An Introduction To Thai Cuisine

Thai cooking methods and clean and simple – a knife, wok, pestle and mortar are the main utensils, with stir-frying and steaming being the most common techniques. The ingredients are more complex though, with recipes often combining sweet, sour, hot and salty flavours which play against each other to create well-balanced dishes. The ingredients which provide some of these big flavours are galangal, chilli, garlic, tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce and soy. As the only south Asian country which has never been ruled by a European power, Thai food is a purer Chinese-Indian-cross than its neighbours, with fewer foreign influences.

The verb ‘to eat’ in Thai ("kin khâo") literally translates as ‘to eat rice’, so it’s no surprise that a big bowl forms the base of most meals, with a combination of small meat and vegetable dishes served alongside it. Jasmine rice is common in the south, with glutinous ‘sticky’ rice predominating in the north – also processed into glutinous rice flour, to form the base of various Thai sweets. David Thompson is famous for his writing on Thai food - particularly street food in his book Thai Street Food. And Phaidon's new book Thailand: The Cookbook is a beautiful introduction to Thai cuisine.

Click here for a range of Thai cookware and ingredients


Thailand: The Cookbook

Enter our competition to win a copy of Thailand: The Cookbook, the definitive guide to Thai food and cooking. We want to know what's your favourite Thai dish and why. Post your answers as comments at the bottom of this article to be in with a chance of winning. Competition closes on Monday 17th November 2014 at 5pm.

Thailand: The Cookbook includes more than 500 easy-to-follow, authentic recipes collected from the length and breadth of Thailand, including snacks and drinks; soups; salads; curries; stir-fries; noodle and rice dishes; grilled fish and meat dishes; and desserts. The recipes have been extensively researched, tested and fully updated for the western kitchen without diluting any of their authenticity. And that's why we've chosen to include a copy of the book along with a number of key Thai ingredients in our Authentic Thai Cooking Set (£39.50).

This competition is now closed - congratulations to Peter G who was the lucky winner.


43 comments

  • A good Yam Neua – Thai beef salad for me. Rare beef with a crunchy salad, hot, sweet, salty and sour dressing with lots of lime, sugar, chilli and fish sauce. Fresh, spicy and moreish, just as good Thai should be.

    Chris Baker on

  • Ma Hor (galloping horses) – addictive little bites of pleasure.

    Nicky Bramley on

  • Green Papaya salad (som tam) is so refreshing and delicious, and goes with just about anything else you like.

    Lynne @josordoni on

  • I absolutely adore Pad Thai. In all its shapes and forms, whether it be with prawn, chicken or beef, a bit of Pad Thai can always brighten up my day/palate.

    Peter Gabriel on

  • Khao Soi is a wonderful noodle dish with a crazy depth of flavor in the curry. You got spicy, sour, sweet, and savory. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

    Tom Nguyen on

  • Pad Thai – simple Thai soul food, but yet such a complex flavour profile, defining Thai food culture influences. Most importantly, every Thai person eats it so it truly does represent Thailand

    Vinson on

  • King prawn red Thai curry- because I’ve never experimented with Thai cooking before and this is the only recipe I know!

    paula Leworthy on

  • I am very partial to green Thai curry.
    I have been experimenting, and find that prawn and squid work really well.
    http://www.lovethekitchen.co.uk/thai-green-curry-prawn-squid-butternut-squash/

    Richard Bewley on

  • For me it has to be Pork Larb (Larb Moo). The tangy combination of heat, sour and salty is perfect and takes me back to happy times by the sea in Hua Hin.

    Robert Williams on

  • King Prawn and chicken panang curry, with lots of veg and rice noodles garnished with lime wedges. Will be cooking this for my parents and very picky sister on Sunday for the first time. I can only hope they love it as much as I do.

    Holly on

  • Either Massaman Gai or Chicken and Cashew nuts (my versions are both on my blog) as they remind me of my time living in Singapore and our holidays to Thailand – not much beats eating one of these dishes whilst watching the sun sink into the waves in stunning surroundings. They’re also easy to make and have a bit more wow factor for guests that Thai Green Curry (although that’s also delicious and simple to create).

    Lily on

  • i love a good green curry. i prefer mine with lamb and i make my paste from scratch and modify as i like. Actually marinating my lamb today for a curry tommorow. i love my lamb fingerlicking smackerlicking thaid up.

    precious jason on

  • Radna, is my favourite thai comfort food. After much pointing and nodding to a street vendor, I had it for the first time in Chiang mai. It took me ages to find out what the dish was called, but brings back great memories.

    Marie on

  • Chopped garlic, red chilli and lime juice with a little sugared water, let it steep for 10 minutes, then add about 3 times more chopped corriander than would seem necessary.

