If there is one thing that you must experience when traveling to Thailand, it is their array of delicious traditional foods, which differ immensely from many western delicacies. Thailand food doesn’t just differ in taste or ingredients but the experience of eating in Thailand is something completely new and exciting, from the way that food is served to the way that it should be eaten. Thai culture uses food to bring people together so many of the country’s delicacies are made with family banquets and feasts in mind. Understanding the culture and context of the food often makes eating it a whole lot more exciting. This article will teach you 10 interesting facts about Thailand food that will make you look at this Asian cuisine in a whole new light!
What are the most popular Thai foods?
Before we delve into the facts, it is helpful to know exactly what kind of foods you may encounter on your travels through Thailand. Like many other Asian cultures, Thai cooking involves a lot of flavors that are sourced from herbs and spices. Many of the most popular dishes take the form of soups, noodle dishes, or salad and all have a slight kick.
Tom Yum Goong(Thai soup)
Tom Yum Goong is a spicy shrimp soup that is a quintessential part of Thai cuisine. This is a refreshing dish that contains flavours of lemongrass, chili, lime leaves, lime juice, and shallots which give it a herbal kick. Like many other Thai dishes, this one is certainly spicy!
Tom Kha Kai
Tom Kha Kai is a delicious chicken and coconut soup that has become a staple in the country. As with many of the other popular Thai dishes, this one has a strong herbal taste and a spicy blow. You will be pleasantly surprised by its sweet-smelling odor and creamy texture.
This is a dish that everyone will experience, whether they travel to Thailand or not! While Pad Thai may now be popular in western cultures, the dish originated in Thailand, where it will be very different from any of the western variations that you may have tried before. Pad Thai is essentially fried noodles that are mixed with bean sprouts, egg, and onion. In Thailand, you will be given a simple dish along with various condiments that you can use to add more flavor to your meal.
10 interesting facts about Thai food
Dishes will vary in every region!
While you may stumble across a few staple dishes in Thailand, such as Pad Thai, papaya salad and green curry, every region of the country will also bring something slightly different to the table. For dishes that are strictly regional, you will have a hard time finding them at any other location in the country.
In the North of Thailand, you will find Northern Thai curry and Khao soi, which is the most eaten dish in the Lanna region of Northern Thailand. You may fall in love with these dishes and then never find them again once you leave the Northern part of Thailand.
Sugar is a key ingredient
While we westerners may find ourselves actively cutting out sugar from our diets, it remains a vital ingredient in many of the most popular Thai meals. A key part of all Thai cuisine is the beautiful blend between sweet, sour, and salty, and sugar plays an important role in this!
If you are ever lucky enough to watch Thai food being prepared in a kitchen, don’t be surprised if the chefs add a few spoonfuls of sugar into whatever dish it is that they are rustling up. If this doesn’t appeal to you, you can ask for the sweetness to be toned down a little to suit your individual taste buds.
Thai people don’t (always) use chopsticks!
Contrary to popular belief, native Thai people do not use chopsticks to eat their food. The only time that you may see the odd chopstick being used is when people are eating noodle dishes, but the sticks are never used to eat rice. Instead, Thai people will use a fork and a spoon. To eat, people will use their forks to push food onto their spoons and then eat with the spoon (the fork is only used for eating foods that are not eaten with the rice).
Seniority is important
If you are familiar with Asian culture, it will come as no surprise to you that seniority, age, and status are incredibly important, especially at meal times! This means that the most senior person present will choose their seat first and will start eating first. They will often give a signal which allows others to start eating after them. If no signal is given, it is polite to wait for the most senior member to begin eating before you tuck in yourself!
Cold desserts are rare
Up until recently, many people in Thailand did not have refrigerators and those who did were met with huge costs of Thai electricity. To keep these costs down and to make do with more limited kitchens, most traditional Thai desserts are made fresh each day and are not chilled or frozen.
Most of the sweet treats on offer for dessert in Thailand are made with fairly simple ingredients, such as palm sugar, sweetened coconut milk, nuts, and fruits. Many desserts will combine sweet and salty flavors and you may find a few surprising toppings (such as sweetcorn) on the dessert menu too!
If you are craving something cold, you may be able to get your hands on some creamy coconut ice cream.
When eating out, or even eating in the home, Thai people tend to order (or make) enough dishes for every person present but will share all dishes with everybody. This is because in Thailand it is considered bad luck to eat alone. Every member of the group is able to tuck into every dish, which makes eating a sociable and communal experience.
You may also notice that eating out is very common for many Thai people, especially those who live in big cities like Bangkok. This is because most Thai kitchens are small and some homes may not even have a kitchen. Instead, locals dine in restaurants and buy street food throughout the day.
Basil with a twist!
The idea of using basil in food is no alien thing to us western folk however, in Thailand the basil that they use to cook with is something entirely different from the well-known Mediterranean herb that you may add to your pasta! In Thai cooking, the basil that is used can only be found in Southeast Asia and is known for its spicy flavor.
You may find ice in your beer
You read that right! If you ask for a beer in Thailand, do not be surprised if you get yours served with ice. While this may not be common in many other countries, the heat in Thailand makes this a fairly understandable food habit. With such high temperatures, adding ice to your beer can make the experience even more refreshing and is a great way to cool down.
Fruit is everywhere
Thailand is located in a tropical climate which makes it a fertile ground for a large array of exotic fruits, vegetables, and salads. You will notice that many of the dishes available will contain some variety of fruit or veg and that many street sellers will sell fresh fruit every single day. With such an abundance of sweet fruits available, it is very affordable and a staple for local people.
Not just salt and pepper…
In western culture, it is common to find two shakers, of salt and pepper, displayed on restaurant tables. In Thailand, salt and pepper are replaced with four jars that contain popular toppings to be put onto food. The four jars will contain dried chilies, chili in lemon juice, salty fish sauce, and crushed peanuts. It is common for Thai people to put all four toppings onto their meals.
…And no meal without rice
Yes, that’s true! You won’t find anyone eating a meal without rice in Thailand.
Eating out in Thailand is an experience like no other! Like many other aspects of Thai culture, dining is a heavily communal activity and most ingredients are sourced locally, taking inspiration from exotic fruits and native herbs. To fully experience the culture, try eating with a fork and spoon and choose dishes that are regional.
Common Questions from Travelers
What is the most popular dish in Thailand?
Pad Thai is a staple that you will find in most regions of the country. Many native people also enjoy tucking into papaya salad and green curry.
What do Thai people eat for breakfast?
In Thailand, breakfast consists of savory foods that largely resemble a western lunch. Common Thai breakfast menus could include grilled meats, omelet, and rice, Dim Sum, and roti.
What is Thai food known for?
Thai food is known for its spice and fresh ingredients. Many of the dishes traditional to Thailand use native fruits and herbs that cannot be found in many other areas of the world. Thai food is also known for combining sweet, salty, and sour flavors.
What is the most important thing to remember about Thai food?
As food is such a large part of Thai culture, it is important to appreciate its unique smells, tastes, and lightness before tucking into a meal. Herbs used in Thailand for cooking are largely different from western herbs and may take some time to get used to it!
Love Thai food? You should read this – Top Thai Food Dishes You Can’t Resist