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Asian cuisine in general is not based on recipes with exact measurements and fixed ingredients, and Thai cooking is no exception. Watch a Thai cook at work and you will soon gain insight into his method of preparing a dish. When it comes to the use of herbs and spices, ‘taste-and-add’ is the general rule. As with the cuisine of most countries, Thailand has the more formal ‘classic’ cuisine, and the everyday ‘peasant’ variation. Though the cost of preparation may vary between these two styles, the basics remain essentially the same.

Thai cuisine is influenced by the cooking of China, India and Malaysia. The Chinese influence saw the introduction of stir frying as a better method of cooking. The ghee used in Indian cooking was replaced by coconut oil, and coconut milk substituted for other dairy products. Overpowering pure spices were toned down and enhanced by fresh herbs such as lemon grass and galangal (also known as blue ginger or laos). Eventually, fewer and less spices were used in Thai curries, while the use of fresh herbs increased. Chillies were introduced to Thai cooking during the late 1600s by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America. Since Thais are very flexible by nature, they have adapted various dishes from these countries to their own taste, creating a typical Thai cuisine.

The staple food in Thailand is undoubtedly rice. In fact, in the Thai language, the words for rice and food are the same. Everything else is said to be ‘with the rice’. The type of grain favoured in Thai cooking is long-grain, polished and white. For general purposes it is cooked using the absorption method. Salt is never added during the cooking process as the sauces that are served with the rice are usually strong and salty.

A special ‘glutinous’ rice is prepared differently. The rice is soaked overnight, then drained and steamed. This glutinous rice is very popular in northern Thailand, and is used exclusively in the making of Thai sweets.

 So the centrepiece of a Thai meal is based on rice, which should be served steaming hot. However the accompaniments are often served at room temperature. It is customary to have a soup dish, two or more dishes with gravy and as many side dishes as possible. Fresh fish, which is so plentiful in Thailand, is another important staple of the Thai diet, whether it be added to soup or form the centrepiece of a Thai meal, served whole on a large platter and eaten with chopsticks.

Thai shrimp paste is one of the basics of Thai cuisine, and it gives its own unique flavour to the food. However the number of spices, herbs and other ingredients that are basic ingredients in Thai cuisine is large. Some of these are common to all south-east Asian cooking. Only the quantities and combinations of these vary from region to region. Thai food represents one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide, with its emphasis on fresh vegetables and exotic fruits and its unique balance of spices, herbs and other ingredients.

Fresh lemon grass and coriander leaves are so basic to Thai cuisine that they should be grown in the garden wherever possible. Otherwise, these are normally available at local shopping venues. Fresh garlic, ginger, basil and other ingredients can be bought on a weekly basis as necessary.

The Thai method of cooking is similar to that of all south-east Asian cuisine. Firstly, the foods are prepared, and spices and herbs are ground (using either an electric blender or a simple mortar and pestle). Oil is placed in a wok and heated. The dried spices are added and then the other ingredients, according to the individual recipe. Fresh herbs and garnishes are usually a last-minute addition.

 A favourite Thai soup recipe is Tom Yam Kung (prawn soup) which is both spicy and sour. With its exotic combination of ingredients, the flavours within this dish are finely balanced. Herbs such as lemon grass, sweet basil and coriander add delicate flavour, whereas chilli and lime juice are the main contributors to the hot and sour characteristics of this soup. When cooked, it is served in a tureen and decorated with freshly chopped coriander leaves. Because of the importance of maintaining the fine balance between hot and sour, extra chilli and/or lime juice should be available to be added according to each person’s individual taste.

For the actual serving of the meal, everything is generally placed on the table at once, and people are invited to help themselves. The dishes should be balanced between spicy, sweet, sour and salty. The most important dish is the rice which is placed in the middle of the table. The dishes are never mixed. It is customary to take one or two separate dishes at a time. Although Thai food was originally eaten simply with the fingers, it is nowadays usually eaten with a fork and spoon.

A vital characteristic of Thai cuisine is that it can be adjusted according to the individual palate. If there were to be one cardinal rule to Thai cuisine, it would be this: There must be a harmony of tastes and textures within individual dishes and within the meal in its entirety.

In a Thai restaurant a soup may occasionally be prepared at the table, with customers adding ingredients at their own discretion. They therefore become co-producers of the finished product. As with everything else surrounding Thai culture, the cuisine of Thailand is seen as a creative and individual art.

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  1. Thai cuisine
  2. Bangrak Thai Cuisine – Thai Restaurant located in Ashburn VA