A brief insight of the history of Thai food. Food plays a central part in Thai culture. Present day Thai food has many varied influences, and a history which dates back to the 6th century when the Thai people originally migrated from what is now known as Yunnan province in China. At this time the main cooking methods employed were boiling, grilling (barbecue style) and preserving and drying of foods. Thai food has evolved in to the world’s favorite food since those early days, let’s look at some of the major historical on the history of Thai food.
Thailand’s fertile soil and climate.
One of the first influences has to be the geography of Thailand, with it’s rich fertile soil, the Thais are able to cultivate a vast range of fruits, vegetables, and grains such as rice. Rice is the staple food in Thailand, it accompanies most meals, just as the potato does in most western countries. The flat water laden plains of central and north-eastern Thailand are ideally suited to rice farming, and rice is a reliable crop which can be grown in soil not suitable for other crops.
Even though the temperate climate of Thailand is suitable to growing fruit, vegetable and grain throughout the country, some regions are more suited to certain crops. South-east Thailand has extremely fertile soil, above average rainfall, and a more stable year round temperature than northern Thailand, making it more suitable for growing fruit.
The rich soil and cooler temperatures of Thailand’s northern regions make it more suitable to vegetable growing. Although rice and fruits are still grown in the region, the suitable conditions and demands for vegetable products means vegetable growing is more profitable and sustainable.
The rich fertile soil, regional diversity, and Thailand’s temperate climate mean that year round growing and harvesting of one crop or another is always possible. Quite a contrast from the less temperate northern and southern regions of the world.
Those first immigrants from China inherited a rich variety of readily available foods. The pigs, chickens, ducks and cows they brought with them were farmed alongside the rice, fruits and vegetables. Their meals at that time would already be far from bland, rice, meat and vegetable would be their staple diet, accompanied by grilled fish, crab, prawns, and an abundance of tropical fruits.
Over the centuries Thailand’s cuisine has been influenced both by neighboring countries and foreign powers. South-west Thailand’s cuisine has been heavily influenced by the Malaysian/Javanese tastes for curry and coconut based dishes. Northern Thai dishes are typically influenced by Burmese and Southern Chinese styles, typically noodles, pork and steamed rice. North-east Thailand has been heavily influenced by Laos, tending towards very spicy and often bitter tasting dishes such as Somtam (spicy salad). Still, the main influence in flavor and style is Chinese, most Thai dishes are stir fried, which along with the Wok is thought to have been principally adopted by the Chinese.
Arrival of the Cilli in Thailand.
You would be forgiven for thinking that something so essentially Thai as the cilli has been here and used to give Thai cuisine it’s legendary kick since the beginning of time. But Thailand’s love of all things chilli developed after the chilli was introduced to Thailand by Portugese missionaries in the 16th century. Although many Thai dishes don’t rely on chilli, this is without doubt one of the most influential introductions to Thai cuisine as we know it today.
A few essential ingredients such as saffron, cumin and turmeric were introduced by the British, Dutch and Spanish during the heydays of the spice trade. Now all the ingredients, the regional influnces and methods which influence Thai food were in place. Fine tuning and invention over a period of many years have resulted in what is regarded as one of the finest cuisines in the world.