Thai food, like Thai culture, is product of various influences, blended to from one distinctive cuisine. Ordinary fare in Sukhothai and early Ayutthaya was simple: mainly fish or dried, mixed with rice, vegetables, a few spices, and a salty sauce made from fermented fish or shrimp. Other ingredients and flavors came through increased contact with foreign cultures, China and India in particular, and also Europe.
Today it covers a wide range of dishes, many of them regional specialties; those of the northeast, for instance, are generally regarded as the spiciest; in south seafood is plentiful and Muslim specialties appear on the menu.
Thai food that is prepared and served with enhanced elegance is often referred to as Royal Cuisine since it is supposed to have been inspired by palace chefs. Fruit and vegetables are carved into exquisite shapes, with colors and textures carefully matched, turning each dish into edible art.
A Thai meal A Thai meal, even in rather grand households, is an informal affair. Steamed rice forms the centerpiece-loose-grained in most parts of the country, glutinous in the north and northeast and the order a diner prefers. There may be many or few of these, depending on economic status, but there is usually some kind of curry, a soup and a spiced salad, along with fish sauce, Chopped chilies and other condiments, and fresh fruit as a dessert.
Noodles Originally introduced from China, noodles often take the place of rice in quick meals supplied by vendors and sidewalk food shops. They come in numerous sizes, the most common being made from rice, flour or mung beans.
Sticky rice A glutinous variety of rice, or Khao niaow, is the staple in north and northeastern Thailand, largely due to the influence of neighboring Laos. Traditionally, this is rolled into small balls with the right hand and then dipped into the various liquid dishes. Special woven bamboo baskets are used to serve the rice at tables and to carry it into the fields by working farmers.
Fish Sauce Nam pla is a pungent sauce made from fermented fish, served as a salt substitute in early Thai cooking and still an essential condiment on any table. A number of brands are available on the market, each with devoted adherents, and several coastal towns of the Gulf of Thailand are famous for the production of Sauce.
Chilies Chilies, known in Thai collectively as Prik, were introduced to Asia by the Portuguese from South America in 16th century and quickly spread so widely that their searing flavor is now basic to numerous cuisines. Thai cooking employs over forty varieties of chili, ranging from large and mild to tiny bombshells called Prik-Kee-Nu, which translates as mouse-dropping pepper on account of their shape.
Fresh Seasonings Beside chilies, a number of fresh herbs and roots are regularly used in Thai cooking. Coriander leaves and lemon grass are two of the most popular, while others include root ginger, basil, galangal, garlic and the kaffir lime (both leaves and fruit).
Dry spices Black pepper, used as a hot spice before the introduction of chilies, is still a popular dry ingredient. Among the others are crushed coriander seeds, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and sesame seeds.