Thai food is widely known for being hot and spicy since almost all Thai food is cooked with basic ingredients such as garlic, chilies, limejuice, lemon grass and fresh coriander leaf and fermented fish sauce (nam pia) or shrimp paste (kapi) to make it salty.

Since rice is the staple food in Thailand, it is usually eaten at every meal with soups, curries, fried vegetables and nam phrik. Nam phrik is a hot sauce, prepared in a variety of ways and differs from region to region: nam phrik pla pon is a ground dried fish and chili sauce, nam phrik pla raa is a fermented fish and chili sauce, nam phrik kapi is a shrimp paste and chili sauce, nam phrik oong is a minced pork, tomato and chili sauce. In general, the basic ingredients of nam phrik include shrimp paste, garlic, chili, fermented fish sauce and lemon juice.

Other common seasoning in Thai food include galingale (khaa), black pepper, ground peanut, tamarind juice, ginger and coconut milk. As a result, it takes hours to prepare a proper Thai meal in the traditional way as it involves so much peeling and chopping and pounding so it needs time to prepare in advance.

In fact, Thai food varies from region to region, for example, glutinous or sticky rice is more popular in the North and Northeast than steamed rice. Moreover, in some rural areas, certain insects are also eaten e.g. crickets, silk worm larvae, red ant larvae. At the same time, Thai desserts are often made from sticky rice or coconut milk, flour, egg and coconut sugar while a variety of fruit is available all the year round.

Meanwhile, the basic characteristic taste of Thai food in different parts of the country can be described in different ways: in the central region, food is hot, salty, sweet and sour. Rice is served with different types of nam phrik and soups e.g. tom yam kung (prawn soup with lemon grass. Dishes usually contain a lot of condiments and spices. In the North, food is mild or hot, salty and sour, but never sweet. Sticky rice is served with boiled vegetables, nam phrik oong and soups or curries. The North is also well-known for its sausage called “naem” which consists of fermented minced pork. It has a sour flavor and is sold wrapped in cellophane and banana leaf.

Food in the Northeast is hot, salty and sour. Their favorite foods include papaya salad (som tam), sour chopped meat salad “koi”, sour minced meat salad (lard) . People use a lot of condiments but not many spices. Their meals generally consists of sticky rice and nam phrik pla raa accompanied by a lot of vegetableas including those found growing wild. On the other hand, food in the South is renowned for being very hot, salty and sour-tasting. Curries are popular and made with a lot of spices and condiments. Khao yam (a mixture of rice) raw vegetables and fermented fish sauce or boo doo is also a common dish. Generally southern people eat little meat and other varieties of nam phrik are not so popular, the most common one is nam phrik kapi.

Though the major portion of Thai food is described as being spiced and chili hot, it currently enjoys worldwide popularity especially the exotic Tom Yam Kung, a uniquely piquant prawn soup that is renowned for it simplicity, creativity, artistic flair and delicious taste. Above all, the tastes of Thai cuisines can be amended to suit individual desire, for example, by reducing the amount of chilies in certain dishes to lower the heat or increasing amount of lime juice to increase sourness. Visitors who have tried the exotic Thai food will never forget to order them again whenever their favorite dishes are available.

This story comes from “Essays on Thailand” by Thanapol Chadchaidee.

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