If you’ve ever read the Simply Asia menu from cover to cover, you’ll know that Thailand’s food culture offers a wonderful variety of flavours and cooking styles – from rich, spicy soups and curries to clean, fresh salads and everything else in-between.
But did you know the following fascinating facts about Thai cuisine?
1. A culture of sharing
When Thai families sit down to eat a meal together, the food is served and enjoyed communally. This means that instead of each person ordering their own meal or being served their food on an individual plate, everyone helps themselves from a selection of dishes placed in the centre of the table. This way, everyone has an opportunity to taste a range of different recipes. It’s also considered more polite to help yourself to a small portion of each dish at a time, rather than filling your plate with food.
2. Noodles are a relatively new arrival
Today, most people view noodles as a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to feast on delicious dishes like Pad Thai. However, noodles were only introduced to Thailand during World War II, to help alleviate a rice shortage that occurred due to the war and floods.
3 It’s all about balance
The reason why Thai food is so tasty is because it aims to achieve a delicious balance between a range of different salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter ingredients. Many Thai dishes use fish sauce or shrimp paste for their saltiness, palm sugar and fruits for their sweetness, chillies and fresh herbs to spice things up, and lime juice or tamarind for their tangy flavour. Not all dishes contain all of these flavours, but the goal is always to create a balance between a few of them.
4. A fresh approach
Rather than relying on dried or preserved ingredients, Thai cooking calls for a wide range of fresh herbs and spices, vegetables and fruits. This is the reason why Thai food typically tastes so vibrant and is packed so full of nutritious ingredients.
5. Rice is indispensable
Rice forms an essential part of many Thai dishes. In fact, this grain is such an important part of the local culture, that “Gin kôw rĕu yang?” (which means “Have you consumed rice yet?”) is a popular greeting in Thailand. There are numerous varieties of rice grown and enjoyed in Thailand – a leading rice exporter globally since the 1960s.
6. What’s for breakfast?
In many Thai households, families eat savoury food for breakfast, such as fried rice, noodle soups, a stir fry with vegetables or steamed rice with an omelette or another type of protein.
7. Know your basil
The basil you enjoy in Thai food is not the same as the herb used in Mediterranean dishes such as pasta with basil pesto sauce. Thai basil is a unique herb that’s indigenous to Southeast Asia – and it has a spicy flavour with notes of aniseed and liquorice. Thai basil is also able to withstand higher cooking temperatures than sweet basil.
8. Not so fishy
Fish sauce, known as “nam pla” in Thai, is a vital ingredient in many Thai dishes, where it’s used to add a salty flavour, as a marinade for fish and meat, or as a condiment – with a splash of lime and some freshly chopped chilli. If you’re an amateur Thai cook, you may find the fishy smell of nam pla overpowering. If this is the case, simply add some freshly squeezed lime juice and this should help to reduce the fishiness.
9. An interesting way to snack on fruit
As a tropical country, there is an abundance of fresh fruit in Thailand – especially when it comes to mangoes, pineapples, papaya and watermelon. All over the country, vendors sell fresh fruit (often on a stick) along with a spicy mix of salt, sugar and ground chilli, which you are encouraged to dip your fruit into.
10. Durian: king of fruits
Did you know that there are over 200 known varieties of durian in Thailand? This large, thorny fruit is renowned for its pungent odour – which is difficult to describe, but has been compared to blue cheese, gym socks and onion! For this reason, there are many “no durian” signs scattered around Thailand and other parts of Asia, where many public transport providers, hotels and other facilities ban the fruit altogether.