FOOD IN THAILAND, THAI CUISINE, THE THAI DIET AND COMMON FOODS AND INGREDIENTS

FOOD IN THAILAND

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: “Thailand’s favorite topic of conversation is probably food.” Freshness and food safety are important to Thais. Guidelines of food advise eating “well-prepared food which is free of microorganisms and food contaminants.” In the old days, many Thais found American fast food inedible, but that is less true today. The wok and mortar and pestle are essential tool in Thai cooking.

Thai food can be very spicy. Chiles and garlic are liberally used. Particularly nasty are phrik khi nuu (literally “mouse-shit” peppers), tiny, little peckers that add fire to Thai curries. The characteristic tang many Thai dishes have comes from lime juice, lemon grass and naam plaa fish sauce.

While Thai food has a reputation for being spicy, Thai food is actually based on a balance between different flavors including spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. This goes beyond simply combining the flavors within an individual dish to incorporate the contrast in flavors between two or three different dishes, which is one reason Thai’s share meals and eat family style. One distinctive aspect of Thai food is the use of fresh herbs and spices as well as the inclusion of fermented fish sauce in nearly every dish. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Thai dishes have traditionally been served in bite-size pieces in accordance with a Buddhist custom that no whole animal be cooked and served. Thais eat meat—mostly pork, chicken, fish and seafood—in many of their dishes even though Buddhism discourages the taking of life. To get around this they have come up with some rather clever excuses and rationalizations such as: 1) “I just pulled the fish out of the water, and it died on its own;” 2) “the chicken was already dead when I bought it;” and 3) “the pig was fulfilling its destiny to be a provider of pork.”

Thailand's Food Industry

Thailand has a large fresh, frozen and semi-cooked food industry. In 2000, it exported over $10 billion worth of food. Among the interestingly-named products you can buy in Thailand are Shrak brand chili peppers, Pigeon brand canned foods and Dragonfly sauce. Bottles of pickled chilies have pictures of sea horse on the labels. Thai farmers and food producers make Western-style foods such as ricotta and mascarpone. Cream cheeses are produced from cows that graze in grasslands around Khao Yai National Park. Thailand’s Chateau Interfarm for a time was Southeast Asia’s only foie grass producer. Most its product was sold to five-star hotels.

According to the Thai government: “Thailand ranks among the top of the world's food producing countries in several food categories, such as rice, cassava, potatoes, sugar, chicken, lobster, canned fish, and fruit. Thailand is therefore considered one of the world's important food exporting countries. The fast-growing demand for food by the world's population bodes well for the limitless expansion of the consumer market.[Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

One Thai entrepreneur hoped to strike it rich, marketing ready-to-eat canned rice. The canned rice came in three varieties—brown, jasmine and glutinous—and could be prepared by placing the can in boiling water for three minutes and emptying the can into a bowl and heating in a microwave oven.

See Agriculture

Eating Customs in Thailand

Thais generally use spoons and forks not chopsticks. Spoons are used to put food into the mouth. Doing so with a fork is regarded as uncouth. Noodle soups are eaten with chopsticks and a spoon. Sticky rice is often eaten with the right hand along with whatever food. Dishes are served in bite-size pieces in accordance with a Buddhist custom that no whole animal be cooked and served.

Thais like to eat in groups and sample many different dishes. Dishes are often served all at once and people share dishes except for soup. When helping yourself don’t take a whole bunch at one time. Rather take one or two spoonfuls and take a little more later. T the start of a meal it is customary to eat a spoonful of rice first. They often eat cross-legged on a mat when eating.

The Thais often form a ring around dishes set in the middle of the table or picnic-style on the floor. The dishes often comprise a spicy soup, a fried dish, a soup, and a dip, with an individual rice dish for each person, who may choose from among the shared dishes to eat with his or her portion of rice, while eating together with the others. While Thai curries are shared and meant to be ladled over rice, soups are served communally with diners receiving small bowls to eat out of.

A Thai salad is often one of the spiciest Thai dishes and is frequently ordered as one of the many communal dishes in a meal. A Technically Thai meals don’t include appetizers per se; all dishes are ordered at once and come out in random order for diners to share as they arrive. However, there are certainly finger-food style dishes that can be categorized as appetizer style foods. Satay (grilled meat on a stick) and spring rolls are the most common of these, the former available on many street corners and technically classified in Thai cuisine as a snack rather than an appetizer.

Cassandra James wrote on Yahoo Voices: “Thais normally eat most dishes with a spoon and fork. The spoon is held in your right hand and the fork is used to scoop food onto the spoon and rearrange it so it doesn't fall off on its way to your mouth. Even in many top restaurants in Thailand, you'll be given a spoon and fork. Knives aren't used much while eating Thai food as the food is normally in bite sized pieces already, so there's no need to cut anything. With so many Thais descended from Chinese immigrants, the use of chopsticks is also prevalent in Thai culture but they are saved for use with noodles and Chinese food. [Source: Cassandra James, Yahoo! Contributor Network, March 4, 2010]

“In most cases in Thailand, Thais will order several dishes then everyone shares, eating communal style. In this case, either wait for someone to serve you (one of the youngest people at your table usually will) or, if you help yourself, just take a small amount of rice followed by a small amount of toppings. Thais don't heap their plates full. Instead, they just take a small amount and keep going back for more. Normally you would serve yourself with the larger spoons that arrive with the food. In many restaurants though no other utensils arrive so it's perfectly acceptable to use the fork and spoon you're eating with to help yourself to more food from the communal plates.: [Ibid]

“Thai table etiquette dictates you eat slowly. Thais like to spend a lot of time over meals, hanging out with friends, talking and laughing, so don't eat your food quickly. If you do, you'll find you're sitting there with an empty plate while everyone else has barely started. Savor the food, enjoy the many tantalizing tastes and you'll enjoy the meal even more.

Who Pays? - In Thai culture, either the oldest member of the group or the wealthiest pays for everyone. Often, particularly if you eat with poorer Thais, then that's usually you. Take the check when it's brought to the table and start to pay. If it's absolutely not expected of you, someone will take it from you very quickly and insist you are their guest. But, if it's left in your hands then "tag, you're it". Don't get upset though. It's meant as a compliment as they think you are a higher level or richer than them and thus hold you in high respect. Plus, in Thailand, as a meal for four people is as cheap as $10, it doesn't break the bank anyway.

