Skip to Content

A Beginners Guide to What is Thai Food!

Looking to learn more about What is Thai food? Discover the unique flavors and fascinating facts of this cuisine with this definitive beginner’s guide.

This guide is your ticket to a delicious journey through Thai Cuisine learning all about the ingredients, flavors, and more.

Find out why it’s so popular and explore what dishes to try first.

a plate of Thai food with a header A Beginners Guide to What is Thai food!

What is Thai Food?

Thai food is a delicious and diverse cuisine that has its roots in Southeast Asia.

From the highly spiced dishes of Isan to the complex flavors of Thai curries, this guide will introduce you to the varied flavors and cultural influences behind Thai food.

Thai food is a unique flavor concoction of sour, sweet, salty, and savory flavors that offer a delicious balance in every bite.

Originating from Thailand, the cuisine has been influenced by other countries throughout many centuries, including India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Even chili peppers have made their way into Thai food, though they are originally native to the Americas.

Thai cuisine consists of seven different variations which are characterized by region: Northern (Lanna), Northeastern (Isan), Eastern, Southern Central Plain, and Bangkok.

Each variation reflects various aspects of neighboring cuisines while still offering a distinct array of traditional dishes.

Before cooking and enjoying authentic Thai food for yourself, make sure to check out our list of essential ingredients and cookware for an enjoyable experience!

An Introduction to Regional Varieties of Thai Cuisine.

The first step to understanding Thai food is to get familiar with the different regional varieties of the cuisine.

From the fiery dishes of Isan in the northeast to the complex curries of Central Thailand, each region boasts a unique set of flavors and ingredients that make the food distinct.

Each region also incorporates different cooking techniques and combinations of herbs and spices, giving its own twist on traditional dishes.

What is Thai food is defined by its eclectic range of dishes and tastes.

Regional varieties play an important role in the way Thai food operates, as each area has its own nuances and specialty dishes intertwined with cultural influences from areas such as Burma, Laos, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India.

Each region carries its own distinct flavor profile that comprises all the essential Thai tastes: Bangkok arrives with Teochew and Portuguese influences; Central is known for its coconut-milk-infused curries; Isan showcases Khmer cuisine; while Northern brings Lanna Kingdom specialties to the mix.

Southern Thailand’s Malay culture is what sets this region apart featuring complex curries made up of chili peppers and spices that have become integral to Thai food in general.

Common Ingredients and Spices of Thai Food.

Every Thai dish utilizes a combination of ingredients and spices that makes it unique and flavorful – the most common being lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, tamarind paste, coconut milk, shallots, garlic, chilies, and shrimp paste.

These distinctive ingredients make Thai food stand out from other cuisines by creating an incredibly flavorful and fragrant range of dishes.

These spices impart a unique aroma and taste to dishes like Pad Grapao, Tom Yum Kung, Tom Kha Gai, Panang Curry, and more.

Popular Thai Dishes You Must Try.

When it comes to Thai food, there are a few dishes that are particularly popular.

Pad Thai is a classic dish consisting of noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, and other ingredients stir-fried in a sweet and sour sauce.

Thai curries such as green curry and red curry can be found in markets across the country.

These delicious dishes combine rich coconut milk with traditional herbs and spices like lemongrass, galangal, and chili paste to create an unforgettable meal.

Best Thai Dishes for Beginners

Traditional Etiquette Practices When Eating Thai Food.

Eating Thai food comes with certain etiquette and cultural practices.

In Thailand, it is considered polite to receive your plate of food and then join in the shared meal.

It is customary to start by saying “kin khao” which means let’s eat and gesture with your hands towards the dish, as a form of thanks to the cook.

Use your spoon for serving meals and expect to share dishes when you are with company.

Before eating, pause, smile, and say “gin khao yung” or “a-hahn yung”. This simply means Bon appetite!

What is the difference between Thai food and Chinese food?

Generally speaking, the main distinction between these two types of cuisine comes down to flavor profile. While Chinese cooking often relies on soy sauce or paste for seasoning, Thai food traditionally makes use of a variety of herbs, spices, and condiments such as fish sauce. Additionally, Thai cuisine places an emphasis on lightly cooked dishes that have a robust flavor due in part to the herbs used. Finally, many Thai dishes feature unique curries or soups served in larger bowls.

What is the main taste of Thai food?

Thai cuisine is known for its delicious eclectic flavors combining sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. But another important element in Thai food is bitterness, which helps to bring out the unique complex flavor profiles.

What are the key ingredients in Thai food?

Thai cuisine is renowned for its intense flavors, achieved by using a careful combination of key ingredients. Shallots, onions, scallions, and garlic are some of the most common allium vegetables that can be found in a variety of Thai dishes. Coconut milk adds a creamy richness to the cuisine. Spicy chiles bring heat to many dishes while fish sauce infuses flavor into traditional sauces. Fresh herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, and Kaffir lime leaves further add complexity to the flavor profile of classic Thai meals.

Is Thai food mostly spicy?

While many Thai dishes have an element of spiciness, there are still options for those who prefer milder flavors. Authentic Thai cuisine is known to be very spicy, because of its use of some of the most potent chili and spices. However, there are many milder dishes that can be enjoyed without the added spice.