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What is Thai cuisine? The flavoursome, fragrant fine foods that tantalise tastebuds the world over

An in depth look at Thai cuisine, from its unique flavour blends to the top restaurants to visit.

By LLM Reporters  |  December 9, 2021
Thai Drunken Noodles or Pad Kee Mao in black bowl at dark slate background.

With its intriguing blend of contrasting flavours and lightly prepared dishes that offer excitement on our tastebuds, the cuisine of Thailand is hugely popular around the world, and for very good reason. Known for its strong aromatic components with a spicy edge, Thai food expertly mixes the sweet and spicy and the sour and salty with bitter components occasionally, too, to make each plate of food feel entirely unique. It is this distinct way of preparing food that sets this Southeast Asian country’s cuisine apart from its neighbours.

Each authentic Thai dish you taste will include at least two of the above flavours, with sweet notes coming from fruits and palm sugar, spice taken from chillies, ginger and pepper, sour from lime and tamarind and salty from fish and soy sauce and shrimp paste. These elements work to balance each other out, so will be carefully added to ensure one doesn’t overpower the other, and all flavours can be used with one being dominant and the others creating undertones to make up a delicious dish.

You will find that there are roughly four categories that Thai cuisine falls into and that is yam (spicy salads), tom (boiled dishes), kaeng (curries) and tam (pounded foods), while baking, grilling and stewing are traditional methods of cooking with stir-frying and deep-frying growing more popular in recent times. The cuisine has developed over time with influences from China, France, the Netherlands and Japan finding their way into the nation’s dishes. And common ingredients that you will always find in Thai food include lemongrass, coconut milk, fish sauce, galangal, chillies, alliums and, of course, fresh herbs to add to those delightful flavours.

Popular Thai dishes

Massaman Thai curry
From spicy stir-fries to creamy curries and salty grilled dishes to clear sour soups, there are a range of delicious Thai dishes that make their way onto our tables ready to be devoured

From spicy stir-fries to creamy curries and salty grilled dishes to clear sour soups, there are a range of delicious Thai dishes that make their way onto our tables ready to be devoured, and if you haven’t tried a wide selection of tasty Thai foods, then you certainly should.

The ever-popular pad Thai is a real crowd-pleaser and involves rice noodles stir-fried with prawns or tofu, peanuts, scrambled egg, beansprouts and other vegetables with a sauce made from fish sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar and tamarind. Quick to whip up at home, too, this street food style dish is a crowd pleaser for its refreshing flavours and kick of chilli.

You will have surely seen a Thai green curry sauces in jars on the supermarket shelves, and this is a popular dish because of its distinct flavours. Kaeng khiao wan (green curry) is made using a fragrant paste consisting of shrimp paste, green chillies, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, lime, cumin and peppercorns. With this, coconut milk and chicken or prawns are added alongside fish sauce, basil leaves and green or whiteish vegetables and served alongside white rice for a warming meal.

Other notable Thai dishes include tom kah kai (chicken in coconut soup), khao pad (fried rice) and tom yum goong (spicy prawn soup).

A Thai dish to prepare at home

eating thai food
With its intriguing blend of contrasting flavours and lightly prepared dishes that offer excitement on our tastebuds, the cuisine of Thailand is hugely popular around the world, and for very good reason

If you’re feeling inspired and fancy whipping up a delicious Thai dish at home, then try an authentic Massaman Thai curry with Jasmine white rice. Mahatma Rice give the perfect guide on how to cook their Jasmine white rice over on mahatmarice.com/products/jasmine-white-rice/ – which includes the perfect water to rice ratio, different cooking methods and more so that you will get the best result each time you cook it. For the Massaman curry, we have previously published a recipe from Sanguan Parr, who has been the head chef for 20 years at Nipa Thai in London, where she leads an all-female and all-Thai kitchen.

From the southern region of Thailand comes Massaman Gai (yellow chicken curry), a simple to make, yet impressive dish that will fast become a favourite in any household. In a wok, heat oil, curry paste and coconut milk and add chicken and more coconut milk before simmering. Add cubed potatoes, roasted peanuts, onions, fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind juice, bay leaves, cardamom and cinnamon and simmer. Find the full recipe here and serve with your perfect Jasmine rice.

The best Thai restaurants

Nipa Thai
Nipa Thai is located in the five-star Royal Lancaster London hotel

Wherever you live, you shouldn’t be too far from good Thai food, whether you have the ingredients to whip up your favourites at home, you happen to live near a great restaurant, or you, of course, live in Thailand itself!

For inspiration we look to the Michelin Guide – the tried and trusted source of great restaurants – to navigate us to the best places around. First off, we head to Thailand where most of the notable restaurants are based in Bangkok, but in Phuket there is PRU – a one Michelin star eatery that stands for ‘plant, raise and understand’. In the country’s capital you can visit the two-star Sorn for Southern Thai delicacies and the two-star R-Hann and one-star Methavalai Sorndaeng, Paste, Suan Thip, Nahm, Saneh Jaan and more for traditional Thai delights.

In London, there is, of course Nipa Thai in the five-star Royal Lancaster London hotel, who provided us with their delicious Massaman curry recipe, and the Michelin recommended Som Saa, Farang, and Kiln, and also Patara Thai Restaurant Soho to try some mouth-watering Thai cuisine.