Until 1939, the country we call Thailand was known as Siam. It was the only Southeast Asian country never colonized by the West. This helped Thailand to maintain its own special cuisine (cooking style). However, that cuisine had already been influenced by Thailand’s Asian neighbors.
The Thai (pronounced TIE) people migrated to their present homeland from southern China about 2,000 years ago. They brought with them the spicy cooking of their native Yunan province, as well as its dietary staple, rice. Other Chinese influences on Thai cooking included the use of noodles, dumplings, soy sauce, and other soy products. Like the Chinese, the Thais based their recipes on blending five basic flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and hot.
From nearby India came not only the Buddhist religion, but also spicy seasonings such as cumin, cardamom, and coriander, as well as curry dishes. The Malays, to the south, further shared seasonings, as well as their love of coconuts and the satay (a dish that is similar to shish kebabs). Since 1970, Thai cooking has become extremely popular in both North America and Britain.
A blend of eastern and western influences, Thai food harmonizes the dietary preferences of many cultures into a synthesis that blends sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter flavors to create a unique dining experience. Thai cuisine boasts some of the most popular dishes in the world, but as delicious as they are the story of their origins is just as fascinating. Today let us delve into this history and see how some of your favorite Thai recipes came to be.
The Roots of Traditional Thai Cuisine
Thai cuisine may be as much as 1,400 years old, as this is the period when the region we call Thailand began to be heavily settled by a mass migration of people from regions of modern China. Historically these people dined on plants, herbs, and aquatic creatures. Meat other than seafood was difficult to come by because large domestic animals were too valuable to slaughter. Thus, meat was often used sparingly for flavor like western cultures would use seasoning, with a small amount going a long way in a Thai recipe. The favored methods of food preparation in this traditional Thai cuisine included stewing, baking, and grilling. As time went by, stir-frying and deep-frying also became popular. It was in this period when fried rice (Khao pad) and noodles (pad thai) became staples of the Thai diet.
How Thai Cuisine Changed with the Times
While original Thai cuisine had much in common with dietary practices of the Szechuan province of China, perhaps the first influence that changed Thai cooking was their neighbors on the subcontinent. Curries that included ghee from India became very popular, but the Thai people altered the recipes to use native ingredients such as coconut instead. After the European discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese brought chili spices to the region, and these became a component of the famously spicy dishes that remain immensely popular to this day. It was at this time that regional preferences became more distinct, with five or so regions developing unique dishes that varied due to the agricultural diversity of the region.
Snippet gathered from multiple sources on the net!