All around Thailand you'll hear people ask each other "Gin khao reuyang?" which literally translates as "Have you eaten rice yet?" So important is food and cookery to the Thai way of life you'll often hear this greeting on any visit to Thailand and certainly on one of our cooking holidays. It's not surprising as after a day spent in any large Thai town or marketplace, one of the lasting impressions is the variety of ready-to-eat food available. Small carts jam together and create pockets of gourmet delights, which can include anything from seasonal fruit and freshly squeezed juices to deep-fried wonton, fiery papaya salads and many of the simplest and most tasty of all Thai cookery dishes. For Thais, the concept of eating different foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner is a little strange, so expect to be served equally spicy meals at all times of day, accompanied with a large helping of rice...even for breakfast!
With its rich history and large land mass, it's no surprise Thailand's cuisine draws its influence from a variety of backgrounds and cookery styles. Fans of Asian food are sure to find their favourite flavours appearing in many authentic Thai dishes, and a diverse geography and availability of ingredients have led each region of Thailand developing its own distinctive cuisine.
Just as the rivers of Thailand start or end with the Chao Praya, all the flavours of Thailand culminate in the throbbing capital city. Typical of any country, large percentages of the country's rural population have migrated to Bangkok for work, bringing with them the tastes of home and making the capital a delicious melting pot of Thai cookery techniques. Feeding the demand for fresh regional produce are large, bustling markets, which can be found all over the city. One of our local contacts and busy working mother-of-two, Goi makes shopping part of her weekend family activities and told us "I take the kids to Chatuchak market for all the weekly groceries and then we cook up a huge family feast. It's fantastic having everything available in one spot, right on our doorstep".
Most famous for its acres of glistening paddy fields, the Central Plains provide the majority of Thailand's staple food - rice. Life in the farming communities has remained relatively unchanged by time, and the hard-working locals also include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in their daily diet. Ingredients like bok choi, string beans, straw mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and Chinese kale feature in most dishes while fruits such as mangosteen, longan and langsat can be enjoyed at any time of day. Daoraung, a local lady, gave us a tip on the first step for cooking Central Thailand dishes saying "...the market in our village plays a big part of life here. It's busiest just after sunrise when I'm competing with neighbours to get the best of today's crops".
A melting pot of hill tribe cuisine and traditional Thai dishes like green and red curries or fiery river fish curries with coconut milk, Northern cooking is typically spicy, sour and often accompanied by sticky rice. Tim, a great cook who lives in picturesque Chiang Dao says' I love a dish that is popular up here called Gang Som. You cook a special kind of whole fish with tamarind in a rich red sweet and sour sauce and put a flame under the dish, a bit like the things you get in an Indian restaurant, so as you tuck into the rest of your food, the sauce boils down and gets really thick and full of flavour."
North East or Isan
One of Thailand's best-loved dishes which can be found along any given street in any city is som tam, a delicious, spicy papaya salad. The dish originates from the north east and is great fun to prepare using a traditional Thai stone pestle and mortar to blend ingredients of grated papaya, lime, peanuts, garlic, chillies, fish sauce and a little sugar. The north east is also known for its delicious meat-based salads and a liking for eating deep-fried insects as snacks!
Having the ocean on both sides and touching Malaysia, Southern food is heavily influenced by its surroundings. The Indian Ocean and Gulf of Thailand are both abundant with fish and seafood and daily catches to most kitchens include rare treats such as marlin, succulent squids and enormous prawns. The large Chinese and Muslim populations of the south have contributed to the local cuisine by adding subtle spices and the main local crops of cashew nut and coconut feature heavily. Delicious dishes with an edge of sweetness such as massaman curry and khao yam have become popular throughout Thailand. A popular breakfast is Indian-style roti with a variety of curries.
If we've got your tastebuds tingling, why not have a look at our easy-to-follow recipes to cook Thai food the way it is made in real kitchens in Thailand, or why not learn it from the 'chefs' themselves on one of our cooking holidays in Thailand. You'll learn how to shop for fresh ingredients at the market, pick your own at organic farms and cook them, you'll be amazed at the skills you come back with. As they say in Thai, "jing jing" (Really! Honestly!).
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