Thai cuisines are amongst the most varied and most often misinterpreted foods in the world. It’s a common misconception to think Thai food is full of curry and chilli to dull the senses. Most recipes use all the four basic tastes, salty, sour, sweet and hot, but there are dishes without any of those if you don’t like sour and sweet or hot at all. Thai gastronomy is a balancing act that is most probably originated from their rich and diverse cultural heritage.
Surrounded by many different countries, Thailand developed a variety of cooking styles that change with every part of the country. Laying 1000 miles long the country has most different regions ranging from almost sub-tropical seaside to footsteps of the Himalaya. Laos, Cambodia, China and western culture all influenced dishes, but one thing is persistent through all the recipes. Thai food is all about balance and lightly made meals, using different spices to achieve harmony in a set of courses.
There is a fish sauce commonly used called nam pla phrik. It’s salty and usually clear fish sauce prepared through fermentation giving a strong fragrance to food it is used in.
A traditional Thai family meal in thai restaurants will consist of rice and several different sauces to dip the rice in. There are more servings than guests so that everyone can share food with each other. This is a practice used in some Thai restaurants and thus visiting a place in a small group of friends is advised. There is no such thing as an appetizer or main course, everything is served at once, and everyone takes what they like.
Sticky rice with dips can be consumed with the right hand, but no one will give strange glances if you ask for cutlery, as fork and spoons have been used in most families for decades.
Thai people like hot food and they prepare their dishes in a way to have at least one hot course or sauce during the meal. They are used to chilli so if you were thinking about ordering something hot, think again. If you see hot, or very hot on the menu, it probably means devastatingly hot for an average North American or European. A mild to medium or slightly hot is a safer first bet. If you’re not sure about the heat level in the food, ask your server to advise you something that is more to your taste.
Vegetarians in thai restaurants should ask before ordering because Thai gastronomy uses small amounts of meat in lots of its recipes in the form of prawns or fish sauce.