It's spicy, well-balanced, bold, and has plenty of umami: it's Thai food. This cuisine is one of the most popular in the world, and it's one that has been adapted around the world, as well. In the U.S., it's practically impossible to visit any city in the country without running into at least one Thai restaurant. Throughout Europe, Thai restaurants have taken up residence, drawing inspiration from the nearby continent of Asia.
And, of course, in Thailand, the food is one of the major reasons many people get so excited about visiting. There's nothing like trying authentic dishes in the country in which such a beloved cuisine was born, and it's reason enough to visit this incredible country. So, why is it so popular everywhere else? We've got some insight.
Flavors Make An Impression
The first thing that people notice when trying Thai food for the first time is the flavors. With a plethora of spices, herbs, and sauces, there's no shortage of combinations that can create a number of flavor profiles. Each dish packs a punch and while not every dish is spicy, every dish is bold, and packs in tons of yummy umami flavor. The cuisine is famed for its use of popular ingredients that are zingy, zesty, and bold. Those include:
These fresh ingredients can be added either fresh or dry, and they all exude classic Thai flavors that are recognizable from the first bite. In Thailand, the food uses less coconut milk than that of the western countries which allow these flavors to shine through far more. It's often said that eating Thai food in Thailand is a different experience simply because of the boldness of the dish's flavor, which stands in stark contrast to one had in the U.S., for example.
The aroma of each of these things also helps with the aromatics of a dish. Thai aromatics account for one of the reasons why each dish is so bright and vibrant in flavor - scent and taste go hand in hand. In fact, just the thought of smelling fresh lemongrass while taking a bite of chili and galangal-spiced food is enough to make one's mouth water. Fresh herb aromatics that are found in popular dishes include:
- Lemon basil
- Holy basil (also known as Tulsi)
In many Asian cuisines, diners will notice that the balance of flavors is what makes a dish work so well. This is especially evident in Chinese and Japanese cooking, where different sauces come together to create something spectacular; however, if even one ingredient is overwhelming or underwhelming, it can throw off the entire dish.
Cooking Thai food, as with any Asian cuisine, is an art form that requires careful measuring and a good palate to achieve.
It's Incredibly Healthy
Sure, Thai food looks good and is incredibly Instagram-friendly, but it's also unbelievably healthy. Out of all the cuisines in the world, Thai food has more health benefits than most others thanks to the herbs and spices used during cooking. Much of the cuisine is also heavily vegetable-based, which means that it's full of vitamins and nutrients that other cuisines often sacrifice for the sake of more meat or dairy-based sauces or sides. Additionally, Thai food makes great use of seafood and if chicken, pork, or beef are involved, they're usually cut on the lean side. The lack of fattiness in the meat accounts for a healthier dish overall.
Common cooking methods also help make the cuisine healthy, since deep-frying is rarely an option. Rather, Thai dishes require either steaming or pan-frying in order to achieve a moist dish or one that's slightly crispy. This helps to preserve the nutrients in the ingredients whereas deep-frying or oven-roasting can sometimes deteriorate the health benefits that one would have gained from eating them.
Healthiest Thai Dishes
- Green Curry. This curry is thick and rich but it still maintains its health benefits thanks to the use of fish sauce, coconut milk, fresh herbs, and spices. It's a filling meal that's packed with bold flavor.
- Pad Thai. The most popular Thai dish, pad thai is made in many different ways but has the added benefit of tons of veggies.
- Satay. This lean dish incorporates chicken or prawns and is usually served as an appetizer, but goes great with some veggies on the side.
- Tom Yum Soup. There are many soups in Thai cuisine and Tom Yum is one of the best. It's loaded with veggies and is made with shrimp and a delicious broth.