Traditionally, local people of the north sit on straw mats and enjoy dining around ‘kantoke’, a small table made of oak. On the table, looking similar to a tray with legs, appears a selection of special entries normally comprising curries, sticky rice, various par-boiled vegetables and deep-fried fish with a choice of ‘nam phrik’ – chili paste dips. Among the northern dips, ‘nam phrik noom’ (young chili dip) is perhaps the most popular. Besides, northerners like to accompany their meals with the North’s unique preserved meat called ‘moo yor’ and ‘naem’ (spicy pork sausages).
Northern cuisine is strongly influenced by the climate and neighboring people. Curries such as ‘gaeng hang lay’ are cooked in rich and creamy coconut milk. This fat gives people warmth in the cool weather of the mountainous region. The local varieties of nam phrik represent the Thais’ typical use of chilies. But northern nam phrik always has a side dish called ‘kaeb moo’ (crispy pork rind) to distinguish the north’s recipes from those of other regions’.
Northern people prefer to eat glutinous or sticky rice as the main constituent of their diets, as the Lao do. A Chinese influence is reflected in the widespread use of noodles. The favorite noodle dish of the North is called ‘khao soi’, crispy rice or egg noodle in a rich curry sauce.
Originally created by Chinese Hors living in the hills, khao soi differs from noodle dishes in other regions by the addition of coconut milk to the soup. Another popular noodle dish called ‘khanom jeen nam ngeow’ directly results from the influence of Mon people in southern Burma. Among many culinary cultures affecting the north, Burmese seems to be the most obvious influence in most local recipes, especially curries and chili dips such as ‘gaeng aom’ (pork curry with innards) and ‘nam phrik ong’ (tomato chili dip with ground pork).
Geographically lying right in the heart of the country, the central region of Thailand is the most fertile area. It is blessed with natural water, dominated mainly by the Chao Phraya River. The fertility of the area is ideal for many crops to be harvested here. Rice is the chief agricultural product in this region but there are also a wide variety of other fresh produce be they vegetables, fruits and flowers. This freshness and abundance is key to the region’s variety of delicious cuisine.
Chili dip or ‘nam prik’ is a typical dish served together with fresh vegetables which are in season such as cucumbers, morning glory stalks, makok leaves, cha-om and gratin. There are many types of chili paste dips distinguished by the main ingredients or the techniques in making dips.
Not only eaten with fresh vegetables, the chili paste dip is also applied to make many more complex dishes. The spicy Thai salad or ‘yam’ also derived from dipping. ‘Yam’ or Thai-style salad usually refers the dish with has sweet and sour taste and has a great aroma from some herbs such as kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass.
In the central region, there are many kinds of traditional dessert, cooked with different techniques. But whatever techniques are used, they all mostly share the three basic ingredients-flour, coconut and sugar. Another desserts of the central area are fruits. Apart from eating them fresh, the Thais are creative to apply them to make many delightful desserts. Simply add fresh fruits into light clear syrup and put some crushed ice into it, and then you will have another dessert that is easy-to-prepared and very delicious. We can see that it’s quite simple to prepare to cook typical food of the central region. In fact, it’s the ingredients where the secret actually lies.
The Northeast or Isaan, the largest region of Thailand, is a high plateau with an arid land and low rainfall. The weather in this region is hotter and summer is longer than any other region of Thailand. Its severe topography and weather affect the eating habits of its people.
All dishes are simple in both the ingredients and the method of preparation. Besides, spiciness is a requisite in every delicacy. Mainly, Isaan food is a blend of spicy chilies and sour tamarind, ‘makok’ or red ant eggs. The Northeastern Thais, like the Northerners, prefer sticky rice in both sweetened and steamed styles. Served in a basket, locally called ‘kratip’, sticky rice and kratip have become the cultural symbol of the region.
Northeasterners are well known as experts in preserving fish, extensively used in cooking and seasoning. The local specialties of raw stuffed fish include ‘pla ra’, ‘pla som’ and ‘pla daek’. The world famous Northeastern delicacy is ‘som tam’, a spicy raw papaya salad mixed with chilies, garlic, tomatoes, green beans, lime juice and fish sauce with the extra seasoning of stuffed fish and preserved crab. The innards are a delectable food which are boiled and seasoned into ‘tom krueng nai’, a sour and spicy Northeastern style soup.
Isan sausage is another favorite dish throughout the country. The stuffed mixture in intestines is left to ferment with a slightly sour taste. Other mouth-watering plates include ‘lahp’, ground spiced meat, ‘jaew’, chili dip, ‘sup normai’, spicy bamboo shoot salad, and ‘gai yang’, barbecued chicken. Curries with non-coconut milk are also popular in the Northeast. Among other regions of Thailand, Northeastern cuisine is distinctive as being particularly fiery and hot.
The southern cuisine is best known in its weight of hot and spice. The locals believe that living in humid climate along the broad coastline can make them sick. Thus, the heat from food can protect them from fevers. This is how the geography affects the taste of the southerners.
Connected to Muslim country like Malaysia, the region has inevitably been passed Islamic culture into its culinary realm. There is an extensive use of turmeric that characteristically makes the southern dishes look yellowish such as ‘gaeng lueng’ (spicy coconut shoot soup), ‘khao mok gai’ (turmeric rice topped with chicken) and even ‘gaeng som’ (tamarind-flavored soup).