Food & Drink

Thai cuisine is known for its balance of five fundamental flavours in each dish or the overall meal:

  • spicy hot (chillies)
  • sour (vinegar, lime juice, tamarind)
  • sweet (sugar, fruits, sweet peppers)
  • salty (soy sauce, fish sauce)
  • bitter (optional)

Most of the dishes in Thai cuisine try to combine most, if not all, of these tastes. It is accomplished by using a host of herbs, spices and fruit, including: chilli, cumin, garlic, ginger, basil, sweet basil, lime, lemongrass, coriander, pepper, turmeric and shallots.

Although popularly considered as a single cuisine, Thai food is really better described as four regional cuisines corresponding to the four main regions of the country: Northern, Northeastern (or Isan), Central and Southern. Southern curries, for example, tend to contain coconut milk and fresh turmeric, while northeastern dishes often include lime juice.

Instead of a single main course with side dishes found in Western cuisine, a Thai full meal typically consists of either a single dish or rice khao with many complementary dishes served concurrently.

Thai food is generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. Chopsticks are used rarely, primarily for the consumption of noodle soups. The fork, held in the left hand, is used to shovel food into the spoon. However, it is common practice for Thais and hill tribe peoples in the North and Northeast to eat sticky rice with their right hands by making it into balls that are dipped into side dishes and eaten. Thai-Muslims also frequently eat meals with only their right hands.

Often Thai food is served with a variety of spicy condiments to embolden the dish. This can range from dried chilli pieces, sliced chilli peppers in rice vinegar, to a spicy chilli sauce such as nam prik.


The ingredient found in almost all Thai dishes and every region of the country is nam pla, a very aromatic and strong tasting fish sauce. Shrimp paste, a combination of ground shrimp and salt, is also extensively used. Thai dishes in the Central and Southern regions use a wide variety of leaves rarely found in the west, such as kaffir lime leaves. Fresh - kaffir lime leaves' characteristic flavour appears in nearly every Thai soup (e.g., the hot and sour Tom yam) or curry from those areas. It is frequently combined with garlic, galangal, lemon grass, turmeric and/or fingerroot, blended together with liberal amounts of various chillies to make curry paste. Fresh Thai basil is also used to add fragrance in certain dishes such as Green curry. Other typical ingredients include the small green Thai eggplants, tamarind, palm and coconut sugars, lime juice and coconut milk. A variety of chillies and spicy elements are found in most Thai dishes. Other ingredients also include pahk chee (cilantro), rahk pahk chee (coriander roots), curry pastes, pong kah-ree (curry powder), si-yu dahm (dark soy sauce), prik haeng (dried shrimp), pong pa-loh (five-spice powder), tua fahk yao (long beans or yard-long beans), nahmahn hoi (oyster sauce), prik Thai (Thai pepper), rice and tapioca flour, and nahm prik pao (roasted chilli paste).

Rice is a staple component of Thai cuisine, as it is of most Asian cuisines. The highly prized, sweet-smelling jasmine rice is indigenous to Thailand. This naturally aromatic long-grained rice grows in abundance in the verdant patchwork of paddy fields that blanket Thailand's central plains. Steamed rice is accompanied by highly aromatic curries, stir-fries and other dishes, incorporating sometimes large quantities of chillies, lime juice and lemon grass. Curries, stir-fries and others may be poured onto the rice creating a single dish called khao rad gang, a popular meal when time is limited. Sticky rice khao neow is a unique variety of rice that contains an unusual balance of the starches present in all rice, causing it to cook up to a pleasing sticky texture. It is the daily bread of Laos and substitutes ordinary rice in rural Northern and Northeastern Thai cuisine, where Lao cultural influence is strong.

Noodles, known throughout parts of Southeast Asia by the Chinese name kwaytiow, are popular as well but usually come as a single dish, like the stir-fried Pad Thai or noodle soups.

There is uniquely Thai dish called nam prik, which refers to a chilli sauce or paste. Each region has its own special versions. It is prepared by crushing together chillies with various ingredients such as garlic and shrimp paste using a mortar and pestle. It is then often served with vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans, either raw or blanched. The vegetables are dipped into the sauce and eaten with rice. Nam prik may also be simply eaten alone with rice or, in a bit of Thai and Western fusion, spread on toast.

