Travel around Thailand and one would find that it is a culinary adventure of discovery. The country can be broadly divided into five main culinary regions: the north, the northeast, the south (including the Gulf of Thailand), the central plains, and of course, Bangkok.
Each of these regions has its own cooking style according to the available ingredients and local tastes. This series will give you an idea of the places you might like to visit, if ever you have a chance to visit Thailand, to taste Thai food at its source.
Today we take a culinary tour of Northern Thailand.
Surrounded by the tallest mountains in Thailand, Northern Thailand’s climate is cooler than the rest of the usually sweltering country, and thus it is a particularly popular destination around December and January. Culturally, Northern Thai food bears heavy influences from the neighbouring cultures of Myanmar and Yunnan (China).
Whether it’s at the sleepy town of Lamphun or the famed ruins of Sukhothai, the ancient origins of Thai art and culture can still be seen in this part of Thailand. The people here speak their own dialect of Thai called Kham Meaung and the hill tribes are known to speak their own languages, however standard Thai is widely understood.
Until the late 1800’s, this region of Thailand existed almost as a separate kingdom, protected by the terrain’s rivers, mountains, and trees. Within this isolation, the northern Thai people developed a distinct dialect as well as their own unique style of cooking.
Northern Thai food is somewhat different to those found in the rest of Thailand. Unlike the south, there are no coconut trees here—hence no coconut milk. Northerners prefer sticky rice over steamed rice and bitter flavours to hot ones. Sticky rice is eaten daily, not necessarily as a dessert (like in other regions), but to accompany these spicy meat dishes.
Unless it is brought in, or caught from a river, fish is not usually eaten in this landscape of hills, valleys, and farmland. Red meat of all kinds is more common here, along with various vegetable dishes (both raw and cooked). The favoured meat however, is pork- which finds its way into a variety of sausages (cooked or fermented) and whose skin is fried as the ubiquitous snack Khaep Muu.
Traditionally, eating in Northern Thailand is done on small, round tables known as “Khantoke” tables. If given the chance, do not pass on a “Khantoke” feast, you will find Northern Thai food at its best here.
A traditional snack from Thailand often sold on the street, this dish rightly translates to – “eating many things in one bite”. As its name suggests, this leap-wrapped salad snack comprised of ginger, coconut, chili, peanuts, shallots, dried shrimp, sauces, and betel leaves are meant to be eaten in one bite.
The spiciest of all Northern Thai curries, this curry is layered with flavours and is traditionally made with wild meat.
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