Travelling in Thailand is a culinary adventure of discovery. The country can be broadly divided into five main culinary regions: the north, the north-east, the south (including the Gulf of Thailand), the central plains, and Bangkok.
Each of these regions has its own cooking style according to the available ingredients and local tastes. This series will give you a clue about the places you might like to see, if ever you get a chance to visit Thailand, to taste Thai food at its magnificent source.
Thailand’s location, central to numerous trade routes, lent itself well to a conglomeration of ingredients and techniques from all over the world. Stir-frying and steaming were adopted from China, curries from India, and braising from Myanmar and Cambodia.
The cuisine of this region is predominantly hot and salty. Due to its temperate climate, it’s not quite hot enough for coconuts to thrive, so dishes generally tend to be moistened with water or broth. Heavy forestation means there’s an abundance of fuel for cooking, so grilling is popular, as are long-cooking and braising; the forest also provides a number of bitter herbs, lending the cuisine a slightly astringent profile. Pork is popular both as a meat and as a cooking medium; frying in pork fat is common in Northern Thailand.
In contrast to the Northern region, this region has far less wood for cooking, so the cuisine comprises of more cured and raw food. The region, Thailand’s poorest, has struggled with farming and the effects of deforestation and the cuisine have thus adapted to reflect this. This means that dishes tend to be extremely hot and pungent, and so less of them are needed to flavour their accompanying rice. Grilling and boiling are the predominant methods of cooking here. Soups made of preserved fish are common as well.
Its proximity to the Gulf of Thailand means that seafood plays a huge role in the region’s cuisine, including prawns, crabs, oysters, squid, and mackerel. Southern food is 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 food here is probably the most familiar to Westerners, as most Thai restaurants abroad serve primarily central plain-style food. The flavours here tend to be highly complex and layered, with the dominating flavours being hot and salty. The primary meats are chicken, duck. and pork; prawns and freshwater fish are readily available as well. The Chinese influence means lots of stir-fries and noodle dishes; and the curries you often see in almost every Thai restaurant (red, green, and massaman) originate from the fried curries of the central plains.
It’s often said that Bangkok has more food establishments per square mile than anywhere else on earth. And if you’ve visited Bangkok before, you would agree without a second thought. Dubbed the food capital of the world, this capital city seems to revolve around food. You’ll find indoor and outdoor eateries everywhere, selling delicious snacks such as satay sticks, spring rolls, fish cakes, and a whole lot more. The smell of food is omnipresent in this sprawling metropolis.
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