4 main regions in Thailand (Blog)
- Central (Bangkok is here)
- Northern (Lanna)
- Northeastern (Isan)
Due to both geography and history, Thai food varies from region to region. Central Thailand is home to the famous floating river market, west of Bangkok. This region is a fertile area for growing rice. Food tends to be salty, sour, spicy and sweet. Steamed jasmine rice is commonly served with different types of chili dipping sauces (nam prik) and soups. Shrimp soup with lemongrass (tom yum goong) is a central Thai favorite.
Chaing Mai is the main city in northern Thailand. The land is mostly jungle-covered mountains and valleys. The Lanna Thai people are the historical inhabitants of the Chiang Mai region. Many hill tribes are based in the north such as the Hmong, Lisu, Tai Yai and Yao.
The food in the north is less diverse than that of central Thailand. It tends to be less sweet and less spicy. Northern-style curries are common as well as sticky (glutinous) rice with steamed vegetables. Perhaps the most famous meat dish of the north is naem: a sour Thai sausage made of fermented minced pork, wrapped and steamed in banana leaf. Dining typically takes place on a small table (kantoke) made of oak and everyone sits around the table on straw mats.
The northeast (Isan) is a high plateau with porous soil. The region gets little rain and has simple cuisine. It is tradition to eat on a table made from bamboo or rattan (pa kao). Food in the northeast tends to be salty, sour and spicy. The area if famous for its salads such as: papaya (som tum), chopped meat (koi) and sour minced meat (larb). Although many condiments are used in this area, dried spices are not very common. Sticky rice and vegetables accompany most meals along with a phrik pla ra (spicy dipping sauce made of fermented fish and chilies).
Coconut trees and seafood are abundant in the south of Thailand. The food is famous for its strong taste and tends to be salty, sour and spicy. Southerners eat spicy curries on a daily basis with coconut and sour being the most common. Due to the close proximity to the sea, people in the south tend to eat more fish than meat. Nam Phrik Kapee is the most common dipping sauce in the south. It’s usually prepared with kapee or kuey (shrimp paste), prik kee noo (fresh chilies), palm sugar and lime juice. Nam Phrik Kappe is most often used to add flavor to raw vegetables and crispy fried fish.