About Thai Food
Thai food is known for its five fundamental taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and (optional) bitter.
Thai food varies as you travel to the different regions of the country. There are four main regions in Thailand: Northern, Northeastern (or Issan), Central, and Southern. The variations of food are influenced by the neighboring countries. For instance, Northeastern (or Issan) Thailand is heavily influenced by Lao dishes, which includes more fish and is much more spicy than southern Thai food.
Thai people eat their food with a fork and a spoon, mostly with the spoon in the right hand and the fork in the left hand and is used to push food onto the spoon. Knives are not needed as most Thai food is served already cut into spoon size pieces.
Thai food may include two different types of rice served with every meal: steamed rice and sticky rice. Sticky rice is used much like other cuisine’s use bread. Mostly in the North and Northeast, sticky rice is pulled from a container with your fingers, shaped into a ball, then dipped into sauces, or used to pick up a piece of meat or vegetable. Steamed rice is usually served separately, then you can add portions of other dishes to a spoon of rice while eating.
Thai food is served “family style”, which means it will be in bowls in the middle of the eating area, and you take small amounts of each dish as you eat. You should not transfer a large amount of the food onto your own plate as we do in the west. This is considered a hoarding or a selfish act.
Ingredients for the Various sauces include fish sauce, lime juice, chopped red chilies, dried chili, sliced green chili peppers, chili sauce, garlic, and sugar. It is typical that a tray of sauces be included with every meal so you can add whatever spices or sauces that fit your taste. Be careful, if you don’t like spicy hot food, you probably should avoid adding any additions spices or sauces.
Thai dishes frequently include noodles. Noodles are made from either rice flour, wheat flour, or bean flour. They come in several types including small round thin clear noodles, round noodles, or wide flat noodles. The noodles can be stir-fried or boiled.
Fruits, herbs, and vegetables are also included in many Thai dishes. Many of the herbs and vegetables are unique to Thailand.
- Some herbs include, kafir lime, Thai lime, garlic, lemon grass, basil, cilantro, culantro, spearment, and peppercorns.
- Typical vegetables are eggplant, broccoli, various cabbages, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushroom, squash, and a white jelly fungus.
- Fruit is often included with many meals and dishes. Fruits include papaya, mango, pineapple, jackfruit; and more native fruits such as langsat, longan, rose apples, and durian. Durian is a special fruit which is banned from many hotels due to its bad smell.
Thai people eat the same types of dishes for every meal. Unlike western diets which include different types of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A typical Thai family meal will consist of a large bowl of steamed rice with many different dishes.
Where to Eat
As far as restaurant recommendations, see the Must See and Do page for each City listed. You will see many national brands in the major city’s, such as, Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) which is by far the most common western fast food place, Pizza Hut, Subway Sandwiches, Dairy Queen – I see more Dairy Queens in Thailand than I do in the US, A&W Rootbeer, Sizzler, and Starbucks are all over the place. There is a Hard Rock cafe in Bangkok and Pattaya. Most of these places have menus customized for the Thai palate, so if you get tired of eating Thai food, and need to get back to your roots, go ahead and grab a burger at Burger King or McDonald’s.
Generally, you should avoid the “street” food vendors. Most of them serve very tasty food for a very low price. However, the local Thai people know which vendors to eat from to avoid getting sick. The pre-cooked food sitting on their carts may have been there for awhile with flies and other insects eating their share. So if you do choose to buy food from a street vendor, make sure the food is freshly cooked while you wait. Also, when you are at the beach, there will be many people walk by selling food, do not eat food from these vendors. This food has been sitting on a platter in the sun for several hours.
Fruit from a street vendor can be safe. If the fruit is sitting in a bunch of ice and looks fresh, then go for it. I generally ask them to cut up a fresh piece rather than buy one already cut up.
The best option is to eat at an established restaurant. Most restaurants have most of their dishes listed as pictures, this is nice considering all the different languages that come in to eat. You can decide what you want, and if your Thai isn’t too proficient, then point at the picture to order. In Thailand, it is considered rude to bring you the bill until you ask for it. So, when you are ready to go, get the attention of a server, and raise your hand making a writing motion in the air, this tells them you are ready for your bill. Some restaurants include a 10% service charge in addition to the 7% VAT, so look carefully at the bill so you know if you should add the 10% tip or not.
What to Eat
When in Thailand, eat as the Thai’s do. The Thai restaurants located in western countries are usually not very authentic Thai. Most of the Thai restaurants in California have Mexicans as cooks. So is it Thai food, or Mex/Thai food. So dive in and order a Pad Thai and enjoy the authentic tastes. Enjoy a bowl of rice soup with pork for breakfast, ask them to add an egg for a little more protein.
I recommend you avoid the western menu items listed as they do not taste anything like what you are used to and you will be disappointed. For instance, spaghetti with sauce is usually not that good, and hamburgers are too Thai style, etc. There are only a couple of places that can make a good steak, since the beef in Thailand do not make very good steaks. So you need to find a place that is cooking imported Australian beef. And if you get a craving for a good hamburger, go to Sizzler or The Hard Rock Cafe.
When you order steamed, fried, or barbecued fish, it will be delivered as a whole fish on a plate for you to eat. Ignore the head and tail and peel off the meat from the bones and enjoy the tasty treat. Other common items on a Thai menu include Fish Head soup, Fish Lung and /or stomach soup, etc. Nothing is wasted from the animals in Thailand. So if you are not sure about what ingredients are in a dish, ask first, or go ahead and order, then don’t look too closely at what you are eating.
Most restaurants have an “American Breakfast” on their menu. This is a cookie cutter meal that someone came up with and they all serve the same thing. Two eggs, toast, sausage or bacon, orange juice and coffee. Sound good, right? Well, the sausage is a hot dog, the bacon is under cooked, the orange juice tastes like Tang, but the coffee and eggs are good. Check out my restaurant recommendations for a good breakfast in Thailand.
Here are some great resources to help you learn to cook Thai food
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