Beginner’s Guide to Thai Cuisine: Discover the Flavors of Thailand (2024)
Is it your first visit to Thailand? Well, an introduction to Thai Food is a must for you, and here are all the details.
The enchanting world of Thai cuisine boasts different flavours, combining a symphony of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes on your palate. The local Thai food is known for its diverse offerings reflecting the nation’s rich tapestry. Thai culinary artistry blends seamlessly with indigenous ingredients and techniques passed down through generations. With the meticulous balance of colours and textures with hints of aromatic herbs and spices, Thai culinary craftsmanship is truly unique.
Join us on a journey through the basics of Thai Food in Thailand. If you are for a first-time adventure, here’s all you need to know about Thai Food as a Beginner.
Common Ingredients in Thai Cuisine
Thai cuisine captivates different pallets with its blend of distinctive ingredients. Here are some of the common ingredients used in Thai Cuisine:
- Lemongrass: This citrusy herb adds a zesty kick.
- Galangal: Also known as Thai ginger or Siamese ginger, galangal infuses a peppery warmth.
- Kaffir lime: These aromatic leaves contribute to the freshness of taste.
- Thai basil: It imparts a sweet anise-like flavour.
- Fish sauce: This ubiquitous umami-rich condiment is known for harmonizing flavours.
- Coconut milk: It adds creaminess and richness to the texture.
- Chilli peppers: They bring the heat, striking a perfect balance with the sweetness of palm sugar.
Essential Thai Cooking Techniques
Thai cooking is a blend of simple yet impactful culinary techniques. Here are some of the common Thai cooking techniques you might want to know as a beginner:
- Stir-frying swiftly locks in flavors, while grilling imparts a smoky depth.
- Boiling and steaming preserves natural goodness in both veg and non-veg flavours.
- Thai cooking heavily involves the method of blanching to maintain vibrant colours.
- Like many other Asian cooking forms, Thai cooking techniques also involve the usage of iconic mortar and pestle.
- Finally, what adds the finest touch is the aromatic pounding of herbs and spices.
Famous Thai Dishes for Beginners
Some of the famous, must-try Thai dishes for Beginners include the following.
- Pad Thai: This quintessential Thai noodle dish perfectly balances sweet, sour, and salty flavours. Pad Thai is stir-fried rice noodles flavoured with shrimp/chicken/ tofu, crushed peanuts, and a dash of lime.
- Tom Yum: This hot and sour soup tantalizes the palate with a medley of flavours. The soup base consists of options like shrimp/chicken and flavours including lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and chilli.
- Gaeng Keow Wan: This fragrant and mildly spicy curry is known for its vibrant green hue. The luscious base is made with tender meat, coconut milk, and hints of Thai basil and green chillies for that added flavour.
- Som Tum: This refreshing salad is perhaps one of the must-try dishes in Thailand for beginners. The combination of shredded green papaya, cherry tomatoes, green beans, peanuts, and chilli with a mix of lime juice, fish sauce, and palm sugar makes a sweet and savoury combination.
- Massaman Curry: This rich and aromatic curry has influences of Persian and Indian flavours. The slow-cooked tender meat blends with potatoes, peanuts, and spices, bringing out a complex yet comforting flavour.
- Pad See Ew: These stir-fried wide rice noodles with a sweet and savoury soy-based sauce often include broccoli, Chinese broccoli, or other greens, along with meat/ tofu.
Local Street Food Explained
When in Thailand, never miss a chance to try the local street food. It will not only send you on a gastronomical experience but will also take you closer to the local culture. Here are some of the must-try Thai local street food for beginners:
- Satay: These flavourful skewers of marinated and grilled meat are served with a peanut sauce for dipping.
- Moo Ping: This popular street food option is a local favourite. The skewers feature grilled marinated pork with a perfect blend of sweet and savoury.
- Kai Jeow: This quick and satisfying snack is a flavorful delight, an omelette blend of eggs, fish sauce, and minced meat/ seafood.
- Khanom Krok: These sweet and savoury coconut rice pancakes are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. This Thai street food is a must-try, especially for the delightful contrast of textures.
- Pad Kra Pao Moo: It is stir-fried minced pork with Thai basil and chillies. The dry base is served over rice and is often enjoyed as a meal.
- Roti Gluay: This sweet treat includes thin pancakes filled with bananas, chocolate, and condensed milk. Roti Gluay is perfect for satisfying sweet cravings on the go.