    I don’t know what the hell it’s called but it rocks my world.

    matt price on

  • Was taken for an authentic Thai meal for my birthday recently and it was delicious. Will certainly be going back. Nom Nom

    Helen Cartwright on

  • My favourite is Thai green curry meaning in Thai sweet green curry. I like the combinations of flavour is a spicy, sweet and fragrant comforter dish made with fresh ingredients and I love it with coconut rice.

    Maria Bejar on

  • Tom Yum soup! Love the spice and aromatic flavours! Pop in some mushrooms and king prawns and it is just perfect x

    Katie Shaw on

  • Pad Kee Mao – mainly because I like saying it, but also it’s the ‘drunken’ noodle, which is fitting as it’s particularly good when slightly hungover!

    Clarissa on

  • Tom kha gai- I love all the different flavours and ingredients, the coconut milk, chicken, spiciness and sourness! It really warms me up and no matter how many times I eat it, it always surprises me with the various new flavours I notice and enjoy with each new tasting.

    Kim on

  • No contest! Green papaya salad – a dish so delicious that even die-hard carnivores succumb! I just wish mainstream supermarkets stocked green papaya. If you don’t live near a chinese supermarket, then it’s almost impossible to find.

    Kevan Brighting on

  • Pad Si-Ew

    Pad Si-Ew is a fairly simple but very tasty example, and it’s one of my favourites. The wide, flat noodles absorb the sweet and sour flavours of the sauce. Fresh and crunchy stir-fried vegetables – like Chinese broccoli and baby corn – balance out the soft texture of the rice noodles. Heaven on a plate.

    Mary Bracuti@btconne on

  • A yummy Tom Ka Gai

    Nicola Rooney on

  • Tom kha gai, as it’s the first Thai dish I ever tasted and which still makes me happy every time I eat it.

    Annika on

  • Panang fish curry! I love the milder flavour, soo warming with flaky salmon, crunchy bamboo shoots and creamy coconut milk over rice. Yum yum!

    Kat on

  • Although I am an experienced cook I have rarely cooked Thai food – living in rural Dorset doesn’t help! But Pad Thai is my favourite so far as I love the crunch of the peanuts against the softness of the noodles. Although a friend once made me Thai Laksa and that was very tasty too. You can see I badly need this cookery book!!

    Louise on

  • It’s Masaman for me! My local market has a Thai van that sells the most delicious food. The love and care that the couple who make it put into it is incredible. The smell of the Masaman as you get close to the market warms my heart. I’ve never been to Thailand but sitting there on my lunch break eating the most delicious curry transports me to my own exotic getaway

    Charlotte on

  • This is tough as it is a very close call between Pomelo Salad and Pad Thai especially when ordering from The Peoples Palace in Manila, Philippines.
    The Pomelo salad provides a sharp contrast of the sharp but juicy Pomelo against the shaved coconut.
    The act of having to mix your mix Pad Thai feels like you have been part of the cooking process which is not entirely true but definitely works for me!
    Memories!

    6atthetable on

  • Wunpen and Mr.Hay’s special dessert (sticky rice and coconut in bamboo)

    Fond memories of staying with thai family over 20 years ago in the jungles of Erewan National Park . Spending the whole afternoon making this dish-as often as we could persuade them! Cutting down the bamboo, and filling the cavities with sticky rice and coconut, pushing the sticks in the ground and then lighting a fire with the coconut husks to slowly cook the dessert- and the only light source for the night. Sitting around joking & singing with the family eating a curry and then breaking into the sweet hot final dish- a perfect end to an evening – with a small tot of thai whisky of course.

    FLIPPED on

  • Anything and everything……..after a very bad health spell I am re-learning how to do everything again…and I have a new found desire for food and cooking…..Asian in general and Thai in particular….after all, elsewhere on Earth could cater for an enforced coeliac and vegan diet so damned well?

    Tenere on

  • I had two favourites. One is Thai-style laksa soup. The first time I had it was in a restaurant in Hong Kong, and I just loved its coconut touch!
    The other one are corn pancakes. They are insanely delicious, crispy, spicy, with a touch of curry, and filled with corn.

    Anni on

  • A green curry might sound obvious, but it will always be my favourite Thai dish, because it has sentimental value.

    I always do the cooking in our house, because I love to explore with food, having been taught by my mum, an amazing cook. But when we met seven years ago my husband had no idea how to cook – he could rustle something up if everything was pre-cooked or tinned but didn’t have the confidence to work with different recipes. Sadly his mum wasn’t able to teach him to cook because she was severely disabled and died ten years ago.

    Thai green curry was the first recipe that first got him excited about learning to cook. Starting with a ready-mixed paste, but now experimenting with all the authentic ingredients he can get his hands on, it’s a staple in our house that gives us both so much pleasure – to make and eat!

    Jane on

  • Love a really good Pad Thai with loads of chilli and toasted peanuts.

    Deborah Clarke on

  • Pad Thai is my ultimate ‘sunshine in a bowl’. I don’t mind whether it is vegetarian or chicken or seafood, it always makes me smile.

