Traditional Thai cuisine
Within Thailand’s borders there are lush tropical rainforests, large and well-stocked rivers, fertile flood plains, seas filled with tropical fish and shellfish, high-flat plateaus and even the foothills of the Himalayas. Add to this a mixed ethnicity, heavy influences from its neighbours and hints of the Western world and you end up with a rich, varied and delicious cuisine.
Thai food combines the five main ‘flavours’; spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Herbs are fresh not dried, fruit is used to flavour meat and fish dishes and nuts and beans, particularly soy, feature heavily. Because of the heterogeneous climate and topography, the cuisine depends on what can be grown in the local vicinity.
In the north east of Thailand, in the Isan region, the culture is heavily influenced by its neighbour Laos. The region is dominated by large sandy, salty flood plains, the rivers Mekong, Loei and Songkhram and the average annual temperature is in the mid 20s with a rainy season from May to October. Therefore rice is the main ingredient or accompaniment to every meal. It is ‘sticky’ or ‘wet’ rice and can be eaten sweet or savoury.
The food is distinct from central and southern Thai food as well as Lao cuisine but combines elements of both. Chillies here are super strong and much of the food is often too much for the untrained palette. Even elsewhere in Thailand, they have to temper the heat level of the chillies to meet general Thai tastes.
Although there are plenty of rivers running through the area, most dishes favour beef, pork and chicken over fish. Insects and reptiles feature heavily. This was due to the extreme poverty of the people which forced them to turn to such measures for sustenance. Now however, they are viewed as delicacies or luxury snacks. The most common of these ‘snacks’ are lizards, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles.
Like many Thai dishes, soups are common and are usually eaten alongside the sticky rice which is rolled with the fingers into a ball. The soups usually contain pork, noodles and a mixture of in-season vegetables.
Because food is grown and consumed locally, it varies from season to season. Rice can be grown throughout, but vegetables are harvested at different times and fish is dependent on the water level in the rivers. One thing is for sure, there are no preservatives, e-numbers or other ‘nasties’ in Thai food, making it one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.
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