Food in Thailand is one of the most unique cuisines in southeast Asia, but it is also one of the most well-known as evident by plenty of restaurants serving Thai food. Although it is different from Indian and Chinese cuisine, Thai food is influenced by these cultures and can be uniquely identified by its combination of spicy, sweet, bitter, salty, and sour tastes. Being hot and spicy is among Thai cuisine’s signature traits, due to the use of fresh chili in many dishes. Over the course of history, many foreign influences have been incorporated into Thai cuisine to create the unique Thai taste.
Previously, when Thailand was called Siam, the area was the intersection of the east-west trade and a part of various shipping routes. This means, much of the cuisine, culture, and religion is heavily influenced by Arabian and Persian elements. More recently, recipes from other foreign places have been mixed with traditional Thai cuisine. This has resulted in a flavor that is unique to Thailand.
Between the 6th and 13th centuries, the settlers in Thailand were “Tai” people and originated from the valleys in the mountainous regions located in southwest China. This location is now called Yunnan. The people of this region migrated to what is now known as Laos and the northern regions of Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Bringing Chinese influence, their knowledge was mixed with people from the southern peninsula. This incorporated spices and herbs from the southern region, which explains the numerous similarities between Chinese and Thai foods.
Beyond the migratory aspects, foreign trade was also heavily influential in the flavor profiles of Thai cuisine. The Portuguese, who brought numerous sweet flavors and red chili, and Indian curry, brought by Buddhist monks, were among the items part of foreign trade. Some of the Indian influence remains in dishes, such as yellow curry and Massaman curry.
Even today, there is plenty of transformation and evolution happening among Thai cuisine. The food steadily takes on newer influences to merge with traditional aspects. Thai food can be found in numerous restaurants around the world. The appreciation for Thai cuisine continues to flourish, and shows exploration of global styles, ingredients, and cooking techniques. Modern day immigration and trading overseas also fuels these changes. Since ingredients are easily accessible around the world and people can work in kitchens anywhere they want, they bring their unique skills to various locations. Lastly, the global dissemination of information via the internet and tourism both help to spread the influence of other cuisines on Thai food.