Historical Influences of the Thai Cuisines
Thai cuisines refer to the four regional cuisines namely Northern, Central, Southern as well as Northeastern (Isan). The cuisines share foods or their foods are being derived from neighboring countries and regions. The regions are the Burma to the northwest, Cambodia and Vietnam to the east, the Chinese province of Yunnan, Malaysia and Indonesia to the south of Thailand. Apart from the four major regional cuisines, there are other cuisine groups like Thai Royal Cuisine. This cuisine group greatly influenced the central Thai plains cuisines by their use of ingredients, refinement, as well as the cooking techniques. From the 17th century CE onwards, the western has also influenced the cuisines and it led to the rise of dishes like foi thong and sangkhaya (Sunanta).
The Thai cuisines and their neighbors have over centuries influenced each other in certain ways. There is always a correlation in the variations of regions and the neighboring states. Teochew people from China introduced many popular Thailand dishes. This group forms the larger percentage of the Thai Chinese. These popular dishes include rice porridge (chok), fried rice noodles (kuai-tiao rat na) and stewed pork with rice (Khao kha mu). Other influences were introduction of wok for cooking, products like soybean, noodles and oyster sauce. These Thai Chinese also introduced certain techniques like stir-frying and deep-frying dishes. Cuisine of Persia and cuisine of India introduced dishes like massaman curry (kaeng matsaman) and yellow curry (kaeng kari) to the Thai cuisines (Sunanta).
There were many influences from the Portuguese, Dutch, French and Japanese starting in the 17th century. The Portuguese missionaries also brought over chilies around the 17th century, and they were quickly accepted into the Thai cuisine. Over the years, they started to lessen the use of chilies and started using more lemon grass, coconut and fresh herbs. Countries all over the world have been influenced by the unique flavor combinations and presentations of the Thai Cuisine (Sunanta).
Thailand became the international tourism destination in the year 1960 during the Vietnam War error. This majorly contributed to Thailand’s worldwide recognition, as the American troops came in large numbers. By this time, it had only four Thai restaurants, which later on increased to hundreds in number from the year 1970. The launch of “Kitchen of the world” by the Thailand’s Thaksin administration also led to boost its well-known throughout the world. The government spent about 500 million baht in providing loans, as well as training those restaurateurs who wanted to start Thai restaurants in abroad countries. The “Thai select” certificate programme majorly encouraged ingredients imported from Thailand. Overseas Thai restaurants were highly integrated with Thai Airways, tourism authority of Thailand as well as Thai investors. Thai cuisine is the fourth ethnic cuisine, and also ranked sixth favorite cuisine after Italian, French, Chinese, Indian and Japanese cuisine (Sunanta).
Different Foods in All the Different Regions
Below are described different foods in different regions. Paste and sources can be found almost in all Thai dishes and in all the country regions. An example is the nam pla, which is a very aromatic and strong tasting fish sauce. A fish sauce is prepared by making a fermented fish into fragrant condiment. It provides a salty flavor to the dish. The variation in fish sauces comes about due to the different techniques used in cooking or preparation. In fermentation, some people use shrimp with spices, while others just use spices. Examples of such fish sauces include pla ra, which is pungent, opaque liquid and contain some fish pieces. Nam pla is less pungent and clear liquid (McDang).
Rice and noodles is a second popular type of food in these regions. It is mainly a stable gain in Asian cuisines. Jasmine rice is indigenous to Thailand and is grown in the central plains. When it is steamed, it is served with stir-fries and highly aromatic curries. It may also be served with chili peppers, lemongrass as well as limejuice. There is also a sticky rise with a sticky texture when cooked. It is the staple of for Northern Thailand cuisines and northeastern Thailand cuisines. These two cuisines also share the sticky rice and many cultures with Thailand regions that are directly adjacent to Laos. Even though noodles are popular, they exist as single meals. They can also exist as noodle soup. Egg noodles are popular in northern Thailand. They are known as kuai tiao in Thailand and are of three varieties, namely, sen yai, which are wide flat noodles; sen mi, which are round; and thin and sen lek, which are thin flat rice noodles (McDang).
Vegetables, herbs and spices are a third variety of foods in Thai cuisine regions. Most of their foods use herbs, leaves and spices. Such leaves as kaffir are rarely found in the west. They are used in preparation of almost all Thai soups like the hot and sour Tom yam of the central and southern Thailand. Other tree leaves are also used; for example, Cha-om, acacia pennata leaves, banana leaves and neem tree leaves and flowers. There are other vegetables, which are taken raw as side plates. They include morning-glory, Thai basil, Asian pennywort, water mimosa, Chinese cabbage, ipil-ipil, praew leaves, rice paddy herb, eryngium foetidum, cratoxylum formosum, yellow Burr head and cabbage. Some mushrooms are also used in meals (McDang).
Fruits are served after the main dishes. They are the larger fraction in the Thai diet. Examples include mangoes, papaya, langsat, durian, grapes pomelo, jackfruit, etc. Every May, a durian day is being celebrated in Thailand. At the end of September, langsat festival is also celebrated. Sour soups are made using tamarind, while palm sugar is used in sweetening dishes. Apples, pears, strawberries and grapes are imported from China (McDang).
Desert and sweet snacks are the fourth variety of foods. They are taken after main courses instead of fruits. Examples of the deserts include grass jelly with shaved ice and brown sugar, khao tom mat prepared from sticky rice, coconut milk as well as banana, etc. Other popular foods include the Thai vegetarian cuisine, drinks and insects. Drinks include Thai ice tea, Krating daeng, satho and oliang. In Isan and in the North, insects are eaten. The insects include grasshoppers, ant eggs, bee larvae, termites, silkworm crickets, etc. These insects are deep fried before they are eaten (McDang).
The Thai people are experts at balancing flavors in their dishes. Most of their dishes have components of something sweet, salty, sour and bitter. For instance, if something uses spicy chilies, they may balance it with sweet coconut milk. Their flavor combinations are very thought out and precise and make for very interesting and unique dishes. Overall, the culture and cuisine of Thailand is different yet perfectly balanced (“Thai food and culture”).
Thai cuisine has a variety of ingredients as well as the techniques of preparing their foods. Their food is well known for using fresh ingredients and not dried ones, which are herbs and spices. The common herbs include lemongrass, mint, Thai basils and cilantro. Other common flavors used in cooking include galangal, shallots, kaffir lime, chillies, white and black peppercorn, ginger, turmeric, soybeans, garlic and tamarind. Chillies are similar to those found in Indonesia and Malaysia sambals. Each region in Thai cuisine has its special version of chilies. The soybeans originated from the Chinese cuisines. The oyster sauce, which is of Chinese origin, is majorly used in vegetables and stir-fried meat (“Thai food and culture”).
Something that really makes the Thai people stand out is their eating style. They eat family style which is where you have dishes of large amounts of food, and everybody shares it. They do not use knives during meals. Most of their food is cut up small already, or it is a soup-like dish. Their main utensils are chopsticks, forks and spoons. The food in Thailand varies based on what area you are in. In the south, they focus more on spicy foods, while in the north they have sweeter dishes (“Thai culture”).
Traditionally, meals were taken with right hands while sitting on mats. It is through westernization that tables and chairs were introduced in cuisine regions. Forks on the left hand pushed food into spoons on the right hand. The use of these two tools was introduced by king Chulalongkorn after touring Europe. Traditional Thai people eat using their hands as opposed to the modern people who use spoons. Foods are served with many different sauces. They use cucumber to cool their mouths after taking a spicy dish. Rice is present in all the meals and it is accompanied by other dishes. Dishes and soups are served at a go (“Thai culture”).