Thai Food: One of the World’s Most Popular Cuisines
Thailand has justifiably earned an outstanding reputation for its many famous dishes. Characterized by subtle combinations of five key tastes – sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy – the vast range of dishes offer something for everyone. Far beyond the commonly recognized pad Thai that appears on many Western menus, the cuisine includes rich, distinctive meals such as gaeng keow wan gai, tom yum goong, massaman curry, pad ka prao and many more. Though the diversity makes dining out a wonderful option, those with special dietary needs or restrictions should also be aware that their choices may be more limited.
Meals as an Experience
Thais view food as much more than sustenance. Sitting down together for lunch or dinner serves as an important way to reinforce community, something we definitely support at NIST! Many Thai dishes are served in large bowls, designed to be shared, with individual plates and utensils given to each person at the table.
Most meals tend to have smaller portions than those in Western countries and often include several side dishes and a light dessert, all of which encourage a slower dining experience, and in turn more time with family and friends.
Would You Like That Spicy or Burning?
If you are adventurous and enjoy trying new foods, Thai dishes will provide almost endless variety for experimenting. However, most foreigners try to avoid the bird’s eye chili that is present in almost every item on menus, whether mixed in with other ingredients or served on the side. While the brave among us think “a little spicy” is the appropriate way to ensure that food is not completely inedible, many Thai chefs will simply interpret this as molten lava rather than blazing hellfire. (Both levels of heat parallel Thailand’s tropical weather!) The surest way to avoid burning your mouth is to ask for no chili peppers or specify that you just want one.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil…Eat No Evil?
A second concern for vegans and vegetarians is the prevalence of animal-based ingredients in a large number of Thai dishes. Oyster sauce, fish sauce and shrimp paste serve as staples in both food stalls and restaurants, and it may be difficult in some cases to request vegetarian versions in English. While meat does play a large part in Thai cuisine, a burgeoning vegan movement has taken place in Bangkok over the past several years, and a simple Google search will provide many potential options.
Learn to Cook Thai Dishes
If you want to get a taste for authentic Thai food before arriving in the country, why not try it at home? YouTuber Mark Wiens, a well-known foodie in Bangkok, maintains a wonderful website dedicated to Thai cuisine: Eating Thai Food. In addition to his blog and videos, he provides several authentic recipes, including some of Thailand’s most popular dishes.
One of the most common Thai dishes, pad krapao typically features chicken or pork stir fried with chili peppers, garlic, basil and other seasoning. This version of the recipe contains chicken and is topped with a fried egg.
A complex blend of salty, spicy, sweet and sour, som tam is a very popular salad made from unripe papaya along with fish sauce, chili and lime. A large number of varieties are available, each with its own distinctive blend of ingredients.
Often topping lists of the most popular soups in the world, tom yum is most commonly prepared with shrimp, but also has variations with chicken or pork. The famous hot and sour taste results from lemongrass, chili and kaffir lime leaves.