Characteristics of Thai People's Diet

According to the Tourist Authority of Thailand: “The special quality of Thai food is its ability to reflect three key values – nutritional, cultural, and medical – with the use of fresh ingredients, well-trained natural talent in cooking methods and presentation techniques, and the generous use of herbs and spices. Thai food is a harmonious combination of tastes and medicinal qualities, as the ingredients are mainly vegetables and herbs, such as lemon grass, galangal, capsicum, basil, and garlic, which not only give out enticing aromas, but also increase the health benefits. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Curry, soup, salad, or fried dishes are easily prepared, uncomplicated, and don't take much time. Most dishes use a small amount of cooking oil and meat. Protein sources are fish, poultry, eggs, pork, and other animal meats, as well as beans and nuts, seasoned by herbs naturally grown in the different regions. Thai people take their dishes with locally grown vegetables, which they cook or use fresh and then dip in one of the many types of sauce and curry paste.

Local Thai dishes are low in fat, high in fiber, and filled with nutritious substances: vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, although some contain fatty acid. Many are also chemical-free, spiced with herbs rarely found in other countries' dishes. Most dishes from different regions contain vegetables that are cooked similarly.

Local-food is low in animal meat, fat, and sugar. Some are sugarless, such as the southern fish-bladder curry, the northern curry made from kasalong or peep (the Indian cork tree), the northeastern bamboo curry and the central region's hot and spicy star melon soup. All these curies and soups contain no fat. If meat is used, it is fish and in small quantities.

Other features of the Thai diet include: 1) Food that does not contain vegetables is usually eaten with vegetables on the side, such as dips, which are eaten with four or five types of vegetables. 2) Local food is cooked by boiling, steaming, grilling, or sauteing. Only a few are deep-fried. 3) Every ingredient provides nutritional and medicinal benefits.

Obesity - adult prevalence rate: 7.8 percent (2003); country comparison to the world: 60. In some urban areas 20 to 24 percent of the Thai population is obese. Some have blamed an increase in Western food in the Thai diet for this trend.

Nutritional and Medicinal Qualities of That Food

According to the book The Thai Kitchen: “Thai-style eating provides you with protein from several sources such as eggs, chicken, pork, beef, fish, and other creatures from the deep. It also provides you with protein from plants, vegetables, and grains such as rice and several kinds of beans. Furthermore, you can find the little bit of fat we all need from the meat and the oil used in cooking some dishes. Because most Thai food - whether it is soup, curry, steamed food, grilled food, or Thai paste sauce - gets some fat from several kinds of meats, the food puts emphasis on the liberal use of vegetables. [Source: thailand.prd.go.th/ebook/kitchen ]

“Local vegetables are the main ingredients in Thai food. They have not only the necessary vitamins and minerals but also special herbal and medicinal properties useful for the promotion of strong health. And another important consideration is that many of the local vegetables are free of toxic substances because they are naturally grown with organic fertilizer.

“The value and usefulness of Thai food can be divided into three categories. The first one is the nutritional value, the energy we get from the vitamins, minerals, and the many other nutrients. The second is the medical and herbal value of each ingredient, and the last is the wisdom and the cultural arts value.

It is even believed that the raw materials used for cooking food, especially vegetables , have medical properties for helping cure particular diseases. For instance, spicy and sour vegetable soup balances the body's physical elements in line with Thai traditional medicine, and the tasty, spicy dips help nourish the four elements and strengthen the body. Herbs with medicinal attributes are also widely used in Thai cooking. herbs.

Low Iodine in the Thai Diet

According to statistics, over 20 percent of the Thai population do not consume enough iodine-added products, resulting in a high number of people with iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency shows severe effects on pregnant mothers, sometimes leading to miscarriages. Iodine deficiency can also result in health problems in childeen, both before and after birth. It can cause low IQ, mental retardation and even brain damage in children. The World Health Organization has set to lower iodine deficiency by stating that purified salt consumed in communities must contain iodized salt at a minimum rate of 90 percent.

An article in the April 21 Global Post liberally quotes an International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, or ICCIDD report on mental handicaps in certain villages in Thailand suffering iodine deficiency. The article notes a study by the Thai health ministry showing the IQ of Thai children at 91. Even this is better than the 2002 figure of 89. The UNICEF nutrition advisor quoted attributed the continuing challenges of providing iodized salt in the region (and iodized fish oil in Thailand) to "weak government regulation."

“'People used to make jokes, cruel jokes, about people from the hills,' said endocrinologist Cres Eastman, an Australian and vice-chairman of the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, or ICCIDD. “'But a lot of the so-called stupidity, which they thought was genetic, was clearly not so,' he said. 'It was environmental.' "A cretin, medically speaking, is a person born mentally handicapped and often physically deformed from an undernourished thyroid gland. "A cretin is born deprived of iodine, an element commonly absorbed through milk, seafood and crops grown in iodine-rich soil. By lacing table salt with small amounts of iodine, cretinism has been virtually eradicated in the industrialized world.

"In recent decades, a push by the United Nations and the World Health Organization has brought most of the developing world along too. Roughly 70 percent of the world now eats iodized salt, the biggest preventer of cretinism, compared to just 20 percent in 1990. "But while cretins have become rarer, too little iodine in a fetus or young child’s system still causes a more subtle problem: diminished IQs."

Thai Cuisine

In recent years Thai cuisine has become very popular outside of Thailand and now ranks with Chinese, Japanese, Italian and French food as one of the world’s most popular cuisines. Rudy Maxa wrote in National Geographic Traveler: “At its best Thai cooking is not only good, it’s exciting. The presentation is often beautiful, with artfully and intricately carved fruit and vegetables accompanying main dishes, And nearly every successful Thai dish is a delicate balancing act of powerful flavors, a sophisticated interplay of sweet and tart, cool and hot, thanks to ingredients that includes fiery chilies, sour tamarind, soothing cilantro, tangy limes, sweet coconut, mint, basil and lemongrass.”

