The popularity of Thai food worldwide has undoubtedly contributed to the country's appeal as a destination. Thai food is now on the menus of cafes and restaurants in most countries around the world and rated alongside Italian and Indian as one of the world's finest feasts. In fact, many people in Europe also count Thai dishes amongst their repertoire of home cooking skills and the main ingredients for a number of Thai classic meals are readily available in many supermarkets. Despite its universal appeal, the ingredients, flavours and quality of Thai dishes can vary enormously beyond the Kingdom's shores, which is why visitors are often surprised to find major differences between the dishes they think they know at home and the menu selections served up once they arrive in Thailand.
The food in Thailand is generally much more diverse than its international equivalents and also features considerably more herbs and spices. Essential ingredients like curry paste are usually made fresh rather than pre-bought, while a surprising number of vegetables and herbs commonly used in Thai cooking can still only be sourced at a local Thai market. In addition to what many people see as the Thai classics, such as Pad Thai and Tom Yam, the variety of dishes on offer around the country is vast. Most regions have their own specialities and everything from street food to Royal Thai Cuisine is not only enjoyed, but also discussed in daily conversation. In cities like Bangkok, people usually have favourite outlets that specialise in just one dish. If the cooks maintain consistency, they are guaranteed busy trade.
In many ways, Thai street food offers a snapshot of the incredible diversity of cuisine on offer in the Kingdom. Commuters, shoppers and passers by can choose from delicate bites like deep fried vegetables in batter or opt for more substantial meals like 'kuay tiow' noodles served with a choice of meats and fresh greens. Many Thai people also have a sweet tooth and there's a bewildering array of hand-made 'kanom' or sweets to indulge in. Kanom Tokyo is a favourite in the capital, small pancakes made from batter spread out on a tepanyaki hot plate. Various fillings are added, such as quail eggs, sweet custard or even bite sized sausages, then the batter is rolled into individual pieces and usually served in pairs.
Of course, the globalisation of cuisine means that these once secret Thai recipes are gradually reaching far beyond the country's shores. The first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe, nahm, opened in 2001 in London. Aimed at 'serious gourmands who value originality and strong, fresh flavours'. The creations were inspired by Thai Chefs Bo and Lan, who honed their skills with Australian Super Chef David Thompson. The duo recently returned to Bangkok where they introduced new concepts like the bo.lan balance menu, combining 5 essential Thai elements to guarantee the ultimate equilibrium of flavours and at the same time establishing a truly global circle of new international Thai cuisine. Meanwhile, other Thai Celebrity Chefs like the famed Ian Kittichai are travelling the globe challenging contemporary notions of Thai taste. Kittichai has created signature restaurants in New York, Barcelona and Bangkok, developing his own interpretation of classic Thai fare and also producing a cookbook in English.
Having become an established global staple. Modern Thai cuisine is now moving into a new evolutionary phase, redefining its traditional origins as a contemporary cuisine. Essential, traditional elements are being creatively employed by skilled Chefs to establish a whole new manifestation of the Kingdom's sense of exquisite taste.