Dining Etiquette in Thailand
If you are going to enjoy Thai cuisine in a traditional setup for the first time, here are a few Thai dining etiquettes you can learn:
- Begin with a slight bow and a wai (pressing palms together) as a sign of respect.
- Remove shoes before entering someone’s home or certain traditional establishments.
- Elders or guests of honour are often seated at the highest place of the table and thus wait to be directed.
- Forks are used to push food onto spoons, not for cutting. Knives are typically not used at the table.
- It’s common to share multiple dishes, so try a bit of everything.
- Show deference to elders by letting them start the meal and not beginning until they do.
- If you’re not accustomed to spicy food, politely request milder options, as most Thai food can be highly spicy.
- Once done with the meal, say “arroy mak” (very delicious) to express appreciation.
- Leaving a small amount of food on your plate signifies that you’re full and satisfied.
- Tipping is not common in Thailand, but it’s appreciated, especially in tourist areas.
Diverse Flavors Across Thai Regions
Thai cuisine is truly diverse, and there are different flavours in every section of the country. For instance:
Northern Thailand: This region is known for Khao Soi, a coconut curry noodle soup. Sai Oua is another popular option for flavorful herb-infused sausages here.
Isaan (Northeastern) Cuisine: Som Tum (papaya salad) and Larb (minced meat salad) are common dishes of this region, displaying bold and spicy flavours.
Central Thailand: The heart of Thailand is popular for Pad Thai and Tom Yum Goong, both dishes balancing sweet, sour, and spicy notes.
Southern Thailand: The southern part of the country is popular for fiery curries like Massaman and Gaeng Som. Both these curries are influenced by Malay and Indian flavours.
Eastern Thailand: The eastern part of Thailand is popular for its seafood, especially dishes like Pla Kapong Neung Manao (steamed sea bass with lime).
Bangkok: The national capital is a melting pot of regional influences, offering diverse street food and upscale dining.
Phuket: This tourism hub features distinct dishes such as Mee Hokkien (Phuket-style noodles) and Gaeng Poo Phuket (crab curry).
Chiang Mai: This part of Thailand is famous for unique dishes like Khao Ram Feun, a soup with noodles and vegetables, and Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiao, a spicy noodle soup.
Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Although Thailand is often misunderstood for serving only animal-based options, contrary to that, Thailand has enough vegetarian and vegan food options. Here are some of the must-try vegetarian and vegan food in Thailand:
- Pad Thai Jay: It is a vegetarian version of the classic Pad Thai, and instead of meat, it features tofu or vegetables.
- Tom Yum Hed: This vegetarian twist on Tom Yum soup, using mushrooms for a flavorful and hearty broth, is a must-try.
- Green Curry Jay: This delightful Green Curry with vegetables, tofu, or plant-based protein, is truly rich in flavours.
- Som Tum Thai Jay: This vegetarian version of the spicy and tangy green papaya salad is a must-try.
- Pad Kra Pao Jay: This combination of stir-fried basil with tofu or vegetables offers a spicy and aromatic alternative.
- Khao Soi Jay: This Northern Thai coconut curry noodle soup is prepared using tofu or plant-based protein.
- Gang Keow Wan Jay: This plant-based Green Curry, featuring a medley of vegetables and tofu in a coconut milk base.
- Vegetarian Spring Rolls: Do not overlook the crispy spring rolls filled with vegetables, vermicelli noodles, and sometimes tofu. It is often served with a sweet dipping sauce.
Popular Thai Desserts
To complete your meal, try these popular Thai desserts:
- Khao Niew Mamuang: This Mango Sticky Rice is a classic Thai dessert made with sweet sticky rice topped with ripe mango slices and drizzled with coconut milk.
- Khao Mak: This Sticky Tamarind Rice is a rice mix with tamarind paste, sugar, and sesame seeds, creating a sweet and tangy treat.
- I-Tim Kati: This Coconut Ice Cream is a must-try. This creamy coconut milk-based ice cream is often served in coconut shells with various toppings.
- Tub Tim Grob: This dessert translates to crispy rubies and consists of water chestnuts coated in tapioca flour, resembling bright red jewels in coconut milk.
- Khanom Chan: This layered Thai jelly dessert is beautifully coloured and often infused with pandan flavour.
- Thong Yip: This golden egg yolk thread cooked in a sweet syrup creates delicate and intricate golden nests.