Thai food is diverse in appearance, aroma, color, and taste. Its most distinctive character is its piquant taste. Apart from meat and vegetables as the main ingredients, the use of several different seasonings is emphasized in Thai food. This way, each and every dish is a harmonious blend of sour, sweet, salty, and hot tastes. With their elaborate cooking method and presentation technique, Thai dishes such as tom yam kung, phat thai, and kaeng khiao wan have become world-famous.

The special quality of Thai food is its ability to reflect three key values – nutritional, cultural, and medical – with the use of fresh ingredients, well-trained natural talent in cooking methods and presentation techniques, and the generous use of herbs and spices. Thai food is meant to be appealing to the eye, nose, and palate. The Thais pay attention to detail at each and every step of food preparation. Thai cookery can therefore be classified as an art and an essential part of the nation’s cultural heritage gleaned from generations past. Thai food is a harmonious combination of tastes and medicinal qualities, as the ingredients are mainly vegetables and herbs, such as lemon grass, galangal, capsicum, basil, and garlic, which not only give out enticing aromas, but also increase the health benefits.

The Thais have rice as their staple food, normally taken in a communal manner, with diners forming a ring around dishes set in the middle of the table or picnic-style on the floor. The dishes often comprise a spicy soup, a fried dish, a soup, and a dip, with an individual rice dish for each person, who may choose from among the shared dishes to eat with his or her portion of rice, while eating together with the others. Each region of the country has its specific dishes and dining methods, depending on the culture and weather conditions that prevail. Such regional specialties reflect the local wisdom of the region, with recipes thought up and improved in accordance with available resources and the region’s unique cultural traits. For example, people in the central and the southern regions eat white rice, while their counterparts in the North and Northeast enjoy plenty of sticky rice, conveniently conveyed to the mouth by the fingers, along with selected food from shared dishes.

Thai desserts and sweetmeats, meanwhile, come in diverse forms and are elaborately made, whether heated or chilled. Most are in pleasant shapes and forms, in bright colors that everyone relishes. Thai desserts are based on fruits and produce such as banana, sugar palm nut, coconut, young rice, maize, sweet potato, taro, rice flour, and tapioca flour, made into puree over a fire, steamed, boiled in syrup, fried, and baked. Egg yolk is added for desserts like golden thread and golden drop. Some are boiled in coconut milk, or eaten with fruit, such as creamy steamed sticky rice with ripe mango, and several others. All these desserts and sweetmeats not only make a great finish to a meal, but also provide Thais with nimble fingers a chance to demonstrate their skills.


The central region is the rice basket of the country, and the site of the nation’s capital, where royal palaces are situated and with a long history of contact with foreign cultures. The food of the central region is therefore modified and toned down in spiciness, but more elaborately created and decorated.

A meal in the central region may typically consist of steamed white rice, preferably the aromatic jasmine rice, with about 3-5 shared dishes on the table, depending on the number of diners. Shared dishes may be a side dish of fried fish cakes, a dip or a spicy salad of winged beans, a spicy fried dish, and a spicy soup. The dip comes with finely carved and arranged vegetables, while the spicy soup invariably contains coconut milk. Moreover, a meal in the central region almost always comes with condiments, such as a fried shrimp paste dip with carved vegetables and sweetened pork.

Many dishes of the central region are widely known and favored all over the world, especially tom yam kung – spicy prawn soup; tom kha kai – chicken in galangal soup with coconut milk; kaeng khiao wan – spicy green soup; and phat thai – fried rice noodles. Also, ho mok pla – Thai fish paté – represents local wisdom and refinement, with the mixture of fish flesh with herbs and coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed.

Thai desserts from the central region are elaborately made and beautifully garnished, as most recipes are brought from the royal palace. The region is also home to sugar palm plantations, apart from being the hub for foreign trade. Several desserts were introduced in the Ayutthaya period by the Japanese wife of Constantin Phaulcon, a Greek adventurer who became the First Minister at the court of King Narai. They also carry auspicious names and are now served in celebrations and festivals.


