A historically adored cuisine all around the world, but what makes Thai food so loved, and how did it originate?

Renowned across the globe for its harmonious blends of sweet, sour and spicy elements, Thai food and its colourful flavours are appreciated worldwide. From the bustling centre of Bangkok to the idyllic countryside in Wang Nam Khiao, food is adored by locals and tourists alike. But take away the vibrant taste of your Pad Thai and Kao Pad – where did these come from?

Ancient Roots in Thai Food:

The history of Thai food dates back 1400 years and is connected with the country’s geographical tapestry. Its cuisine roots back from various sources, including foreign traders, indigenous traditions and neighbouring countries like Cambodia and Malaysia. 

In the 17th century, Thai people relied on resources they had on land: fruits and vegetables, fish and rice. By incorporating aromatic spices like galangal, kaffir lime and lemongrass, they were able to make simple ingredients into flavourful, exotic cuisines. 

Thanks to Thailand’s Buddhist roots, large quantities of meat were usually avoided – instead small strips of meat were infused with spices and served with vegetables and rice.

Dara Mann, who grew up in Nong Khai, told Behind the Bite what food meant to her growing up in Thailand: “When I was younger, I never really appreciated the amazing culture through food – I suppose you don’t when you are a child. I do remember though my mothers’ love for cooking – it made her feel close to us I think.”

Street Food Culture:

Without delving into the vibrant street food culture Thailand has to offer, you cannot truly understand it in all its glory. Street food has gained worldwide popularity for its huge variety and affordability – from crispy spring rolls to sizzling skewers; to the aromatic grilled meats and noodle soups, stalls have provided a sensory feast for decades. 

For both locals and visitors, the streets of Bangkok have long served delicious Thai staples. Both at Chatuchack – an infamous street food market in Bangkok, and Khao San Road, people seek these mecca’s for foodies seeking authentic Thai flavours.

For many locals, their food binds them to their culture, the phenomenal flavours and blends are what make their country unique to them. Dara said: “When I met Rick, my husband, who is an Englishman, he always said to me: ‘I’m so jealous of your food!’, now I get it, having lived in England for a few years in 2010. The food from my home is wonderful.

When I visit Rick’s family back in England, I’m so happy to try their foods, but when I see a Thai food at street stalls here in the UK, I get so happy, it reminds me of home – my mother and my father’s Khao tom, a typical Thai breakfast in the summer made up of egg. 

I miss those summer evening อาหารเย็น (dinners); my father used to grill fish and serve it with all these fantastic spices.”

Influences and Fusion of Thai Dishes:

Over time, Thai food evolved with the help of neighbouring countries. The Chinese introduced wok cooking and noodles, which led to the creation of popular dishes such as stir-dry and Pad Thai. Interesting spices were then introduced by Indian cuisine, and Thai chefs started to fuse local ingredients with different techniques. 

Buddhism also had a huge influence on Thai cuisine. Not only did it define the way of life for people in Thailand, but it had an influence on the way they ate too. 

Dara said: “My family weren’t buddhist, but they still adopted that way of life, if this makes sense. They avoided meat where they could, always practised good behaviour, sometimes meditation – it’s huge at home!”

With Thai cuisine being an embodiment of Thailand’s rich history, cultural diversity and culinary ingenuity. From small village recipes passed down through generations to family fused staples, their food has evolved while retaining its distinct flavours and enchanting aromas.