The Thais food found in Thailand is often spicier than that found outside of Thailand. The Thais love chilies and Thai cuisine is extremely hot and burns for a long time. As a rule the smaller the chillies the hotter the taste, with the torpedo-shaped phrik khii nuu being the hottest. If you don’t like hot food a good Thai expression to know is main phed ma ("add less spice").

Thai cooks strive for the perfect balance between sweet, sour, cooked, fresh, mild, bitter, salty and spicy; dishes are served in bite-size pieces in accordance with a Buddhist custom that no whole animal be cooked and served; and texture and color are important. Thais like to eat in groups and sample many different dishes. Those who are fascinated by authentic Thai food cooked in a traditional way hold fast to the belief that dishes cooked in original settings are better in taste and better at representing Thai culinary art. Such original settings exist in villages in rural Thailand.

Key Ingredients in Thai Dishes

Most Thai meals consist or rice or noodles eaten with grilled fish, and fresh vegetables, which are sometimes grown around the house, and to a lesser extent chicken and pork, flavored with nam pla (a salty fish sauce), nam phrik (shrimp paste dip), lemon grass, pungent shrimp paste, coconut milk or cham pla (a condiment made with vinegar, hot peppers, shredded carrots, garlic, and sugar).

Other essential ingredients in Thai dishes include grated green papaya, lime juice, ground peanuts, curry pastes, coconut milk, fish or chicken stock, palm sugar, lemon grass, ciltrano, honey, sweet soy sauce, condensed milk, grated Thai kaffir lime rinds, vinegar, tamarind, garlic, lemon grass, shallots, coriander, picked garlic juice, lime leaves, galangal (similar to ginger), scallions, sugar, turmeric, basil, curry, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, watercress, carrots, and onions.

In the old days what people ate depended largely on their surroundings. Lowland residents in central Thailand got an ample supply of freshwater fish, while those living along the Gulf and the Andaman coasts got much of their food from the sea. Fish has traditionally been the main source of protein. An old expression that describes Thailand as a land of abundance, simple said: "In the water there are fish, in the field there is rice." Following the annual downpours, when rivers and canals were swollen, fish could be caught everywhere with simple tools. Excess catches were preserved as dried, salted, and fermented . Livestock such as poultry, pig, and cattle were traditionally kept as food for feasts given for guests for special occasions such as merit-making, ordination, or wedding ceremonies.

Local plants and herbs serve as vegetables in varied forms. Popular ones are the young leaves of neem trees and cashew trees, cumin leaves, vegetable hummingbird buds, water morning glory, yard-long beans, and other herbaceous plants, rich in fiber. They are consumed fresh or preserved, steamed and topped with condensed coconut milk, boiled, and fried in oil, with or without egg and flour. Thai people know what to look for in nature at different times of the year, keeping themselves in good health with the known nutritional and medicinal qualities of those plants and herbs.

Nam Phrik and Spices Used in Thai Food

Thai chili paste, or nam prik, is the base of many Thai dishes, though variations of it are also served as dips. It is made by mixing chili, garlic, shrimp paste, lime, and other spices (depending on region of origin). As a dip, it is served along with raw vegetables and occasionally pork rinds. Lon is another dip that can replace nam phrik on the dining table. It combines sour, salty, and sweet flavors, but is milder than nam phrik. Both dips are meant for vegetables. Thai people also take them with other ingredients, namely salted fish, grilled fish, fried fish, boiled eggs, salted crab, fried salted minced beef, fried fish (especially gourami), and sweet shredded pork, to mention only a few.

Nam phrik comes in countless variations. The most basic and popular is shrimp paste dip, pounded with garlic and chilies, and seasoned with fish sauce, lime, and palm sugar. It is a blend of hot, salty, and sour tastes. To add more substance, dried shrimps or fish are mixed in. Fresh and grilled small eggplants and even minced lime rind are also used for this purpose. New versions of nam phrik can be made by substituting of adding new ingredients. Examples of non-traditional nam phrik include boiled crab egg nam phrik, salted egg nam phrik, and horseshoe crab nam phrik. Variation can also be made by replacing lime with other sour fruits such as young mango, fresh and preserved tamarind, young tamarind leaves, and garcinia, or madan in Thai.

Many Thai dishes are very hot. Chiles are red, orange or green. Among the hottest is the Thai prik khi nu ("rat-dropping chile"). There is a widespread belief in Southeast Asia that eating spicy food is a good idea in hot weather. The idea is that spicy food causes one to perspire and this helps a person cool down. Describing a chicken curry dinner, Daisann McLane wrote in the New York Times, "The lemon grass was so fresh it was like tasting it for the first time. But soon sweat began to roll down my neck. My heart started to pound, and my nose began to run uncontrollably. I managed to pay my check before I could swoon face down into the hottest curry I had ever tasted."

Other common seasonings include “laos” or galanga root (khaa ) lemon grass (naam plaa), fish sauce made with anchovies, very salty shrimp paste (kapi ), black pepper, three kinds of basil, groud peanuts, tamarind juice, ginger, and coconut milk. Thai food also has a lot of garlic. Famous Thai green curries are made wih a tangy mix of basil, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. Garlic is common in French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Hungarian and Thai cuisine.

History of Thai Cuisine and Royal Court Food

Because of the strategic location in the heart of Southeast Asia along international trade routes, especially those for maritime trade Thailand has a long history of active and diverse relations with a number of countries and cultures. Such ties led to the acceptance of other food cultures, which the people then blended with their own. From simple dishes based on food items available in the immediate surroundings emerged sophisticated recipes that resulted from adaptation. Leading the way was the royal palace, where the art of living was perfected and emulated among the population, in recipes, eating manner, and the art of food decoration and arrangement. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

In the Rattanakosin or Bangkok Period (1782-present), a Thai meals began to incorporate more and more foreign elements — Chinese, Mon, Lao, Burmese, Khmer, Indian, and Japanese. The trend was evidenced in the lyrics for boat-rowing songs composed by the second monarch of the Chakri Dynasty, King Rama II. In the poem he describes incomparable dishes and arrangements at the hands of his queen; praises dishes, fruit arrangements, desserts offered at significant occasions marked by the royal barge processions; and mentions Indian foods such as Massaman curry, saffron rice, condiments, and fried spiced chicken. The poem goes:

The Moslem curry she cooked,
Heartily spiced and so hot;
Whoever tastes it once,
Will look for it all his life.

