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Central Thai Cuisine

Thai food varies from region to region due to geography and history. In the West, the dishes of the Central Plains are the ones most commonly served in Thai restaurants, thereby forming the basis of what many foreigners think of as Thai cuisine. These foods thus come the closest to reproducing foreigner's expectations about how Thai food should taste. The Central Plains lie in the middle of Thailand geographically, climatically and culinary. This has allowed the people of this region to taste and appreciate the cuisines of every part of Thailand and to then integrate the various ingredients and cooking styles into their own dishes.

Central Plains Thai Food  

Typical foods of the Central Plains:

  • Pad Thai, Thailand's most famous dish, hot from street vendors frying up rice noodles, tofu, dried shrimp, and bean sprouts in a sweet and spicy sauce.
  • Boats in Bangkok's canals invented guayteow reua, “boat noodle” soup with pork or beef broth.
  • Hoy Tawt, battered and fried mussels in a flour batter, commonly prepared alongside Pad Thai by street vendors
  • Gaeng Kiaw Waan, a sometimes sweet coconut curry spiced and colored with fresh green birds eye chilies
  • Nam prik, chili paste dip made with shrimp paste (kapee) which is eaten with seasonal vegetables (i.e. morning glory, makok, and cha-om)
  • Salads (yam) mixed with fresh kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and herbs
  • Curry pastes made with spicy Thai chilies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, coriander roots, kaffir lime peel, and shrimp paste (kapee)
  • Eggs are an all day/every day food and preparations include omelets stuffed with minced pork, fried eggs sunny-side up served on top of gai pad graprow (Chicken Stir Fried with Holy Basil) and boiled or fried salted duck eggs.
  • The Central Plains version of the famous Issan green papaya salad som tom is sweeter, more sour, and includes the addition of ground peanuts influenced by the King's palace kitchens
  • Khao Chae, an exotic cooling summertime rice dish also originating from the Royal kitchen

In Bangkok you'll find restaurants, and street stalls, serving Isaan-style grilled chicken (gai yang) and spicy laab salads to Southern curry-stuffed rotis (roti mataba). These influences have always fueled the imaginations of cooks in the Central Plains, resulting in the most complex regional cuisine of Thailand, thanks to the wealth of available ingredients and cuisines.

The widest variety of curries are eaten in the Central Plains, and the visitor favorites of Red Curry (Gaeng Phet) and Sweet Green Curry (Gaeng Keaw Waan) originate in this region. The curries in this region can be based in meat stock and coconut milk or dry-fried. These curries are generally not as fiery as the curries of the South or the North East. Scented with fresh lemongrass and galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and fresh mint and basil, they are predominantly hot and salty, warmed by fresh chili peppers, and salted with fish sauce and shrimp paste.

Soups like the famous hot and sour Tom Yam and coconut-milk-based Tom Kha are also eaten here, but often taste sweeter compared to other regions – Central Thai food privileges heat and sweetness in their flavor palate.  Chinese-influence shows up in street foods like Fried Chive Cakes and Stewed Pork with Five Spice Powder and also in stir-fried dishes like Pad Phet, in which meats and vegetables are stir-fried with pungent chilies and Thai basil.

As the Central Plains has a wealth of rivers and lakes, common vegetables are ones that grow in the water including watercress and morning glory. Many other vegetables including wing beans, eggplant and bamboo shoots are also popular. Vegetables are added to curries and stir-fries or integrated into simple salads with meats, fresh shallots, fresh herbs, and dressed with chilies, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce. River shrimp and other freshwater fish, along with mollusks and shellfish are frequently on the menu, as are farmed meats like duck, chicken and pork.

Bangkok is also the destination to try Royal Thai cuisine. These are the dishes – made of expensive ingredients, carefully spiced, and ornately prepared and decorated – traditionally made inside the palace kitchens. Though these recipes were historically closed to Thais outside of the Royal family, restaurants for Royal foods are opening up, and modern chefs are experimenting with these ancient recipes, giving modern Thai people the chance to taste these refined foods.

Image Copyright 2012 Bussaracum Royal Thai Restaurant, Bangkok


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