Perhaps the greatest influence since then has been from the Chinese who introduced frying, stir frying and deep frying. Later influences came from India, French, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese. Indeed the Portuguese missionaries of the 1600s are responsible for introducing chillies.
The Thais adapted many foreign recipes to suit their own such as replacing ghee with coconut oil and coconut milk used to substitute other ingredients. Gradually fewer and fewer of the hot spices were replaced by more fresh herbs. The Northern region of Lanna has largely maintained the use of spices and is recognised as having some of the hotter dishes in Thailand.
Often a Thai meal will consist of a variety of dishes served together and the assorted tastes shared by the participants.
Thailand is a diverse country made up of a variety of regions and each maintains some distinct features in their cuisine. It was only in the 1920s with the birth of the railway system that travel between the regions became possible other than by tortuous elephant treks so these distinctions remained ingrained in the local culture until relatively recent times.
Northern Thailand Food
This is a mountainous region and retained its own culture traditions and even language as well as its own architecture and food.
There are a large variety of vegetables due to the cooler air up in the mountains and the abundance of water also meant that the Lanna people were able to grow many root vegetables are found here that are not generally available throughout Thailand. The Kaeng ho soups are an example and the influence of neighbouring Myanmar brought Kao Soi curry with egg noodles and the spicy somtam green papaya salad popular in the northeast is also a big favourite here. You will also find unique spicy northern Lanna style sausages which are a big favourite amongst visiting Thais from other regions. The north is dominated by noodle dishes and the rice favourite is glutinous ‘sticky’rice rolled into balls and dipped rather than Kow suay found elsewhere. Plenty of fish is included in the diet and the mighty Mekong offers the giant catfish pla beuk is a delicacy.
Central Thailand Food
Central Thailand is a large delta with the many rivers from the north making their way to the sea. The flat land has been irrigated over centuries and some of the finest rice in the world is grown in the paddy fields of the region. The hom mali and jasmine rices are a large part of the diet and they are eaten with 3 main curries: green curry kaeng phet and kaeng phanaeng.
The famous hot and spicy tom yam soup comes from here and the creamy coconut based kha kai.
The Chinese influence is also strong here with the use of tofu and noodles. As you travel around this central region you will discover other local specialities throughout. Indeed eating anywhere in Thailand is a culinary delight as there is such a variety of taste and texture combinations.
North-Eastern Thailand Food
This area is known as Isan and is influenced more by the Laos, Cambodian and Vietnamese traditions than by the central part of Thailand. Perhaps because the terrain is not as well fed by rivers and there is more of a lack of ingredients there is more use of chillies in the region.
Somtam, the spicy green papaya salad is an art form here. Watch out some of these are truly powerful laced with hot chillies. The glutinous rice is preferred and is a useful addition to a meal of somtam.
The local soups include lemongrass, spring onions, galangal, chilli and kafir lime leaves with a variety of beef tripe, liver chicken and tamarind being added. As with the North of Thailand the northeast enjoys the giant Mekong catfish which can be caught at limited times of the year most notably in May.
Southern Thailand Food
Southern Thailand with its vast coastline is quite different from the rest of Thailand and the culinary delights are influenced by this. Extensive coconut plantations mean that there is an abundance of this versatile fruit and so it is used in many dishes to thicken soups and its oil used for frying.
Cashew nuts and pineapples are added and the abundant harvests from the sea are other influences in the many curries that are a part of southern dining.
The influence of Malaysia can be seen in the roti pancakes often served with honey and bananas as well as a variety of noodle dishes.
All in all Thailand food is characterised by huge variety carefully blended together. Food here should be as pleasant to the eye as the tongue and stomach and anywhere in Thailand you will find a great deal of time and energy goes into preparing and consuming food. One of the most common greetings is kin kow reu yang?…have you eaten? The conversation will often continue with inquiries into what you ate and what foods are good for you and for whatever illnesses you might have or wish to avoid. In Thailand food is a very important part of the culture and the character of the Thai peoples.