A Brief History of The Thai Cuisine
China, Japan, India, France, Portugal and Holland – it may sound like a listing of random countries, but they all have one thing in common: They have influenced the Thai cuisine we all know and love today. Especially the Chinese, since they migrated to various South East Asian countries like Thailand between the 6th and 13th century from South West China, which is now known as the Yunnan province. Amongst many other things, the Hokkien people from China introduced their famous cooking utensil, the wok, with which they stir-fried and deep-fried many of their meals.
Curries can also be found on every menu in a Thai restaurant and they were first brought into the country by Indian and Persian traders many centuries ago. We have to thank them for bringing us delicious curries like Massaman and Yellow Curry. Then in the 17th century, Portuguese missionaries would bring something with them from South America that would spice up the Thai cuisine forever: chilies. Thai food is considered to be one of the hottest in the world, but did you know that it used to be a lot hotter? It may be hard for us to believe, but over the years the spicy flavor was toned down a bit and herbs like lemon grass and galangal were introduced to give the dishes a fresher taste.
The influences from different countries are unmistakably there, but over time the Thais created their very own distinct cuisine and perfected their own recipes. They have integrated cooking techniques and ingredients from various cultures to create a culinary culture that is now beloved all over the world. As a matter of fact, last year CNN Travel started an online poll where readers could pick their favorite foods and seven out of fifty were from the Thai cuisine. Among them were dishes like Pad Thai (= fried noodles), Tom Yum Goong (= hot and sour soup with prawns), Khao Pad (= fried rice) and Massaman Curry. Also, when people are being asked about their favorite cuisine, Thailand often lands in one of the Top 5 spots.
But we can’t write an article about Thai food without mentioning their street food. Bangkok is often cited as the greatest street food city in the world and you would be hard pressed to find more diversity anywhere else. Every single dish native to Thailand can be found here, but if you feel more daring, you can also try deep-fried grasshoppers, silkworms, termites and even scorpions. There is nothing that one of the many street vendors can’t offer you.
We may refer to it only as “Thai food”, but the more you learn about their cuisine, the more you get to understand that many of the foods are actually particular to different regions of the country. These regions are known as Bangkok, Central Thai, Northern Thai, Northeastern Thai (or Isan) and Southern Thai. And even that is not the end of it. Thailand is home to more than 40 distinct ethnic groups and all of them have their own culture and ways of preparing and cooking food. It is this seemingly endless depth that makes the Thai culinary art so fascinating.
As you can see by now, it is difficult to write a “brief” history about the Thai cuisine and there is still so much more to discover. Your best bet is to just book a flight and discover it for yourself.