The Kingdom of Thailand was formerly known as Siam, and it is located in the middle of Southeast Asia. Rice is a staple food, especially the jasmine variety or Hom Mali rice which is a part of practically every meal. Thailand is the number one rice exporter in the world, so it is no surprise to find rice in recipes for Thai food. Common ingredients of the cuisine include chillies, garlic, lemon grass, lime juice and fish sauce. The cuisine is known for blending five fundamental tastes into lightly prepared dishes that have a strong aromatic component. The five taste senses are sweet, sour, spicy (hot), salty and bitter (optional).
Thai food could be characterized as four regional cuisines that represent the four primary regions of Thailand: Southern, Central, Northern and Northeastern or Isan. The regions have foods that are derived from neighboring countries. For example, foods in Northeastern Thailand draw a lot from Lao cuisine. Lime juice is often included in Northeastern recipes, while fresh turmeric and coconut milk are found in Southern curries. Many dishes were originally Chinese, and they include fried rice-noodles (kuai-tiao rat na), rice porridge (chok) and stewed pork with rice (khao kha mu). Stir-frying, deep-frying, use of noodles and soy products as well as the wok were also introduced by the Chinese.
A typical meal may be either a single dish or it may be rice with many side dishes served at the same time and shared by everybody. The custom is to serve more dishes than the number of guests you have. Traditionally, Thai food was eaten using the right hand, but a fork and spoon are now used as a result of Westernization. Many sauces and condiments are usually served with a meal. A combination of lime juice, fish sauce, chilies and garlic is called phrik nam pla or nam pla phrik, and it is said this condiment is to Thai cuisine what ketchup is to a US meal. Other condiments include sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, dried chili flakes, sweet chili sauce and sriracha sauce.
Fresh herbs and spices rather than dried are used in Thai food, and they include lemon grass, cilantro, Thai basils and mint. Other flavors come from turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots, and chilies. Khao phat is a very common dish in Thailand, and it consists of Thai style fried rice served with chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, coconut and/or pineapple. Another popular dish is Phat si-ioKhanom chin namya which is boiled rice noodles covered with a fish sauce and served with vegetables and fresh leaves. Many Thai markets feature deep-fried grasshoppers, crickets and other insects. Interestingly, culinary and cooking tours of Thailand have grown in popularity over the past few years.