A TASTE OF SIAM
From the mountains to the sea, Thailand’s regional cuisine is as varied as its tribes and landscapes
AS MYRIAD AS ITS PEOPLE,
Thai cuisine is an amalgamation of local ethnic traditions and international culinary influences; Dutch, Portuguese, French, Chinese and Japanese characteristics seamlessly blended into Buddhist roots. Traditionally, Thai dishes eschew large chunks of protein in favour of shredded meats laced with fresh herbs and spices, with gentler cooking methods such as stewing, baking and grilling. But with Chinese influences came the proclivity for stir- and deepfrying; Portuguese missionaries brought chillies with them in the 1600s; and Indian curry was adapted with the use of local ingredients and spices – coconut oil and milk replaced ghee, fresh herbs such as lemongrass and galangal replaced cardamom and ginger. What we define today as that uniquely Thai taste is actually a centuries-old confluence of Eastern and Western styles.
Yet in spite of these external influences, Thai cuisine remains distinctly local – a fact most clearly observed through its regional cuisine. Before the completion of the railway in the 1920s, travel within the country was slow and time-consuming, so the four main regions – North, Northeast, Central and South – were left largely to govern themselves, keeping their individual ethnic dialects and traditions intact, including culinary ones. So rather than the homogenised umbrella of “Thai food” that has been so successfully exported to the rest of the world, true Thai cuisine is really a complement of diverse styles and flavours, from the seafood-influenced curries of the South and courtly dishes of the North, to the herbaceous recipes of the humble Northeast and the colourful flavours of the fertile Central delta.