Typical Dishes

Individual Dishes

  • Gai Himapahn: juicy chunks of chicken with cashew nuts and chillies.
  • Kaphrao Gai: minced chicken in sauce made up of a combination of hot green chillies, garlic and basil.
  • Khanom Chin Namya: round boiled rice noodles topped with various curry sauces and eaten with fresh leaves and vegetables.
  • Khao Khluk Kapi: rice stir-fried with shrimp paste, served with sweetened pork and vegetables.
  • Khao Pad Naem: fried rice with fermented sausage (typically from the Northeast).
  • Khao Soi: crispy wheat noodles in sweet chicken curry soup (a Northern dish).
  • Kow Pad Gai: fried rice with chicken.
  • Pad Kee Mao: noodles stir-fried with Thai basil.
  • Pad See Ew: noodles stir-fried with see ew dum (thick soy sauce) and nahm plah (fish sauce) and pork or chicken.
  • Pad Thai: rice noodles pan fried with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice or tamarind pulp, chopped peanuts, and egg combined with chicken, seafood and tofu.
  • Rad Na: wide rice noodles in gravy, with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or seafood.

Central Thai Shared Dishes

  • Boo Jah (Thai Crab Cakes): crab cakes with pork, garlic, and pepper served with a simple spicy sauce, such as Sri Rachaa sauce, sweet-hot garlic sauce, nahm prik pao (roasted chilli paste), or red curry paste and chopped green onions.
  • Choo-Chee Plah Ga-Pong: snapper in choo-chee curry sauce (thick red curry sauce).
  • Gai Pad Khing: ginger chicken.
  • Gaeng Khiew-Waan: green curry, made with fresh green chillies and flavoured with Thai basil, and chicken or fish meatballs. This dish is one of the spiciest of Thai curries.
  • Massaman Curry: an Indian style curry, usually made by Thai-Muslims, containing roasted dried spices, such as coriander seed, that are rarely found in other Thai curries.
  • Pad Kaphrao: beef, pork or chicken stir fried with Thai Holy basil.
  • Pad Pak Ruam: stir fried combination of vegetables depending on availability and preference.
  • Pad Prik: usually beef stir fried with chilli, called Neua pad prik.
  • Panaeng: dry curry with beef (Panang beef), chicken or pork. It includes some roasted dried spices similar to Massaman curry.
  • Red curry (Gaeng Phet lit. 'hot curry'): made with copious amounts of dried red chillies.
  • Satay: grilled meat, usually pork or chicken, served with cucumber salad and peanut sauce (actually of Indonesian origin, but now a popular street food in Thailand).
  • Tod Man: deep fried fishcake made from knifefish (Tod man pla krai,) or shrimp (Tod man kung).
  • Tom Kha Gai: hot sweet soup with chicken and coconut milk.
  • Tom Yam: hot and sour soup with meat. With shrimp it is called Tom yam goong or Tom yam kun, with seafood (typically shrimp, squid, fish) Tom yam talae, with chicken Tom yam gai

Northeastern Shared Dishes

  • Gai Yang: marinated, grilled chicken.
  • Larb: sour salads containing minced meat, onions, chillies, roasted rice powder and garnished with mint.
  • Namprik Num: dipping sauce made from roasted eggplant, green chillies, and garlic pounded together in a mortar and pestle.
  • Namtok: made with beef and identical to larb, except that the beef is cut into thin strips rather than minced.
  • Som Tam: grated papaya salad, pounded with a mortar and pestle. There are three main variations: Som tam poo with salted black crab, and Som tam Thai with peanuts, dried shrimps and palm sugar and Som tam plara from north eastern part of Thailand (Isaan), with salted gourami fish, white eggplants, fish sauce and long bean.
  • Sticky Rice
  • Tom Saep: Northeastern-style hot and sour soup.
  • Yam: general name for any type of sour salad, such as those made with glass noodles (Yam Wun Sen), or with seafood (Yam Talae).

Desserts and Drinks

  • Cha Yen: Thai iced tea.
  • Gluay Buad Chee: Banana in coconut milk.
  • Kah-Feh Yen: Thai iced coffee.
  • Kanome Maw Gaeng: sweet potato pudding.
  • Kao Niao Durian: Sticky rice and durian in coconut milk.
  • Kao Niao Ma Muang: Sticky rice and ripe mango.

Visitors should also try the whisky, either Mekhong or SamSong.