instance, contain shrimp paste, and fish sauce is used as salt in many Thai dishes. At specific shops and restaurant and restaurants for vegetarians, substitutes for these ingredients are used. Meat dishes are also commonly part of the alms offered to Buddhist monks in Thailand as vegetarianism is not considered obligatory in Theravada Buddhism; but having an animal killed specifically to feed Buddhist monks is prohibited.[35][36]

Traditional Buddhist vegetarian fare, without any meat or seafood products of any kind and also excluding certain strong tasting vegetables and spices, is sold at specialized vegetarian restaurants which can be recognized by a yellow sign with in Thai script the word che (Thai: เจ; IPA: [tɕeː]; pronounced as "chay", as in the word "change"; lit. "vegetarian") written on it in red. These restaurants serve what can be regarded as vegan food. Many Indian restaurants of the sizeable Thai-Indian community will also have vegetarian dishes on offer, due to the fact that vegetarianism is held as an ideal by many followers of the Hindu faith. Indian vegetarian cuisine can incorporate dairy products and honey. Due to the increased demand for vegetarian food from foreign tourists, many hotels, guesthouses and restaurants that cater to foreign tourists, will now also have vegetarian versions of Thai dishes on their menu. Pescatarians would have very few problems with Thai cuisine due to the abundance of Thai dishes which only contain fish and seafood as their only source of animal protein.[37][38][39][40][41]

International recognition[edit]

Tom yam kung as served in a restaurant in Japan

Thai cuisine only became well-known worldwide from the 1960s onwards, when Thailand became a destination for international tourism and American troops arrived in large numbers during the Vietnam War period. The number of Thai restaurants went up from four in 1970s London to between two and three hundred in less than 25 years. The Thaksin administration of Thailand (2001-2006) launched the "Kitchen of the World" campaign to promote Thai cuisine internationally, with a yearly budget of 500 million baht. It provided loans and training for restaurateurs seeking to establish Thai restaurants overseas; established the "Thai Select" certification program which encouraged the use of ingredients imported from Thailand; and promoted integration between Thai investors, Thai Airways, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand with Thai restaurants overseas.[42]

One survey held in 2003 by the Kellogg School of Management and Sasin Institute showed that Thai cuisine ranked 4th when people were asked to name an ethnic cuisine, after Italian, French and Chinese cuisine. When asked "what is your favourite cuisine?", Thailand's cuisine came in at 6th place, behind the three aforementioned cuisines, and Indian and Japanese cuisine.[43]

In the list of the "World's 50 most delicious foods", compiled by CNN in 2011, som tam stands at place 46, nam tok mu at 19, tom yam kung on 8, and massaman curry stands on first place as most delicious food in the world.[44] In a reader's poll held a few months later by CNN, mu nam tok came in on place 36, Thai fried rice at 24, green curry stands on 19, massaman curry on place 10, and Thai som tam, pad Thai and tom yam kung hold places 6, 5 and 4.[45]

Thai chefs in the name of Thailand Culinary Academy achieve second place in the Gourmet Team Challenge (Practical) of the FHC China International Culinary Arts Competition 14 at Shanghai, China in 14–16 November 2012.

Thai chefs in the name of Thailand Culinary Academy win in the competition of IKA Culinary Olympic 2012 which was held in Erfurt, Germany between 5–10 October 2012. They received 4 golden medals and 1 silver medal.[46]

Two restaurants that are specialised in Thai cuisine, but owned by non-Thai chefs, have received Michelin stars: "Nahm" in London, run by David Thompson received its star in 2002, and "Kiin Kiin" in Copenhagen, run by chef Henrik Yde-Andersen and Lertchai Treetawatchaiwong, received its in 2009. Currently, "Kiin Kiin" is the only Thai restaurant with a Michelin star.

In 2011, the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in Northwestern United States, was presented to Andy Ricker of restaurant "Pok Pok" in Portland, Oregon, and for Best Chef in Southwestern United States to Saipin Chutima of restaurant "Lotus of Siam" in Winchester, Nevada.

Culinary tours and cooking courses[edit]

Food tours and cooking courses in Thailand almost always include a trip to the local market

Culinary tours of Thailand have gained popularity in recent years. Alongside other forms of tourism in Thailand, food tours have carved a niche for themselves. Many companies offer culinary and cooking tours of Thailand and many tourists visiting Thailand attend cooking courses offered by hotels, guesthouses and cooking schools.

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ "Erawan Thai Cuisine/Menu/Appetizers". Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Southern Thai Rice Salad - Khao Yam (ข้าวยำ) and a Chat with Jitlada Restaurant in Los Angeles | SheSimmersSheSimmers". 28 February 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
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  14. ^ Shesimmers: Massaman (Matsaman) Curry Recipe (แกงมัสมั่น)
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  46. ^ วันที่ 19 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2555 เวลา 07:29:18 น. ""เชฟไทย"นำสุดยอดเมนู"กระเพราแกะ-ผัดไทย-ลาบ-ส้มตำ"คว้าชัยเวทีอาหารที่เซี่ยงไฮ้ : มติชนออนไลน์". Retrieved 29 October 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Joe Cummings, Lonely Planet World Food Thailand, 288 pages, Lonely Planet Publications, 2000, ISBN 978-1-86450-026-4
  • David Thompson, Classic Thai Cuisine, 145 pages, Ten Speed Press, 1993, ISBN 0-89815-563-0
  • Nathalia & Paul McLean-Thorne, Isaan Cuisine, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4452-7194-1
  • Ang, Eng Tie. Delightful Thai Cooking, 132 pages, Seattle: Ambrosia, 1990
  • Bhumichitr, Vatcharin. The Essential Thai Cookbook, 192 pages, New York: Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1994
  • California Culinary Academy. Cuisines of Southeast Asia, 128 pages, Sant Rosa, CA: California Culinary Academy, 1994.
  • Kahrs, Kurt. Thai Cooking, 96 pages, Dallas: Hackberry Press, 2003.
  • Osborne, Christine. Southeast Asian Food and Drink, 48 pages, New York: Bookwright Press, 1989.
  • ML Sirichalerm Svasti (Chef McDang), The Principles of Thai Cookery, 304 pages, McDang dot Com Company, Limited, 2010, 978-6-16906-010-9

External links[edit]