Fish soup with a piece of stomach
Floating rich and fragrant,
Inviting me to take spoonfuls
Of that heavenly dish.

Pleated dumpling you have dressed,
Being fairly reminiscent
Of yourself and pleated outfits,
With a carefully folded knot. (

And pomegranate, just for the thought of it.
Pomegranate seeds glitter brightly,
Like precious stones on a dish,
Some are fully red,
And inviting as your little ring.

O my love was like Golden Drop,
Fully wrapped in Golden Roll;
For two years we kept a secret,
Known to just the two of us.

How beautiful is Crown Cake
Wearing its name like a gold crown;
I muse with longing;
For the chain worn over your shoulder.

Sprig of purple has a lovely smell,
Spreading around like a lotus,
I see your breast cloth
Resting purple on the flowers.

Golden Rain falls in shiny threads,
Like your silk woven out of egg.
I remember my beloved,
Sewing with such golden Chinese silk.
(Translation by Montri Umavijani)

Along with their embrace of other food cultures in the past, Thai people also translated foreign recipes into Thai. King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, who ruled over a century ago, and was known as a well-traveled and a gourmet monarch, dictated Western recipes for soup, stew, steak, bread, sauces, salad, sandwiches, and pastry from English and French into Thai. He also tried out those recipes himself, with his female courtiers as assistants.

A comprehensive Thai cookery book, which is considered the first recipe book to have been published in Thailand, the first in a series of five books, as a gift of knowledge for later generations, was compiled under the pseudonym of "mae khrua hua pa - the master chef," by Lady Plian Phasakorawong, a pioneer of the Thai Red Cross Society in the Fifth Reign. It is one of the most reliable and popular recipe books up to the present time.

With the administrative change from absolute to constitutional monarchy in the Seventh Reign, female members in royal entourages were granted permission to return to their families. These ladies, young and old, were highly knowledgeable in home-making science of the highest order. With their reintegration into the society, the way of the palace penetrated the ranks of common people, who were fascinated by the finesse and delicate tastes of palace food, in particular. All dishes and food items were both decorative and delectable. In recent times, the term "chao wang - Palace Way" is widely and freely used by restaurateurs and food producers to suggest that their dishes are specially made with great care. Food lovers can therefore find items such as khanom khrok chao wang and khanom buang chao wang anywhere in the country. The words "chao wang" serve as a promise of delicious food.

Genuine and Adapted Thai Cuisine

The generic name for cooked items or dishes in Thai is kap khao ("in addition to rice" or "to be taken with rice”). Such dishes vary in accordance with the geophysical makeup of the land it originated in. Because the people have resided along the country's waterways since ancient times, fishbased dishes make up the Thai people's daily diet, complemented by fresh vegetables found in abundance near their homes. As time passed and the society developed, conventional Thai dishes also underwent changes and became more versatile, in terms of ingredients, cooking methods, and tastes. International trade that the country engaged in through the ages also brought foreign food cultures that the Thais embraced and adapted to suit their tastes. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Thai dishes can therefore be roughly categorized into two types: genuine and adapted. Khao chae (genuine) Thai dishes are those that have been cooked by the Thais since time immemorial. They include such dishes as "summer rice" (khao chae), rice in ice-cold water, served with various condiments; spicy clear soup (tom khlong and tom yam ), with herbs, meat and vegetables; hot curry or goulash ( kaeng pa, kaeng khae and kaeng om ), curry with no coconut milk but with meat and vegetables; and spicy dips such nam phrik and lon. Thai desserts in this category have traditionally been made mainly of rice flour, sugar, and coconut milk. They include khanom piak pun, khanom chan, tako and lotchong . Those with egg yolk and egg white mixed in are adapted from other food cultures.

Adapted dishes include kaeng kari (curry), kaeng massaman (from "Mussulman," or Muslim), both adapted from Indian food, while stir-fried and steamed dishes and vegetable soups are adapted from Chinese food. Several desserts and sweetmeats have been introduced by Europeans since the Ayutthaya Period. They include thong yip (gold cup), thong yot (gold drop), thong prong (gold nest), foi thong (gold thread) and sangkhaya (egg custard).

In recent years Thai cuisine has become linked with politics. Samak Sundaravej, Prime Minister of Thailand in 2008, hosted two cooking shows,Tasting, Complaining, which included “bits on traditional Thai cooking and rants on subjects of Samak’s choice,” and “All Set at 6 am.” One journalist wrote: “Samak is an avid cook with a hefty frame that shows that at least one person likes his food.” Tasting, Complaining had run for seven years before it was pulled off the air after the coup in 2006 by the ruling junta.

Eating Food in Accordance with the Changing Seasons

Thais believe in the summer, you should eat food with low calories. Such food includes vegetables and fruit. You should also avoid eating meat and food with fat. You should find protein from vegetables rather than meat; some good choices are beans, fish, seafood, and eggs, but refrain from eating food with coconut milk. It would be better to replace coconut milk curries with spicy sour soup ( kaeng som ), hot and sour shrimp soup (tom yam kung ), clear soup ( kaeng chuet), or spicy mixed vegetable soup ( kaeng liang ). Also, you should refrain from eating any kind of heavy, sweet dessert; instead you had better eat fresh fruit.

In the cool season, you might need more energy than in the summer. So you should eat food high in calories such as meat and food with some fat in order to help keep the body warm. When the weather turns very hot, you should not eat spicy and oily food because it will increase your body temperature. It is better for you to eat easy-to-cook food with a lot of vegetables. In the rainy season, the way people eat is similar to that in the summer. You should eat more vegetables and fruits, particularly the food high in vitamin C, to help prevent flu.

Thai Eating Habits

Dinner is usually the main meal during the week. On the weekend a large meal is eaten in the early afternoon. Many urban Thai have adopted the American way of eating—a big breakfast, light lunch, and a big dinner.

