The Regional Foods of Thailand
While we tend to group all of the food of Thailand into one neat slot called "Thai Food", the different areas of Thailand, with their different geographic, cultural, and climatic factors, all have their own unique style of food. This article, reprinted with gracious permission from the excellent travel site, marimari.com, gives you a hint of the wonderful tastes and flavors that can be found in every corner of Thailand.
The Regional Foods of Thailand
Southern food is as distinctive as its scenery. Not surprisingly, the coconut, which grows widely throughout the region, plays a prominent role in many southern dishes for its milk tempers the heat of chili, its oil used for frying, and its grated meat serves as a condiment.
Also only expected is the abundance of fresh seafood from the surrounding waters. Cashew nuts from local plantations are eaten as appetizers or stir-fried with chicken and dried chilies, while a pungent flat bean (Sataw) adds an exotic, somewhat bitter flavor much admired by southern diners. Regional fruits include finger-sized bananas, mangosteens, durian, and small sweet pineapples.
Central Region's Diet
Much of what we now know as Thai cuisine evolved from the central region. Rice, fish, and vegetables, flavored with garlic, black pepper, and fish sauce, along with an abundance of fresh fruits, comprises the basic diet of Sukhothai.
With the rise of Ayutthaya, other elements were added to the increasingly complex Thai blend. The fiery hot chili pepper, an essential ingredient now, was introduced at this time, along with the equally popular coriander, lime, and tomato. These may have been brought in from South America by the Portuguese, who opened relations with Ayutthaya in 1511 and also left a lasting imprint in the form of popular Thai sweets based on egg yolks and sugar.
Other ingredients came from India, Japan, Persia, and most important of all, China, though in almost every case their contributions were subtly altered and transformed to suit the Thai taste.
Unlike the north and northeast, where glutinous rice is popular, Central Thais like the fragrant plain variety. This is usually steamed but sometimes fried or boiled. In addition to freshwater fish, there is seafood from the nearby gulf, as well as a wide range of fresh vegetables and fruits such as the like of mangoes, durians, custard apples, and guavas. Sino-Thai food is popular in places like Bangkok, particularly in the form of numerous noodle dishes.
Food of The North
The food of the north is as distinctive as its culture. Instead of the soft rice in the central region, a steamed glutinous variety is preferred. This is traditionally kneaded into small balls with the fingers and used to soak up more liquid dishes. Northern curries are generally milder than those of the central and northeastern Thailand. The influence of neighboring Myanmar is evident in such popular dishes as "Gaeng Han Lay", a pork curry that relies on ginger, tamarind, and turmeric for its flavor, and "Khao Soi", a curry broth with egg noodles and meat, topped with spring onions, pickled onions, and slices of lime. A favorite regional specialty is a spicy pork sausage called "Naem". Eaten in a variety of ways, this is probably the one delicacy northerners miss the most when they move to another part of the country.
The traditional form of meal in the north, especially when guests are being entertained, is called a "khantoke" dinner - 'khan' (bowl) and 'toke' (a low round table). Diners sit on the floor around the table and help themselves to assorted dishes, which, besides glutinous rice, may include one or two local curries, a spicy minced meat dish, a salad, fried pork rind, and various sauces and condiments.
Northeastern food reflects the influence of neighboring Laos in a number of dishes. As in Laos and the north, glutinous rice is the staple. It is eaten both as a base for other dishes and as a sweet when steamed in bamboo with coconut milk and black beans.
Northeasterners like their food highly seasoned. Many connoisseurs of Thai cooking particularly esteem regional specialties like "Laab", "Som Tam" (green papaya salad), and "Gai Yang" (BBQ chicken).
Meat is often scarce in villages. Freshwater fish and shrimp are therefore the principal source of protein, sometimes cooked with herbs and spices and sometimes fermented.
www.marimari.com, a comprehensive one-stop travel hub provides travelers with on-line hotel and tour reservations as well as travel information for destinations in the Asia-Pacific region They have an excellent guide to Thailand which includes information about the food, history, geography, sites, and much more.