Thai food is one of the most beloved cuisines worldwide thanks to its perfect balance of flavors, which is often very spicy. But have you ever wondered why Thai dishes are so popular or how they originated? Although considered Asian cuisine, Thai food is actually the combination of both Eastern and Western influences, creating a perfect balance of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy flavors that all work in harmony to make each dish as delicious as possible. Like any other cuisine across the globe, Thai food can vary depending on the region of Thailand or where the dish originates (including south, north, northeast and central regions).
The northern region of Thailand features cuisine that’s very mild since it has a lot of Chinese and Burmese influences, whereas further down south, it’s very spicy! The southwestern part of the country usually has a lot of coconut in their dishes, more than other parts of Thailand. These dishes also have many similarities with the Javan and Malay cuisine dishes.
Historically, herbs, plants, and seafood were all popular ingredients in Thai meals, with meat usually avoided due to the country’s Buddhist religion. Instead, only small strips of meat were used and flavored with various spices and herbs. The meat was also either roasted or cooked and then shredded into smaller pieces for consumption. Thais who followed the Buddhist religion would shun the use of using large animals in meals, especially in large chunks.
Traditionally, Thai food was usually made via baking, grilling or stewing. But now, popular food techniques include frying, deep-frying and stir-frying, thanks to the ancient Chinese migrants that nestled in the region more than 1,400 years ago. To this day, fried noodles and fried rice are staples in Thai dishes. Other culinary influences for Thai food involved those from Dutch French, Portuguese and Japanese cultures. However, there are also influences of Persian and Arabian cultures given Thailand was a crossroads of East to West sea routes. All these influences are what make Thai food so unique and different from other cuisines on the planet.
This is especially true of Portuguese influences, which is why chili is often a staple in Thai food and a reason for their fondness of spicy foods! Portuguese missionaries, who had liked the fiery taste that came from South America, initially introduced chilies to Thailand in the late 1600s.
The Importance Of Fresh Herbs And Spices To Thai Food
One of the most important staples of Thai food is the use of fresh herbs and spices. In fact, it’s the most indispensable ingredients to every Thai dish available today. Because of the importance of herbs and spices, you’ll find every Thai dish to be very aromatic, which also enhances its overall flavor and presentation. The strong dry and fresh spices tend to really balance the foods that would otherwise be either too strong or dull.
These aromatic spices give Thai dishes a very distinctive taste. Many dishes benefit from spices like mint, chili, ginger, basil, lemongrass, and garlic. Pastes are also widely used, such as kapi (shrimp paste) and pla (fish paste).
A Typical Thai Meal
While there are various preferences when it comes to Thai food, a typical Thai meal usually consists of rice, soup, and curry meals – all served together in one sitting. Rice (especially jasmine rice) is very important in Thailand and is eaten with practically every meal. Things like dumplings, desserts, and noodles are often made with rice, helping create a variety of Thai dishes. Fresh vegetables are also important in Thai food. There are vegetables incorporated into every meal, which is what makes Thai cuisine enjoyable and nutritious. That’s why Thai diets are very healthy! Vegetables like eggplant, beansprouts, tomato, broccoli, squash, and sweet potato are often used in various dishes.
But fresh fruit is also abundant in Thai meals, especially when it comes to desserts. Fruits like mango, pineapple, and papaya are commonly used and combined with coconut milk to create delectable treats that make taste buds scream in delight!
Why Thai Food Is Often Spicy
The main trait of Thai food is its spiciness, although it’s not always hot to taste. There are many dishes that aren’t spicy and over the years, many traditional and classic Thai meals have actually been toned down a bit! However, authentic Thai food is still considered spicy and that’s due to a number of reasons.
Not only does chili add tons of flavors to dishes, but it’s also beneficial for gut health given it can reduce intestinal parasites and bacteria if consumed in large quantities. Since Thailand is considered a tropic region, its people adopted spicier foods to help them feel better (this is why you’ll find spicier food in regions located near the equator). Spices like chilies also help food stay fresher for longer periods of time. Foods in tropic regions tend to go bad faster since it’s so hot and humid, so adding chili to it helped prolong its shelf life.
Spicy foods also have other health benefits, such as increasing blood circulation and helping regulate the body’s core temperature. When you eat spicy food, the blood from the core of your body circulates to the skin’s surface and dilates the skin’s capillaries to help expel the heat so that you sweat. This is important in tropical regions to stay cool.
Some of the best Thai dishes are spicy, including:
• Pad Prik – a fiery dish that consists of cuts of pork, chicken beef or fish that’s cooked alongside vegetables like onions and peppers. It’s seasoned with garlic and basil and bird’s eye chilies.
• Khao Pad Nam Prik Narok – this translates to “fried rice with chili paste from hell!” it’s served with rice and consists of sun-dried chilies that are pounded with garlic, palm sugar, and shrimp paste then added to fish before being fried and served.
• Tom Yum Kung – is a soup that features fried chili and chili paste for the base of the soup.