Rice and noodles are the dietary base, often eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Noodles are sometimes made from rice, usually they made from wheat. A typical Thai meal consists of kow (sticky rice), tom (soup), gaeng ped (curry), krueang king (condiments of side dishes such as curried chicken, shrimp paste, bamboo shoots, red pork and cucumbers or sauteed vegetables), khong nueng , khin thod , paad , khong yaang (steamed, stir-fried or grilled dishes), krueang jin (strongly flavored dip with vegetables and fish or salad), khong waan (desserts, one liquid and one dry), and finally polamai (fresh fruit).

Breakfast is generally eaten between 6:30am and 7:30am and consists of rice soup, poached eggs and tea or coffee. Sometimes a raw egg is put into the rice soup. Most people eat breakfast at home. It's hard to find a restaurant that serves breakfast. Some restaurants have a set breakfast with a drink, toast, boiled egg and light food. Many hotels have breakfast included.

Lunch is generally eaten between 12:00noon and 1:300pm. Many people eat out, grabbing a quick meal or snack such as a bowl of noodles, some soup or a stir-fried dish. A typical Thai lunch is curried chicken or stir -fried vegetables with rice, noodles or soup. Dinner is generally eaten between 7:00pm and 8:00pm. It is the main meal of the day. It is generally an informal meal with meat or fish, rice and is similar to lunch except often more dishes are served. Main dishes made at home, include a variety of stir fried dishes and soups.

On the eating habits of his suburban Bangkok middle class family, Nattawud Daoruang wrote on his blog Thailand Life: “In Thailand, we have 3 meals same as other countries. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are the main meals but Thai people like to have snacks between meals. A lot of snacks. We eat our meals with a spoon and fork or sometimes with chopsticks if we have noodles. All food is cut up when it is cooked so we don't need to use a knife! [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

In my family, we don't really cook meals ourselves. We often eat takeaway food which we bring back to the house. But if we cook ourselves, my dad will be the cook, he cooks better than my mum. We do not always have our meals together because we are not often home. I always go back home late after working at Srinai school on my web site. On those days I usually eat at a roadside noodle stall. If I go back home early, we shall eat dinner together in front of the TV. Most meals we eat are rice topped with meat and vegetables or noodles. Lunch and dinner are about the same but lunch usually has one dish but dinner it is normal to have three or four dishes to share. It is not polite to put all food on your plate in one go. You just take a spoonfull at a time. This is good when we go out to a restaurant. We can try many different dishes.

BREAKFAST: Joke is rice porridge with pork. Kai Jee-o is omelette. Khao Mun Khai is chicken and rice. LUNCH: Ba-me is egg noodle soup with pork and vegetables. Pad Pak is fried vegetables. Pad Bai Kha Praew is spicy basil with chicken (pork, shrimp, etc.). DINNER: Pad Nhor Mai is Chicken (pork) with bamboo shoots. Kaeng Khee-o Whan is green curry with beef. Tomyam Kung is spicy lemongrass soup with shrimp. Som-Tam is Papaya spicy salad. Pla-muk neung ma-nao is steamed squid with lemon and chili. Pad Mama is fried noodle with beef and vegetables.

Rice in Thailand

Rice is such a mainstay of the Thai diet that the verb for “to eat,” kin khao, literally means “to eat rice.” Rice holds a special position in the hierarchy of living things and objects as it is a provider of life. To make sure the rice spirit is content special ceremonies are performed during planting and harvesting. Rice that is dropped on the floor is carefully swept up and great lengths are gone through not to imply anything bad about rice to avoid angering the rice spirit and causing a bad rice harvest.

Thais can be quite picky about the quality and type or rice as well as the temperature and method in which it is cooked. There are many varieties and grades of white rice. The best quality rice is known as khao hawm mali or “jasmine fragrant rice. People in northeast favor Lao style “sticky” (glutinous) rice. Heaps of fragrant jasmine rice are served with almost every dish in central Thailand. Rice porridge is served with toppings such as herbs, pickles and peanuts for breakfast. Sometimes hot water is drained from the pot after the rice is boiled. This reduces the stickiness of the rice.

Thailand is famous for its distinctive long-grain jasmine rice, known for is pearly white color, and sweet “popcorn” aroma. It is usually served steamed and is regarded as best rice to accompany most dishes, including Thai curries. One Thai Senator told AFP, “jasmine rice for the Thais is like Dom Perignon.” Thai’s were outraged when an American scientist announced that he had developed a strain of jasmine rice that could grow well in the United States and patenting the strain. Thais accused the scientist of theft and piracy.

While Jasmine rice is the most coveted, it is also the most expensive. Consequently, most restaurants serve Khao Suoy, “beautiful rice”, a plain white variety that grows in abundance and is consumed with all style of entrée. Khao pad or “fried rice” is made with fried with pork or chicken, chilies and fish sauce, typically with leftover Khao Suoy, so as not to waste leftover rice that is a bit “stale”. Khao Tom is a popular breakfast dish, a salty porridge-like soup that is cooked with pork and garlic. Khao Niaw, “sticky rice” is eaten by hand when served with dishes of northeastern influence, such as grilled chicken (gai yang) and spicy papaya salad (som tam); however, sticky rice is a crucial ingredient in a favorite Thai dessert, sticky rice and mango. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Rice is grown in abundance in all parts of Thailand. A common greeting is "Kin khao rue yang? (“Have you eaten rice yet?") With the answer "kin laeo (“ Yes, I have"), the respondent likewise refers to a meal he or she has taken, with or without rice. For Thais, and all those who know and love Thai food, a sumptuous meal in the hot season is not quite complete without khao niao mamuang — glutinous rice steamed in coconut milk served with ripe mango, preferably the variety called ok rong , the fruit with a dividing line down its length, which is golden when ripe, with a pleasant sweet aroma and delicate sweet taste. Other top varieties are nam dokmai, thong dam, and thun thawai. A new variety that came out on the market recently is maha chanok, named after a literary work based on a Jataka extolling perseverance, from a story of one of the Buddha's lives, written by His Majesty the King. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

One Thai entrepreneur hoped to strike it rich, marketing ready-to-eat canned rice. The canned rice comes in three varieties—brown, jasmine and glutinous—and can be prepared by placing the can in poling water for three minutes and empty the can into a bowl and heating in a microwave oven.