    Sheil on

  • The first Thai meal I ever had was in my early twenties in a pub in Cambridge. “They do good Thai food in here”, said my friend, who I was visiting, “Let’s have lunch”. I ordered something off the blackboard that was called ‘Green Chilli Chicken’. It was only after we had ordered and were sat down with our pints that he remarked, “I’m surprised you went for that one – that’s really hot”. Ah well, too late now. Anyway, I like spicy food, it surely couldn’t be that hot.

    After a little while, the food arrived, and I would swear that in my Green Chilli Chicken, the pieces of green chilli outnumbered the pieces of chicken by at least two to one. I took a bite. It was good, very good, and hot, but not too hot. I tucked in. But this was the kind of meal where the chilli heat builds gradually, mouthful by mouthful. Each bite seemed hotter than the last, but the flavours were marvellous, I wasn’t going to give up. It took a little while, but I ate everything on my plate – it took a couple of pints of beer though to help cool my mouth during the process.

    Ever since that day though, I’ve loved Thai food and have learned to cook a variety of dishes. My favourite is one called Chicken, with Green Chilli and Nuts – it’s not that dissimilar to that first Thai meal in the pub. Slices of chicken breast, green beans and peanuts, stir-fried with garlic and chillies – lots of chillis – with fish and soy sauces. My wife doesn’t like me to go too overboard on the chillis, so I usually tone it down a little, but if I’m ever cooking it for just myself, I am do sometimes throw in a handful extra, just to remind me of how it all began. I still need a couple of beers to wash it down though.

    David Wilkinson on

  • It’s a tough call, but a bowl of tom yum kung always brings back that feeling of sunshine and sea and generally feeling happy!

    Sue on

  • It is simple, , exciting and healthy, a concoction of flavours that burst with freshness and excite the senses. It makes you stop and question: ‘Why cant all salads taste this good’. Yes, I am talking about som tam pla ra. This grated papaya salad was born in the he lesser known Northern Issan region of Thailand, but has since come to dominate Thai restaurants throughout the world. The dish encompasses the flavour profile so unique to Thai cuisine, and indeed the Issan region, itself. The dish brings together the hot (chilli) sweat (palm sugar) salty (Fish sauce) and sour (lime) flavour melody that dominate Thai food. Each bit reveals new layers of complexity and discoveries. The grated raw papaya absorbs all the flavours that are pounded together. It lends the dish a refreshing crunch, contrasting with the dry, crumbly texture of peanuts or dried shrimp. Whilst in its original form, the dish is dressed in a fermented fish sauce: Naam Pla Raa. Unlike the usual fish sauce (plaa raa), this fermented paste (thicker and mud-coloured) is made from fermented mud fish or gourami. Its funky, pungent and smells rotten. Yet to me, it sings authenticity. Whilst its certainly not for everyone, it brings the dish a whole new layer of flavours. This Thai salad is superb, it never fails to excite me. Whenever I eat it, I make a pledge to include more greens raw greens in my diet. Yet, no matter how hard I try, there is nothing that comes close to this spectacular Thai green papaya salad. It is, without a doubt, my favourite Thai dish.

    Boris abrams on

  • Now i may not know as many fancy dishes as everyone else here but I prefer the traditional Thai Green Curry… It a something comforting and warm that just makes you melt and the the different flavour sensations are incredible. Personally, it one of my all time favourite dishes, second being chili con carne. The Green Curry gives me a sense of home wherever I eat it and that’s what i think food should be about.

    Rosie Littleford on

  • Pad Thai. A perfect comfort food. Sweet, spicy, sour, salty, with lots of great textures.

    andrea on

  • Thai Red Curry is my ‘go to’ if I am pressed for time and want to have some enjoyable fast food. Indian curry pastes and Chinese ready-made sauces are far too often to bland for me whereas Thai Red Curry paste gives an amazing result every time. I just love the combination of salty heat with a hint of sweetness. The next step is to try to make my own curry paste.

    Anne C on

  • Khao Soi – so many yummy flavours, and it reminds me of my trip to Chiang Mai.

    Louise F on

  • How lovely it’s been to read about such varied and vibrant Thai food experiences. Thank you to everyone who entered! Our lucky winner is Peter G – we’ll be in touch soon.

    Keep a look out for more exciting competitions coming up over the next few weeks.
    Best wishes,
    Jessica

    Jessica on

  • I have two favourites one being Thai green Curry with a homemade green curry paste I love the cream texture of the coconut cream and then the bite of the chilli at the end.

    I also love Chicken and egg Pad Thai noodles the taste is perfect topped with dried chilli flakes.

    I have recently been to Thailand and have taken a cooking course and would be great to bring home a little bit of Thailand.

    Jodie alexandra on

  • Did anybody actually win this?

    Chris Baker on

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