Thailand: Tropical Beaches, Vibrant Cities, and Incredible Food

The food of Thailand embraces all the essential tastes—sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and umami—as often as not in a single bowl. Rather than combining ingredients to create a single taste, Thai cooks aim to make each element stand on its own.

The country is divided into four distinct regions, each with its own cuisine.

Northern Thailand

A temperate climate and strong foreign influence have left their mark on the food of the country’s northernmost region. The food here is less spicy than that in other regions of Thailand and rarely uses coconut milk.   

Key ingredients—fresh turmeric, tamarind, sticky rice

Northeastern Thailand

Also known as Isaan, this region of the country is marked by harsh climate (monsoons, scorching heat, and drought). Food is scarce and the cooking is rustic. Meals are built around sticky rice and saucy, spicy dishes.

Key ingredients—Small dried red chiles

Central Thailand

This is the most populous region of the country and not surprisingly the most influential. The food here tends to be more refined than in other parts of the country. The fertile Chao Phraya River delta is one of Thailand’s top agricultural regions and much of the country’s produce comes from here as well as seafood from the nearby gulf of Thailand.

Key ingredients—Shrimp, fish, crabs, jasmine rice

Southern Thailand

The tail end of the country is a region rich in coconuts, seafood, and fruits like tamarind and pineapple. The food here tends to be very spicy.

Key ingredients—coconut curries, fish, shrimp paste