Ever wonder what makes Thai food unique? Or, what about the difference between Chinese food and Thai food? Below, we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about Thai cuisine. Satisfy your culinary curiosity and get reading!
What makes Thai food unique?
Thai cuisine strikes the perfect balance of sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. Any complete Thai dish you enjoy has a component of each. The cuisine is also fresh-forward, using a lot of fresh veggies and herbs. Notable ingredients include lemongrass, lime leaves, Thai chilis, tamarind, dill, parsley, cilantro, culantro, lemon basil, sweet basil, cha-om, and holy basil. Fish sauce plays a huge role in Thai cuisine too, adding a funky salt flavor you won’t find elsewhere.
Where does Thai food come from?
Thai food comes from the country of Thailand, which is in Asia. Ingredients and flavors differ depending on the region of Thailand the dish comes from—North, Northeast, South, and Central.
Ancient Chinese culture left its mark on Thai cuisine early on, introducing cooking techniques like frying, stir-frying, and deep-frying. Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Japanese cuisine have also influenced Thai cuisine from the 17th century onwards.
What is the difference between Thai and Chinese food?
Spice, freshness of ingredients, and cooking methods separate the two cuisines.
Thai food balances salty, sweet, sour, and bitter but ends up on the spicy side. Chinese food is much less spicy. While Thai food favors fresh ingredients, Chinese food relies heavily on preserved ingredients. Chinese cuisine favors oily, fried, and stir-fried foods while Thai food offers more variety with salads, curries, soups, and fresh veggies.
What Thai food is not spicy?
Spice is a hallmark of Thai food, but you can avoid it. Look for recipes without chilies or chili powder.
Non-spicy Thai favorites include:
- Pad Thai: Rice noodle dish with spices, peanuts, egg, bean sprouts, and shrimp, beef, tofu, or chicken
- Moo Daeng: BBQ pork coated in a sweet red sauce
- Spring Roll: Vermicelli rice noodles, protein, bean sprouts, rice vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, Thai basil, carrot, and spring onions wrapped in dried round rice wrappers and served with tamarind dipping sauce
- Gai Pad Sapparod: Hallowed out pineapple filled with peppers, tomatoes, onions, cashews, and chicken covered in sweet and sour sauce
- Pad See Eiw: Wide rice noodles, chicken, and Chinese broccoli fried in soy sauce
What Thai food is healthy?
Thai cuisine emphasizes fresh herbs and veggies, but that doesn’t mean it’s always healthy. Fish oil, vegetable oil, and MSG add calories and fat. If you’re looking for healthy options, avoid foods containing the word “Pla”, which means “deep-fried” and sugar-rich treats like sweet coconut rice and Thai iced tea.
Healthy Thai foods that you can order or make at home include:
- Summer rolls: a healthy alternative to deep-friend spring rolls at around 140 calories each
- Papaya salad: papaya, green beans, tomatoes and peanuts for a Vitamin C boost and heart-healthy unsaturated fat
- Chicken Satay: low-fat, high-protein chicken in a spicy-sweet peanut sauce
- Tom Yum soup: hot-and-sour soup with less than 100 calories per cup
- Chicken Larb: salad with minced chicken, cilantro, mint, onions, and chili peppers tossed in lime juice served with lettuce
- Pad Thai: rice noodles, spices, peanuts, egg, bean sprouts, and a lean protein at just 300-400 calories per cup
Is Thai food diary free?
Dairy-free eaters rejoice! Authentic Thai cuisine is almost always dairy-free. What a relief for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. The cuisine relies on rice as a base and opts for coconut milk in place of cow’s milk. Coconut milk provides the trademark sweetness of many Thai dishes.
If you follow a dairy-free diet, watch out for beverages like Thai iced tea, which usually contains condensed milk.
What Thai food is Paleo?
Paleo dieters can’t enjoy classic Pad Thai, but several other Thai dishes are Paleo-friendly:
- Pla Neung Manao: Poached fish with lime
- Pad Pak: Stir fried vegetables
- Gai Pad Prik Gaeng: Spicy Thai chicken in red curry paste with Thai herbs, basil and long beans
- Yum Nuea: Spicy beef salad with onions, lime juice, chili peppers, shallots, and fish sauce
- Gang Jued: Thai clear soup with pork, Chinese cabbage, coriander, and Thai herbs
- Tom Yum: Hot and sour soup with rich herbal flavors, hot Thai chilies, and sour lemon juice
If eating out, ask about the use of vegetable oils, soy sauce, processed sugars, palm oil, oyster sauce, fish sauce and MSG in the food preparation.
What Thai food can you make at home?
Whatever dishes you want to try! You can easily replicate your favorites from any Thai restaurant. Start out by stocking your kitchen with a few Thai pantry essentials and go from there.
Easy meals to try first include:
- Crispy coconut shrimp with sweet red chili sauce
- Kai Jiew Moo Sap—a Thai omelet paired with rice
- Spring rolls with tamarind sauce
What should I order at a Thai restaurant?
Plunging into Thai cuisine for the first time? Try Pad Thai or a curry dish on your first visits to a Thai restaurant.
Pad Thai is a classic dish that’s on the sweet side. It pairs stir fried rice noodles, a protein, tamarind pulp, egg, bean sprouts, fish sauce, roasted peanuts, garlic or shallots, and lime wedges. Yum! Like spice? Amp up the spice level when ordering.
Red, yellow, and green curries are staples of Thai cuisine. Try curry, and you’re well on your way to enjoying other Thai dishes. In general, green is the mildest, yellow sits in the middle, and red is the hottest.
How long can Thai food last in the fridge?
4 to 7 days.
If you’re cooking at home, eat your Thai food fresh! That’s when it has the most flavor and the best texture. Of course, once your kitchen fills with the sweet aroma of Thai cooking, how could you resist?
Have Other Questions?
Did we miss anything? Comment below with your questions about Thai cuisine!