Influences in Thai Cuisine

In recent years, Thai food has become an attractive and healthy alternative to other types of Asian Cuisine. Yet, behind the newfound trendy status, Thai food enjoys a rich heritage stemming from outside cultural influences and a diverse geography which creates its unique and distinctive taste.The first Thai kingdom officially dates as far back as 1238 A.D., but even before this date an influx of ethnic groups were bringing with them modern ideas, unfamiliar traditions and regional cuisines. 

The first rulers of Thailand appreciated the value of differing cultures and brought scholars and artisans from China and India to teach the Thai people. It isn't difficult to classify Thai food as a hybrid between Chinese and Indian fare. The peppers and curries usually associated with Indian entrées is ever-present in the Chinese style noodles and rice dishes of Thai food. But any gourmet of authentic Thai food can tell you that there is so much more to the cooking.During the next four hundred years of Thai history, the Thais traded heavily with foreign countries including European nations like France and with Arabs of the middle-east. Spices and herbs were heavily sought after and Thailand's accessible trade route made it a popular port. 

Throughout the centuries, Thailand has fought many wars with neighboring countries and as a result is collectively mixed with a wealth of exotic food. Recently, wars in bordering countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma have flooded Thailand with refugees. Slowly, these groups have transitioned into the Thai population and offered their own regional cuisine to the traditional Thai menu.Like its rich history, Thailand also thrives from a diverse geography. Thailand is comprised of four separate regions, the northwest mountains, the northeast plateau, the southern peninsula and the central plains. Varying climates and topography account for the contrasting agriculture and resulting provincial cuisines. The Chao Phraya river is a main artery of the country with smaller rivers and tributaries flowing throughout the country. In the southeast is the Gulf of Thailand and across the peninsula in the southwest, Thailand borders the Andaman Sea. As a result, seafood is a staple in the diet, whether it be fresh-water, salt-water, tropical or shellfish. Richer food is more often prepared in the northwest mountains where there is an abundance of wild game and livestock. 

The southern peninsula's humid and rainy climate make it perfect for harvesting tropical fruits such as coconuts, bananas and mangoes. Central Thailand's rich soil makes it best for farming rice.In a country where more than 70% of the population are farmers it is only natural for the Thai people to treasure their cuisine. Eating is not just something that is done for nourishment. The Thai people greet each other during the early evening with the salutation, "Gin kao," which means, "have dinner with us." Entrées are always placed in the center of the dining area with the diners seated around the food in a circle, everyone enjoying a sampling from each dish. Even at school, the children bring extra courses in their lunch pails and the meal is enjoyed by all in the same fashion as it is at home. And a true Thai gourmet dines with his or her hands or a fork and spoon, but not with chopsticks. The soupy dishes and stews being the reason for this.

While Thai cuisine is enjoying increased popularity in the United States, in Thailand, encroaching American fast-food victuals are the rave with the younger generation. With Thailand's history of incorporating outside culinary influences into their own cuisine it will be interesting to see what kind of food spawns from this odd marriage. Curry burgers? Hmm?So the next time you're at your favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant enjoying your Pad Tai, remember that the recipe is probably over 800 years old and influenced by a plethora of cultures. And don't be afraid to experiment with fare from the different regions of Thailand's unique and diverse landscape.

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