Thai food varies from barbeque to stir fried to spicy soups to "salads" that can melt your teeth. And each region has its own variations. Rice porridge (Joke), makes a great hot breakfast and a bowl of noodles (Guai Tiew) along the sidewalk is a great late night snack.
Thai food is one of the world's greatest cuisines, so freshness and variety is always standard. The early morning markets are a perfect way to start the day, with such a vast array of fresh produce on offer. Meats most common in Thai food are chicken, pork and beef, as well as fresh and salt-water fish, including prawn and other shellfish.
Just because it is Thai, it doesn't mean that it's spicy. Flavourful does not necessarily mean heat either. Learning to say "mai ow ped" (I don't want it spicy) or "ped, nid noi" (just a small amount of spiciness) will allow you to find you level of culinary comfort. And even if you get more chillies than you bargained for, the burn doesn't last too long (it's really strange that even when it's really spicy and we burn ourselves, we go back for more!). Thai chillies in fish sauce are often served on the side, you just add a little to your taste.
Rice (Khao) is the staple diet of Thai people, and Thai Jasmine rice is one of the most famous rice in the world, well-known by its fragrance, it's served with virtually all meals.
Sticky or glutinous rice (Khao Neow) is often served with barbequed foods such as chicken, pork, sausage and even the nationally loved "Som Tam" (Spicy papaya salad).
Noodles : Vermicelli, rice or egg noodles are normally stir-fried or cooked in a soup and sometimes added to salads.Pad Thai, it is time to explore the never-ending possibilities of Thai cuisine.
When asked what they like most about Thailand, visitors often answer 'the food'. The creation of Thai food is a masterful mix of salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter. The spice factor, often too much for most westerners, is used for medicinal purposes, combined with the use of market fresh vegetables and local herbs for bursting flavours and the prevention of common ailments. Thai food is both delicious and very nutritious, it is usually low in fat and high in fibre.
But it is not only the unique and pleasantly pungent tastes that visitors love, the cost of eating in Thailand is as satisfying as the pleasure experienced by the palate. One of Thailand's major industries is agriculture. Grains, meats, vegetables and most importantly rice are all locally produced at minimal cost. The country also has rich waters filled with fresh and sea water creatures, which are shipped across the land, making seafood and fish dishes some of the most popular choices. Add to this the natural innovation and long standing techniques used by Thais in food preparation and there are few who visit who cannot be satisfied.
Passing through different regions of Thailand, you may notice that the dialect and sound of the language changes abruptly. When you think you have learned how to say Sawaddee Ka in exactly the right tone, you move to another place and find that they have a completely different method of utterance. The same goes for the food. There are four main regions offering cuisine adventurers a unique experience.
Food in the northeast is influenced by neighbouring Laos. Dishes are highly seasoned and among the most popular specialities are Larb, a spicy, seasoned salad made with pork or chicken; Somtam, spicy papaya salad, and Gai Yang, barbequed chicken. All are served with glutinous rice, a northern favourite widely known as sticky rice, or Khao Neow.
Burmese influences have bearings on the dishes of the Central Northern regions. Northern cooks generally are less heavy handed with the chilli and the use of ginger, tamarind and turmeric is common. Khao Soi, a curry with egg noodles and pickled cabbage, is only found in the North and should be number one on any visitor's list of dishes to try. Tourists to the North should not miss the opportunity to dine at a traditional Khantoke dinner, combining the best of Northern specialities and traditional performances in a reconstructed wooden palace.
Throughout the Central plains of Thailand, the food combines mixes from all regions, and many Chinese-Thai fusions are common characteristics. The South is the place to get down to spicy treats. Chilli-filled soups and curries are common dishes and fresh seafood is abundant. Influences are also found in dishes taken from Indonesia, such as chicken kebabs with peanut sauce (Gai Satae), an international favourite, and rich curries such as Kaeng Masaman from Malaysia.
Eating in Thailand is very much a family affair. It is often thought of as odd to see someone eating alone and most Thais will wait to the point of starvation until they find a dining partner. A typical meal will include a soup, fried fish, spicy salad known as Yum, a curry dish and a dip with vegetables. Each member of the party will be served a bowl of rice and can take a bite from the main dishes in the centre of the table. Meals are eaten with a spoon and fork, while chopsticks are generally only used for noodle soups or Chinese food.
Thai 'fast food' is known as such, not because of its enticing greasiness or fat content as with the Western equivalent, but instead as a range of dishes that can be cooked up in a matter of minutes. These dishes such as Pad Thai, or fried noodles, Khao Pad, or fried rice, or Pad Krapao, or fried basil with pork or chicken, are commonly ordered as a quick lunch, breakfast or evening meal, and often served with a fried egg plonked on top.
There are few countries that can offer such a range of fruits like Thailand. Its tropical climate and heavy rains in monsoon season mean that fruit is everywhere. The diversity of delicious fruity sweetness to be found is so vast and the cost so little, some health conscientious rebels decide to diet solely on fruit as an internal body cleansing exercise. From the vibrant pinks of the dragon fruit to the prickly looking shells of the rambutan, photo opportunities are an added bonus to the already particular delight of fruit shopping in Thailand.
Thai desserts, in general, use five base ingredients: coconut cream, coconut flesh, rice flour, palm sugar and eggs. Among the favourites are Tong Yip, a sweet egg yolk cup; Foi Tong, shredded, sweetened egg yolk, and Ta Ko, a jelly served with creamy coconut.
Those interested in more than just sampling the food fare on offer while travelling in Thailand will be pleased to know that in any mildly touristy area you are sure to find a local cooking school. Courses include trips to local markets, ingredient preparation, cooking and best of all, an eating party after all the hard work.
One thing to always remember is that all Thai food is delicious and meant to thoroughly enjoy.
Tourist restaurants will often serve up a spineless, tasteless version of what should be a full flavour feast, and without anyone to tell you the food is less than genuine; a visitor's introduction to Thai food is often tainted by these 'farang-ised' Thai dishes. Once you have had enough of yet another overly sweet, messy slop of