som-tam-thai-food-1319142-640x480There’s no doubt that Thai food is some of the best cuisine in the world, with deep flavors, lip numbing spiciness, and healthy, fresh ingredients. In fact, Thai food is so popular that it’s considered the finest food in all of Asia, and Thais have exported their cooking to almost every other country in the world. But what exactly that makes it so delicious that we keep coming back for more? Today, we’ll get to the heart – or stomach – of Thai food.

We’ve all had Thai food at our local hometown restaurant, but most of us just chow down on Pad Thai or Green Curry. These dishes can be very tasty, but they have nothing on the legit food that Thailand put out every second of every day; whether it’s vendors whipping up some Khao phat (fried rice) on the streets of Bangkok, or five-star Michelin chefs plating up the finest Thai cuisine in their world-class restaurants.

Thai cuisine, or ‘Ar-Han-Thai’, is one of the most popular cuisines in the world. In 2011, seven of Thailand’s popular dishes made it to the list of the “World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods (Readers’ Pick)”- a worldwide online poll of 35,000 people by CNN International. Thailand had more dishes on the list than any other country. The dishes were tom yam goong (clear, spicy and sour soup), pad thai, som tam (green papaya salad with cherry tomatoes, and often made with shrimp), massaman curry (a curry that boasts a serious array of spaces such as cinnamon, usually made with beef), green curry, Thai fried rice, and moo nam tok (a warm salad made with grilled pork).

Thai food is known for its complex interplay of at least three and up to five fundamental taste senses in each dish, or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy- so there’s a little something for everyone, no matter what taste tickles your taste buds. There’s no dish that boasts this more than Som Tam, which combines sour lime, hot chili, salty, savory fish sauce, and sweetness added by palm. It’s not about simplicity. It’s about the juggling of contrasting elements that create a completely harmonious finish. Simplicity is by no means the dictum.

Thai’s not only pay attention to how a dish tastes, they pay close attention to how it looks, how it smells, and how it fits in with the rest of the meal. They aim for a complete sensory enlightenment.

Thai cuisine can be separated into four main types, which focus on the four main regions of the country itself:

  • - Central (Ahan Phak Klang)
  • - Northern (Ahan Lanna)
  • - Southern (Ahan Phak Tai)
  • - Northeastern (Ahan Isan)

Thai cuisine and the culinary traditions, and cuisines of Thailand’s neighbors, have mutually influenced one another over the centuries. Regional variations tend to correlate to neighboring states, as well as climate, geography, and topography.

-The central Thai plains were greatly influenced by Thai royal cuisine, which focuses on refinement, special cooking techniques, and presentation in dishes like Chuchi pla kaphong (snapper in thick red curry sauce), and Kai phat khing (chicken stir fried with sliced ginger).

-Northern Thai cuisine shares dishes with the Yunnan Province in China, the Shan State in Myanmar, and northern Laos. Some of the most popular dishes are Kaeng Pa– better known as “jungle curry” (wild boar/pork/chicken curry), and Kaep mu (deep fried crispy pork rinds).

-Southern Thailand borrows a lot of its flavors from Malaysia and Indonesia, with many dishes that contain tons of coconut milk and turmeric, such as Khua kling (very dry spicy curry made with minced or diced meat), and Khao mok (Thai-style biryani).

-In the Northeastern region, the cuisine is similar to that of southern Laos, and is also influenced by Vietnamese cuisine, and the Khmer cuisine of Cambodia. Some of the most popular dishes in the region are Mu ping (marinated, grilled pork on a stick), and Yan naem khao thot (a salad made of crumbled rice-and-curry croquettes and sour pork sausage).

For all you entomophagy enthusiasts, insects and bugs are a huge part of Thai cuisine, especially in the Isan region. Grasshoppers, bee larvae, silkworms, crickets, and eggs, termites, and even tadpoles, are among the most popular. Though the West is still coming to terms with the fact that there are people who eat these little critters, Thailand has been consuming them for centuries. Most of the insects taste fairly bland when deep-fried. Some compare them to popcorn and potato chips. But when deep-fried together with kaffir lime leaves, chilies and garlic, these delectable little treats become the prefect snack to have with a beer.

These days, foodies and amateur chefs don’t just have to settle for eating Thai food; they can learn to cook it, too. There are plenty of great cooking schools and classes open to tourists in Bangkok, and on our wonderful island of Koh Samui, the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts (SITCA) offers cooking classes for chefs and amateurs of all levels, taught in modern, air conditioned facilities, and Ying’s Thai Cooking Home and Smiley Cook offer more authentic cooking experiences.

Getting hungry yet? Beach Republic has a variety of dining options – from fabulous five-star fare to all-day snacks delivered right to your beach chair. Enjoy our signature menus of Tapas, Mediterranean, and Thai cuisine. Or indulge with a cocktail or great glass of wine sitting ocean side as you watch another perfect sunset.