Eat Thailand: four types of regional cuisine

John Krich - 12/02/2016

The 2016 edition of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants will be taking place in its new home of Bangkok in less than three weeks, the perfect excuse to explore the outstanding local gastronomy. 

In the second of our four-part Eat Thailand series, we guide you through the food of the country's four main regions.

The more you know Asia, the more you realise it doesn’t exist. The world’s most populous continent, and all the countries within it, is far less homogenous than it seems – riven with regional differences, dialects, numerous ethnic minorities. Thailand is no different, being home to Muslims, hill tribes, the independent Mon people and more. Dishes that the unknowing lump together as Thai are more often distinctive symbols of the nation’s four separate geographic areas.


Its curries and flavour profiles are the most overpowering, with chilli heat as well as sour tamarind. A large Muslim populace, along with many fishing fleets, are the major influences. Massaman curry, an orientalised stew of meat and potatoes, is one key specialty.


Massaman curry


Centered around the former Lanna Kingdom in Chiang Mai, the most famed item on the menu here is khao soi, a tangy noodle dish. Northern-style dishes are often served with uncooked hunks of cabbage, green beans and cucumber. These are meant for dipping in bowls of nahm prik (a pungent combination of thick shrimp paste and chillies).


Khao soi


A large portion of Bangkok’s most famous dishes are actually brought to the capital by the migrating rural people of Isan, the bulge of Thailand’s North that borders Laos and Cambodia. The most famed and succulent of these are gai yang (barbecued chicken), served with sweet sauce and sticky glutinous rice, som tam (green papaya salad) concocted with mortar and pestle poundings, augmented often with salted egg or small crabs, laab (spicy ground meat or fish) salads flavoured with lime and mint, grilled pork neck and the super spicy Isan sausage. Stands offering tasty edible insects are an import from Isan too, a favourite snack for its rice farmers.


Gai yang


Central cuisine probably comes closest to what westerners see as ‘Thai’ food, with well-known dishes such as Pad Thai and curry pastes involving the staple ingredients of chillies, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and shrimp paste. Bangkok is at the heart of the area, with its paddy fields, plentiful river fish and fertile soil for crops. The Central region is also home to jasmine rice, a top Thai export using for cooking around the globe, as well as green curry and delicious Tom Yam hot-and-sour soup.


Tom yam kumg

Discover history, recipes and the Amazing Tastes of Thailand.

Next week:
 we introduce you to the nine dishes you must try in Thailand.

Have you travelled to any of these regions? Share your pics and foodie tips with us on Instagram and Twitter.