Thai cuisine is known for its balance of five fundamental flavors in each dish or the overall meal - hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty and bitter (optional). Although popularly considered as a single cuisine, Thai food is really better described as four regional cuisines corresponding to the four main regions of the country: Northern, Northeastern (or Isan), Central and Southern. Southern curries, for example, tend to contain coconut milk and fresh turmeric, while northeastern dishes often include lime juice.
Influence and Western popularity
Thai food is known for its enthusiastic use of fresh (rather than dried) herbs and spices as well as fish sauce.
Thai food is popular in many Western countries especially in Australia, New Zealand, some countries in Europe such as the United Kingdom, as well as the United States, and Canada
Instead of a single main course with side dishes found in Western cuisine, a Thai full meal typically consists of either a single dish or rice khao (Thai: ข้าว) with many complementary dishes served concurrently.
Thai food is generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. Chopsticks are used rarely, primarily for the consumption of noodle soups. The fork, held in the left hand, is used to shovel food into the spoon. However, it is common practice for Thais and hill tribe peoples in the North and Northeast to eat sticky rice with their right hands by making it into balls that are dipped into side dishes and eaten. Thai-Muslims also frequently eat meals with only their right hands.
Often thai food is served with a variety of spicy condiments to embolden the dish. This can range from dried chili pieces, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, to a spicy chili sauce such as the nam prik mentioned above.
The ingredient found in almost all Thai dishes and every region of the country is nam pla (Thai น้ำปลา), a very aromatic and strong tasting fish sauce. Shrimp paste, a combination of ground shrimp and salt, is also extensively used. Thai dishes in the Central and Southern regions use a wide variety of leaves rarely found in the west, such as kaffir lime leaves (Thai ใบมะกรูด). Fresh - kaffir lime leaves' characteristic flavour appears in nearly every Thai soup (e.g., the hot and sour Tom yam) or curry from those areas. It is frequently combined with garlic, galangal, lemon grass, turmeric and/or fingerroot, blended together with liberal amounts of various chillies to make curry paste. Fresh Thai basil is also used to add fragrance in certain dishes such as Green curry. Other typical ingredients include the small green Thai eggplants, tamarind, palm and coconut sugars, lime juice, and coconut milk. A variety of chilies and spicy elements are found in most Thai dishes. Other ingredients also include pahk chee (cilantro), rahk pahk chee (cilantro roots), curry pastes, pong kah-ree (curry powder), si-yu dahm (dark soy sauce), prik haeng (dried shrimp), pong pa-loh (five-spice powder), tua fahk yao (long beans or yard-long beans), nahmahn hoi (oyster sauce), prik Thai (Thai pepper), rice and tapioca flour, and nahm prik pao (roasted chili paste),
Many Thai dishes are familiar in the west. In many dishes below, different kinds of meat can be chosen as the ingredient, such as beef, chicken, pork, or seafood.
Throughout the country there are many interpretations and variations on these common dishes. Other dishes from the northern part of Thailand include unique sauces and exotic foods, such as raw beef, fermented fish paste, and deep fried insect larvae (also enjoyed in the Northeast). The culinary creativity even extends to naming: one tasty larva translates as "freight train" and the smallest, hottest chillies are known as phrik khii nuu (Thai: พริกขี้หนู), literally "mouse shit chillies". In the Northeast, eating insects is common, and the giant water bug (mang dah; Thai: แมงดา) is popular.
The dish nam prik pla too (Thai: น้ำพริกปลาทู) is particularly common in central Thailand because of its low cost. It consists of fried Indian mackerel, Rastrelliger kanagurta (pla too) served with a shrimp-and-chilli paste (nam prik kapi). The fish are traditionally presented in pairs, placed head-to-tail on a round bamboo dish.