Thai cuisine is well known for its spiciness, in fact, however, the secret to Thai food is a balance of five flavors: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy. Some Thai dishes have a careful blend of all these tantalizing tastes. Others are served with something to help deal with the overpowering spiciness. For example, Tom Yum Goong, which is sour and spicy, is often paired with an omelet or rice. This could be the reason rice is always part of a Thai meal. As well as many herbs and spices used in Thai food, fish sauce is often used in a similar way salt is, as it mellows the taste. This means vegetarians will have to take this into account and be more careful when choosing food in Thailand.
There is a great variety of Thai food for you to try, both main dishes and desserts. You can also try local foods, which are different in each part of the country. Northern Thai meals usually feature sticky rice, Nam Prik (spicy chili paste), fresh vegetable, and soup, northeastern Thai meals are famous for their spicy and sour dishes and an essential condiment Pla Ra (fermented fish sauce), while traditional southern foods are well-known for their herbs and spices.
Rice is the staple food for Thais, eaten with most meals, from breakfast to dessert. In fact, in the Thai language, if you say you are hungry or you want to eat you literally say “I want to eat rice.” Its should be unsurprising to learn then that Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice and that Thai rice includes more than one strain, each of which has its own characteristic and flavor. The most esteemed Thai rice is Jasmine Rice, sweet-smelling long-grain rice that is indigenous to Thailand. Served steamed, jasmine rice is the finest rice to accompany most dishes, including Thai curries.
While noodle dishes are quite common in Thailand (an influence brought by Chinese migrants) most Thai dishes are stir-fried or grilled and served with rice. Fish (blah), pork (moo), beef (neua), and chicken (gai) are all prepared in a variety of ways, though typically cut into bite-sized pieces and stir-fried with various spices, such as garlic, chili, and/or basil. Fish and chicken are frequently grilled or fried, fish typically cooked and served whole.
As Thai meals are typically served family style, with all diners sharing entrees, a Thai curry or soup is usually ordered with a meal. The consistency of each Thai curry varies widely, with some curries arguably classifiable as soups. However, most Thai curries are coconut milk-based and some are spicier than others. Gaeng Massaman, is a mild, peanut and potato curry; Gaeng Kiaw Wan (Thai green curry) is a curry of medium thickness and spiciness, while Gaeng Daeng (red curry), otherwise known as Gaeng Pet (spicy curry), is a thinner, obviously spicier option. Tom Kha, a mild coconut soup, blurs the lines between soup and curry, while Tom Yam Kung, a quintessential Thai soup, is often blisteringly hot. While Thai curries are shared and meant to be ladled over rice, soups are served communally with diners receiving small bowls to eat out of. Although some curries and soups can be served without meat for vegetarians, many Thai cooks put fish sauce in all dishes as it’s the Thai substitute for salt.
A Thai salad is often one of the spiciest Thai dishes and is frequently ordered as one of the many communal dishes in a meal. A Thai salad is generally made of raw vegetables mixed with chili, lime, and fish sauce, though some, such as Yam Neua (Thai beef salad) contain meat. The most internationally recognized Thai salad, Som Tam is technically a dish of Lao origin, and is most popular in Northeastern Thailand, where it is prepared in a manner that would wreak havoc on the stomach of an unsuspecting visitor unaccustomed to real spicy Thai food. Som Tam consists primarily of shredded papaya and is often served with grilled chicken (gai yang). Yam som-o, is a more mild salad that is based on the pommels, a fruit similar to, but less sour than, a grapefruit. Yam som-o is usually served with shredded chicken. Other salads include Yam Neua, a Thai beef salad served with tomato and onion, and Yam Wonsan, a glass noodle and shrimp salad. Technically Thai meals don’t include appetizers per se; all dishes are ordered at once and come out in random order for diners to share as they arrive.