Home to pristine beaches and popular tourist attractions like the Ko Phi Phi Islands, Phuket, and Krabi, the southern Thailand region stretches from just south of Bangkok down to the Malaysian border.
The central area that bridges the Malay Peninsula to the Gulf of Thailand first entered Thai history when it came under the sway of the Sukhothai kingdom around the beginning of the 14th century.
While ninety percent of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, the population of many of the Southern provinces are predominantly Muslim, whose ancestors immigrated into the area from the Indian subcontinent over the past two millennia. Therefore, of all the regions, the food here bears a close similarity to Indian cuisine. Unlike mainstream Thai curries, in which herbs and pungent roots are the primary ingredients, many Muslim-influenced Southern curries are characterized by the roasted fragrance of dry spices that are more familiar in Indian cooking.
Southern Thailand’s proximity to the Gulf of Thailand means that seafood plays a huge role in the cuisine, including prawns, crabs, oysters, squid, and mackerel. Whatever can’t be eaten immediately is dried in the hot sun – shrimp paste produced by this method is the cornerstone of most Southern relishes.
Southern food is regarded as Thailand’s spiciest; the flavour profile is primarily hot, sour, and salty. Coconut oil and milk are used heavily in curries, as are fresh herbs and fish. The coastal area on the eastern, gulf side is known for fishing as well as the large-scale production of Fish Sauce, one of the most important ingredients in Thai cooking.
It is also a common practice in Southern restaurants to have a large platter of vegetables (fresh, pickled, and cooked in coconut milk), aromatic and pungent herbs, and the astringent and bitter leaves, flower buds and seeds of large edible trees placed on each table as part of the table setting. These vegetables are free of charge and make good accompaniments to many of the pungent and spicy sauces used in Southern dishes.
Desserts consist mainly of fresh tropical fruit, such as mango, pineapple, mangosteen, papaya, and many others.
Take a look at some of our traditional southern Thai recipes that include milder coconut-milk based curries popularly associated with Thailand:
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