Thai Noodles

While noodle dishes are quite common in Thailand (an influence brought by Chinese migrants) most Thai dishes are stir fried or grilled and served with rice. Unlike typical Thai dishes, which are served for communal consumption, most Thai noodle dishes are served as individual dishes. While some restaurants will serve Thai noodle dishes, particularly Pad Thai noodles, noodles are more frequently served and eaten at street stalls that specialize in Thai noodle dishes. Thai noodles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including “small” (sen lek), “large” (sen yai), angel hair (sen mee), and x-large (gway tiow). Most Thai noodles are made of rice, though egg noodles (ba mee) and mungbean based glass noodles are also common. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Other than pad Thai noodles, rad naa and gway tiow are stir fried noodles served with beef, chicken, or pork; condiments, including dried chilies, fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar, are available to tailor to individual diner’s taste. Otherwise, Thai noodles are normally served in soup, either with spicy red pork (moo daeng), chicken (on the bone), and occasionally coagulated pigs blood. Unlike most Thai dishes, which are eaten with fork and spoon, Thai noodles are typically eaten with chopsticks and spoon, a reflection of the Chinese origin of the cuisine.

The largest consumers of instant noodles in 1996 were: 1) Indonesia (7.97 billion packets); 2) Japan (5.3 billion packets); 3) South Korea (3.73 billion packets); 4) the United States (2.0 billion packets); 4) Thailand (1.34 billion packets); 5) the Philippines (1.04 billion packets); and 6) Taiwan (840 million packets).

Meat and Fish in Thailand

Thais eat meat—mostly pork, chicken, fish and seafood—in many of their dishes even though Buddhism discourages the taking of life. To get around this they have come up with some rather clever excuses and rationalizations such as: 1) “I just pulled the fish out of the water, and it died on its own;” 2) “the chicken was already dead when I bought it;” and 3) “the pig was fulfilling its destiny to be a provider of pork.”

Fish (blah), pork (moo), beef (neua), and chicken (gai) are all prepared in a variety of ways, though typically cut into bite sized pieces and stir fried with various spices, such as garlic, chili, and/or basil. Fish and chicken are frequently grilled or fried, fish typically cooked and served whole.

Beef is considered an expensive luxury and tends to be more expensive than other meats. Seafood such as shrimp, prawns, crab, lobster, clams, dried fish, squid, flounder, eels, and jellyfish, are most widely available in the coastal areas. Catfish and cotton fish (a local white fish) are favorite fresh water fishes.

Fruits in Thailand

Among the locally consumed fruits are dragon fruit, chompu, guavas, rambutans (lychee-like fruit) lychees, custard apple (zurzat), bread fruit, passion fruit, jerek (pomelo), starfruit, durians (smelly but delicious), mangosteens, jackfruit, longans, pineapples, oranges, bananas, coconuts, mangos, papayas, watermelons, cantaloupes and wide variety of other local fruits. Some fruits are associated with specific seasons. For example, mango comes out in the summer season, durian in the rainy season, longan in the winter.

Thailand as been called a nation of fruits. Ffruit vendors offer dozens of different chilled fruits on street corners, selling sliced ponelamai (fruit) for as little as 10 baht per serving. Delicious juices are also available. Sometimes they are sold in plastic bags with a straw.

Thai people have devised countless ways to prepare fresh fruits. Having fruit at the end of a meal or as supper is quite common, though fruit varieties differ according to localities and climate. Although fruit is rarely served as a main dish, or as the major ingredient in a dish, it is sometimes cooked over a fire in variety of ways. Seasonal fruits, such as durian, mango, rambutan, longan, and mangosteen are enjoyed by themselves but are also consumed with cooked rice—white and glutinous—and used in fruit-based sweetmeats. Thailand is famous for its fruit arrangements, featuring peeled or half-peeled druit, as well as carved fruit in beautiful and creative arrangement , not just for presentation, but to facilitate consumption as well.

Several kinds mango and papaya and more than 20 kinds of bananas are available in Thailand. Mangos are served both ripe and juicy and unripe and excruciatingly tart, a taste that Thai’s typically balance by dipping in a mixture of sugar and chili. Mango takes up the largest area of fruit cultivation. It is consumed fresh and in processed form, as well as exported in large quantities. The most popular varieties include nam dok mai, khiew sawoei, and ok rong and are available from March to June. Papaya is eaten either green or ripe. Rich in vitamin A and calcium, it is available all year round. The same goes for bananas and guava. The tangerine crop, though available all year round, gives the highest yield from September to December.

Durian, dubbed the "king of fruit," is grown for its relatively high economic returns. The durian season is from April to June in the eastern region, and from June to August in the southern region. The pungent smelling durian is an an acquired palate and the smell is so strong that it is not uncommon to see “no durian” signs inside many buildings! [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Mangosteen, dubbed the "queen of fruit," is also another fruit crop grown for its high economic status in both domestic and export markets. Mangosteen is available from May to September. Rambutan is eaten fresh and is the major raw material for agro-industry in such forms as canned rambutan and canned pineapple-stuffed rambutan. The fruit is available from May to September. Longan are similar to a small litchi and has a sweet, succulent flesh. Longan and litchi (or lychee) are famous fruits of the North. Litchi comes out from May to June, and longan is most abundant from July to September.

Sweet tamarind is another favorite fruit of the Thais and has a long shelf life. Today efforts are being made to turn tamarind into an export crop, albeit in smaller quantities. The harvest time for sweet tamarind is from December to February, and Phetchabun province - the so-called "land of tamarind" - invests heavily in tamarind cultivation.

Dragon fruit is a large, odd looking fruit, with pink spiky skin, though beneath the extravagant exterior is a tender white meat akin to a mellow, juicy kiwi fruit. Chompu is a refreshing pear-shaped fruit that tastes something like a watery apple. Pomelo is another economic crop that thrives in all regions of Thailand. The most famous variety, however, is known locally by the name of "thongdi." Pomelo is an export fruit, generating several million baht in revenue. Jackfruit has been called a mellow durian. Like durian, its taste and texture is loved by some but reviled by others.