The Northerners consume sticky rice with various kinds of dips and fresh vegetables. Their spicy soups – not as spicy as those of the Northeast and the South – are made up primarily of local herbs, easily found in the mountainous terrain of the North. A well-known one-dish meal of the North is khao soi, made of yellow noodles, in spicy coconut milk soup, with preserved lettuce and red onion as condiments, yielding a piquant but harmonious taste.

Food in the northern region is also under the influence of the weather. On chilly days, people warm up with oily dishes like kaeng ong, kaeng hang-le, and fried spicy sausage, sai ua. Ingredients are mostly herbal plants from the valleys and the forests, making up famous dishes like kaeng khae or kaeng yuak, utilizing the inner part of a banana trunk as the main ingredient, or khanom chin nam ngiao, with dried flowers of Bombax ceiba L., or the red silk cotton tree, as the main ingredient. Also famous among northern food is naem, sour preserved pork, a forerunner of food preservation techniques developed from local wisdom.

The culinary art of the North is inherited from the Lanna Kingdom, combined with cultural traits from neighboring countries such as Laos and Myanmar. The highlight of northern food is the khan tok dinner, with a low pedestal-tray called a tok, at the center, where dishes are placed, with diners forming a ring around it, normally sitting on the floor.

Desserts of the North are normally made of sticky rice, both white and red. In festivals, they make khao taen, a delicacy composed of sticky rice mixed with watermelon juice and then fried, laced with cane syrup. Other desserts include khao tom hua ngok, made of sticky rice steamed with banana and seasoned with shredded coconut cake and sugar, and khanom pat, from rice flour mixed with cane syrup over a fire, and laced with shredded and salted coconut cake. Dried banana is also a famous dessert of the region, due to the abundance of banana plants.


Apart from the northern region, sticky rice is also the staple food in the Northeast, often taken with som tam – spicy papaya salad – grilled chicken, spicy Isan salad with meat, and with an indispensable ingredient, pla ra – preserved and fermented wild fish, a product of the Northeasterners’ ingenuity in food preservation. The region is often arid, and raw materials for cooking can be hard to come by, so food preservation is a necessity. The region borders the Mekong and is fed by its numerous tributaries, the sources of fish.

The Northeasterners are familiar with spicy food, especially the hot taste provided by herbs grown in the households, mixed with fish and shrimps caught in the rivers. Such natural foods with herbs are considered health food, as well.

Other well-known Isan dishes, apart from som tam, are spicy bamboo shoot salad, chaeo bong, based on the preserved fish in pla ra, and kaeng om, spicy soup made of various vegetables, spices, and dill, and mixed with pla ra, without coconut milk.

Snack and desserts of the Isan people are similar to those originating in the North, with sticky rice and young rice as the main ingredients. They are simply made, such as khao chi and khao pong, ancient foodstuffs made of sticky rice. Khao chi is sticky rice laced with salt and grilled, while khao pong is steamed sticky rice, pounded and pressed into thin sheets before being grilled. Moreover, there are items made for religious functions, such as khao pradap din, kraya sat, and khao thip.


The local food of the South differs markedly from food in other regions, as the region is close to the sea, rich in marine life. Many Southerners are engaged in fishing, and seafood makes up their main dishes, they use spices liberally to moderate the smell of the fish.

The South is open to influences from foreign cultures, such as southern India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Therefore, various spices and marinated fish make up several dishes. The region is also rained on most of the year, so residents warm themselves up with spicy soups. Two main supplements of southern dishes are turmeric and capsicum, making the dishes yellowish and hot.

Famous dishes from the South are kaeng tai pla, a thick spicy soup made of turmeric and shrimp paste, containing fish innards, roasted fish, and vegetables; kaeng som or kaeng lueang – yellow spicy soup, comprising fish, preserved bamboo shoot, and eaten with fresh vegetables; and khua kling, with meat fried in a spicy mixture until dry, and laced with kaffir lime leaf. They are served with fresh vegetables and other dishes such as sardines in salty and sweet gravy.

People of the South celebrate the tenth lunar month festival with several ritual desserts, such as khanom phong, khanom kong, and khanom la, meant to be shared with the spirits of the festival. They also use sticky rice to make sweetmeats mixed with seasoned coconut meat, or boiled in coconut milk, and khanom kan bua, made of steamed sticky rice, pounded and made into thin sheets, dried and fried, and soaked in syrup.