Do you know which dishes come from different parts of Thailand? Charinya Ruecha of @charinyas_kitchen
gives us an overview of the four main food regions of Thailand
“There is always fish in the water and rice in the paddy field” is a traditional phrase that illustrates the abundance of
food in Thailand – Charinya Ruecha
Few countries are blessed with Thailand’s natural resources, and for centuries Thai people have enjoyed the natural bounties on offer throughout the country. This does not mean however that all Thai people eat the same food in the same way! Describing all the different cuisines embraced by the diverse ethnic groups in Thailand is impossible in a short post like this, but I would like to briefly introduce you to what are, perhaps, the four main food regions in Thailand.
The food in each region represents the mix of culture, customs and traditions in their locality. The food also reflects the influence from traditional neighbours, which may or may not now be a different country.
Let’s start this journey in the north of Thailand. Have you ever been to Chiang Mai? Or Chiang Rai? Well, that is the part of the world I am talking about. Here you will find, “Kanom Jeen Nam Ngew” (noodles with red curry and cotton flowers), “Kow Soi” (noodles in red curry), “Keang Kare” (vegetable curry), “Nam Prik Num” (green chilli dip) or “Nam Prik Ong” (red chilli tomato dip)? Even though there are a few chilli dips in the north the northerners generally prefer food with a mild taste. The ingredients are vegetables that grown and available in the area. As northern Thailand is located far away from the sea the main proteins are chicken, pork and beef. An example is a dish that came from a neighbour, “Kaeng Hang Le“, which is pork with curry paste and ginger and was originally from Myanmar.
“Kaeng hang le”, (pork with curry paste and ginger) was originally from Myanmar.
“Nam prik ong” (red chilli tomato dip)
Next is the region is where I came from. The northeastern of Thailand, also known as Isan, can feature some very unique cuisine. Famous dishes are “Somtum“(green papaya salad), “Larb” (mincemeat salad), “Namtok” (meat salad), “Keang Omm” (Isan vegetable soup) and sticky rice. Isan people prefer extra spicy and intense flavour. The most common seasoning is fermented fish sauce known as “Pla Rah” or “Pla Dak“. Meats that are used for cooking are chicken, beef, pork, fresh river fish and some exotic ingredients such as frog, grasshopper, crickets and ants eggs. Isan culture is influenced by the neighbouring Laos so you might notice that there are many similar dishes.
The central food area is next, and includes Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. The city is located where it is because this area the surrounding major rivers ensured exceptionally fertile soil for agriculture, an abundance of fish and, historically, was Thailand’s major arrival and departure point for travellers by ship. The dishes from the central region are very well known compared with other regions as most of them are available in Thai restaurants around the world. Famous dish are “Gaeng Kiew Waan” (green curry), “Tom Yum” (spicy and sour soup), and “Pad Thai” (stir fried noodles). Particularly notable is the Chinese influence on many of these dishes.
“Tom yum” (spicy and sour soup)
The next foodie heaven can be found in South of Thailand. Major cities here are Phuket, Songkha and Naratiwat. Southerners prefer hot and spicy food, which includes not just chilli but also other spices and herbs that were brought by travellers over the ocean. This makes the food distinctly different as it wasn’t modified as it passed through neighbouring countries. The south of Thailand is surrounded by the sea so many dishes contain fish. Popular dishes are “Khua Kling” (Thai dry meat curry), “Kaeng Tai Plag” (fish organ soup), “Kaeng Lueng” (yellow soup), and “Pad Sa Tor” (stir fried stink beans with prawns). Some famous seasoning includes “Kapi” or shrimp paste, which is similar to “belachan” in Malaysia, and Budu sauce (fermented fish).
“Kaeng Tai Plag” (fish organ soup)
How many Thai food regions have you visited with your taste buds? Have you decided which food region is your favourite? If you ask me I can’t really answer that question. As I grew up in Isan I might be more familiar with the food from Isan than other regions, however I also enjoy eating and cooking other foods. With modern life so much food is now found beyond traditional boundaries, with Isan food or southern food available in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Why don’t give a new taste a try and experienced all four regions yourself!
I might have to end here as while I’m writing about food I also imagine to the smell of it and the taste. This has made me hungry. I am off to the kitchen to recreate some of those memories.