Fruits, Herbs and Thai Traditional Medicines

Fresh fruit and herbal juices and infusions used in Thai traditional medicine include: 1) Aloe Vera (Wan Hang Jorakhe): Relieves peptic ulcers and aids digestion. Also high in vitamin E, it accelerates healing and improves the complexion. 2) Banana (Kluai): Every part of the banana, from root to tree, leaf and flower, as well as the fruit has medicinal properties. The roots are a diuretic, the sap an astringent, and the leaves can even stop bleeding. While the unripe fruit is also an astringent, the ripe fruit is an excellent laxative. 3) Asiatic Pennywort (Bua Bok): Very bitter, it is rich in vitamin A and well known as a remedy for internal injuries and wounds. It is also applied to accelerate the healing of burns and eczema, as it helps to prevent scars. 4) Champak (Champi): Another favorite, sweet, fragrant night flower, it reduces body temperature and stimulates the heart. 5) Bael Fruit (Mathum): Unripe, it is an astringent and tonic; when ripe, it is a mild laxative. It also increases appetite while relieving thirst. Contains vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus. 6) Chrysanthemum (Kek Huai): Drunk hot or cold, it eases heartburn and reduces body heat.

7) Coconut (Ma Phrao); ) Removes toxins, flushing the kidneys and bladder. High in phosphorus, calcium, and carbohydrates. 8) Lime (Manao): Dissolves phlegm and dislodges parasitic worms, and reduces fever and reduces thirst. High in vitamin A and C. 9) Ginger (Khing): Improves circulation and relieves nausea. 10) Mango (Mamuang): Like the banana, the entire tree has medicinal attributes. The bark cures dysentery; the dried leaves stop diarrhea; and the fruit itself helps digest proteins. It’s also high in the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. 11) Guava (Farang): Cures diarrhea and indigestion. High in vitamin A, B1, B2, B6, and C, and iron and calcium. 12) Mulberry (Mon): Reduces sugar in blood as it refreshes. Also relieves sore throat. 13) Lemon Grass (Takhrai): While the roots act as a diuretic and relieve diarrhea and gas, the plant is used to treat asthma, as it’s rich in menthol and camphor. It’s also high in vitamin A, calcium, and phosphoric acid. 14) Orange (Som): High in vitamin A, B, and C, calcium, iron, and phosphorus.

15) Pandan / Screw Pine (Toei Hom): A refreshing beverage on hot days can be produced from the leaves, which are also known for treating eczema. The plant itself is an excellent diuretic and the roots an; ) anti-diabetic. Also reduces swelling when applied as a compress. 16) Pomelo (Som O): High in vitamin C and potassium. 16) Papaya (Malako): The unripe fruit relieves peptic ulcers, and unripe or ripe, it aids digestion. It’s also high in vitamin A and C. 17) Roselle (Krachiap): Reduces fats in the blood and lowers body temperature. It works as a diuretic, reduces cholesterol, and destroys bile. And it’s high in vitamin A and C and citric acid. 18) Passion Fruit (Saowarot): High in vitamin C and natural sugars. 19) Safflower (Khamfoi): Reduces fats in the blood. 20) Pineapple (Sapparot): Aids digestion and improves menstruation. High in vitamin B and C, calcium, and magnesium. 21) Star Fruit / Carambola (Mafueng): Anti-diabetic, as it reduces sugarlevels. It is also a diuretic and relieves coughs. Refreshing in hot weather as well. 22) Sugar Cane (Oi); ) High in fructose, it boosts energy. Also relieves coughs and is a diuretic. 23) Sugar Palm (Tan); ) Relieves fever and thirst. High in vitamin C and phosphorus. 24) Tamarind (Makham): An excellent laxative, it relieves indigestion and coughs, reducing phlegm in the colon and throat. High in vitamin A and C. 25) Thai Copper Pod / Cassod (Khilek); ) A remedy for insomnia, it also relieves constipation.

Fruit and Herbal Body Applications

Fresh fruit and herbal juices used to make traditional Thai medicinal gels and body oils include: 1) Aloe Vera (Wan Hang Jorakhe): The gel extracted from the leaves is high in; ) vitamin E. It’s an excellent treatment for burns and sunburn, as well as dry, flaky skin. 2) Coconut (Maphrao): The oil softens and restores damaged hair. 3) Basil (Horapha): It works wonderfully to refresh the senses and relieve exhaustion. 4) Frangipani (Lanthom): A plant often found flowering in Buddhist temples, the sweet aroma creates a very serene ambiance. 5) Camphor (Kalabun): The leaves are used in steam baths, and a white powder can be extracted from the tree, which, because of its cool, refreshing scent, relieves cold symptoms. 6) Guava (Farang): After boiling the leaves, gargle to remove bad breath. 7) Cassumunar (Phlai): A ginger-like rhizome, it is ground and boiled and then applied as a compress to relieve pain and reduce swelling. The oil is also used as a scalp conditioner and in aromatherapy. 7) Gourd Leaf (Bai Buap): Used in a body wrap for its excellent moisturizing properties, it can also soothe skin irritations. 8) Kaffir (Makrut): The fruit juice is an excellent remedy for dandruff, while stimulating hair growth. After applying, rinse after three minutes with clean water. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

9) Jasmine (Mali): The scented oil and aroma can be soothing in tea. 10) Menthol (Pimsen): Often used in herbal steams, with a fragrance much like camphor, it relieves coughs and cold symptoms. 11) Lemon Grass (Takhrai): After squeezing juice from stalks, apply to hair to treat dandruff and stimulate hair growth. 12) Mint (Saranae): In addition to being a refreshing tea, the oil is used to invigorate the senses in aromatherapy. 13) Lime (Manao): The juice treats acne and skin infections. 14) Papaya (Malako): Because of its AHA content, it is a popular ingredient in body wrap exfoliate and treatments. 15) Loofa / Dried Gourd (Buap): An excellent exfoliating sponge because of its thick fibers. 16) Pineapple (Sapparot): The fruit rubbed on the skin is a excellent facial cleanser. After rubbing it on, rinse with warm water. 17) Mangosteen (Mangkut):After boiling the peels in water, apply the water to the skin to treat infection and remove dark facial marks.

