While “Thai food” has gained international recognition, Thai cuisine can actually be broken down by the region from which it originated. Each of Thailand’s different regions has developed its own style and is responsible for dishes that are quite different from those of other regions. Thai food from Issarn, in the northeast of Thailand, shares many similarities with cuisine from neighboring Laos, though the Thai versions of the dishes, such as Som Tam, are a lot heavier on the chili. Southern curries on the other hand, are less spicy, with a greater Malaysian influence, and feature more coconut and turmeric. And while Thai people love fish, whether from the river or the sea, Thailand’s beaches are the prime destinations to sample the best Thai.
As Thai meals are typically served family style, with all diners sharing entrees, a Thai curry or soup is usually ordered with a meal. The consistency of each Thai curry varies widely, with some curries arguably classifiable as soups. However, most Thai curries are coconut milk-based and some are spicier than others. Gaeng Massaman, is a mild, peanut and potato curry; Gaeng Kiaw Wan (Thai green curry) is a curry of medium thickness and spiciness, while Gaeng Daeng (red curry), otherwise known as Gaeng Pet (spicy curry), is a thinner, obviously spicier option. Tom Kha, a mild coconut soup, blurs the lines between soup and curry, while Tom Yam Kung, a quintessential Thai soup, is often blisteringly hot.
Unlike typical Thai dishes, which are served for communal consumption, most Thai noodle dishes are served as individual dishes. While some restaurants will serve Thai noodle dishes, particularly Pad Thai noodles, noodles are more frequently served and eaten at street stalls that specialize in Thai noodle dishes. Thai noodles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including “small” (sen lek), “large” (sen yai), angel hair (sen mee), and x-large (gway tiow). Most Thai noodles are made of rice, though egg noodles (ba mee) and mungbean based glass noodles are also common. Other than pad Thai noodles, rad naa and gway tiow are stir fried noodles served with beef, chicken, or pork; condiments, including dried chilies.
This is another amazing example of a simple but wonderfully tasty dish. The ingredients are very simple: garlic, chilies, green beans, cherry tomatoes and shredded raw papaya get dramatically pulverized in a pestle and mortar, so releasing a rounded sweet-sour-spicy flavor that’s not easily forgotten. Regional variations throw peanuts, dry shrimp or salted crab into the mix, the latter having a gut-cleansing talent that catches many newcomers by surprise! Truth be told, it is usually eaten with sticky rice to complement the crunch of the green papaya. Other versions include crab (som tam boo), salted egg (som tam khai khem), and fermented fish (som tam plah lah).