18) Red Lime (Nam Pun Sai): An excellent deodorant, it also relieves inflammation. 19) Tamarind (Makham): Applied as a paste, the fruit cleanses and nourishes the skin. 20) Rice (Khao): In addition to being the main staple of the Thai diet, it makes an excellent natural body scrub when it’s uncooked and dry. 21) Thai Copper Pod / Cassod (Khilek): Boil the leaves in water and then apply to hair as a shampoo to treat dandruff and leave hair soft and glossy. 21) Sea Salt (Kluea): Another very effective natural body scrub, usually mixed with essential oils. 22) Tumeric (Khamin): Grind and mix the powder in water to relieve rashes. 23) Sesame (Nga); 24) The oil is an excellent moisturizer, as it softens skin. White Turnip (Hua Phakkat); 25) Rub thin slices of the root on the face to remove freckles.

Sriracha Sauce

"Sriracha" is an American brand of hot sauce popular among Southeast Asians in the United States. Made from a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt, it is named after the coastal city of Si Racha, in the Chonburi Province of Eastern Thailand, where it was possibly first produced for dishes served at local seafood restaurants. [Source: Wikipedia]

In Thailand, Sriracha is frequently used as a dipping sauce, particularly for seafood. In Vietnamese cuisine, Sriracha appears as a condiment for pho, fried noodles, a topping for spring rolls, and in sauces. Sriracha sauce is also eaten on soup, eggs and burgers; jams, lollipops, and cocktails have all been made using the sauce, and Sriracha-flavored potato chips have been marketed.

In Thailand the sauce is most often called sot Siracha and only sometimes nam phrik Siracha. Traditional Thai Sriracha sauce tends to be tangier in taste, and runnier in texture than non-Thai versions. In a bonappetit.com interview, U.S. Asian-foods distributor Eastland Food Corporation asserts that the Thai brand of hot sauce Sriraja Panich—which Eastland distributes—is the original 'Sriracha sauce' and was created in Si Racha, Thailand in the 1930s from the personal recipe of a housewife named Thanom Chakkapak. Within the United States, Sriracha sauce is most commonly associated with the version produced by Huy Fong Foods, colloquially known as "rooster sauce" or "cock sauce". Various restaurants in the U.S. including Applebee's, P.F. Chang's, Subway, and Gordon Biersch have incorporated Sriracha into their dishes, mixing it with mayonnaise or into dipping sauces.

Sriracha Plant Forced to Close Down Because of Smell Complaints

In November 2013, Frank Shyong wrote in Los Angeles Times, “A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered a Sriracha hot sauce plant in Irwindale to partially shut down in response to smell complaints from nearby residents. Judge Robert H. O'Brien ruled in favor of the city and ordered sauce maker Huy Fong Foods to cease any kind of operations that could be causing the odors and make immediate changes that would help mitigate them. The injunction does not order the company to stop operating entirely, or specify the types of actions that are required. [Source: Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2013]

The city of Irwindale sued Huy Fong Foods on Oct. 21 after nearby residents complained of heartburn, inflamed asthma and even nosebleeds that they said were caused by the spicy odor coming from the hot sauce plant. O'Brien acknowledged in his ruling that there was a "lack of credible evidence" linking the stated health problems to the odor, but said that the odor appears to be "extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance." He also wrote that the odor could be "reasonably inferred to be emanating from the facility," and determined that the city is "likely to prevail" in declaring the odor a public nuisance, according to the ruling.

It is unclear what the ruling means for next year's supply of Sriracha hot sauce. The factory harvests and grinds chilis for three months out of the year, and the grinding of this year's chilis has been completed. But the mixing and the bottling of the sauce occurs on an ongoing basis. Galante said he did not know if the injunction applies to those aspects of production. The city's goal is not to stop the production of the sauce, Galante said. "We're going to try to keep having a conversation with Huy Fong and working out some collaborative way to test and make sure the odor problems are addressed," he said. The case could still go to trial, but Galante said that the city hopes the matter can be resolved out of court.

Kae Sa Lak (Fruit and Vegetable Carving)

In Thailand, vegetables and fruit are carved into the shapes of flowers and other objects. Carnations are made from radishes, roses from water melons. Competitions for kae sa lak (“fruit and vegetable carving”) are held and classes in the art form are offered at universities.

According to to the Siam Carving Academy: Nobody can completely pinpoint when fruit and vegetable carving began, but one of the most popular stories has Kae Sa Lak starting about 700 years ago in Sukothai. Sukhothai was the capital of Thailand between 1240 and 1350. It hosted the Loi Kratong, a festival in which people send krathongs (floating lamp or raft) floating down a river, canal, pond, or lake. A woman by the name of Nang Noppamart, who was one of the King’s servants, wanted to make her kratong more beautiful so that she could please her King. She decided to take a flower and use it as a carving pattern. She also carved a bird and set it with the head pointing towards the flower. This was the first evidence of fruit and vegetable carving. King Phra Ruang was so impressed with how beautiful and graceful the carving was that he wanted every woman to learn the new culinary art form. [Source: Siam Carving Academy, February 25th, 2011]

In 1808, fruit and vegetable carving was highlighted in poetry written by King Rama II. He loved the culinary art form very much. Around this time kae sa lak became very competitive and secretive. Experts shared their carving secrets only with their own families. Kae sa lak nearly died out after the revolution of 1932 that ousted the Thai monrachy from power. In recent decades it has been revived and is now taught in primary schools starting from the age of 11 and all the way through secondary school.

Fruit and vegetable carving has become very popular across the globe. It is featured in fine restaurants, hotels, weddings, country clubs, catering halls, exhibitions, at special events in Thailand and elsewhere. Classes in kae sa lak are offered to tourists in Thailand and some other countries. Classes at the Siam Carving Academy are taught by Gold Medal World Champion Wan Hertz.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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