Traditional Thai cooking methods were stewing and baking or grilling. Chinese influences were responsible for the introduction of frying, stir frying and deep-frying. From the 17th century onwards Portuguese, Dutch, French and Japanese cuisines also had an impact. For example, chilies were introduced to Thailand by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America.
Thai food relies on five primary flavors: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. The secret to all Thai food lies in the subtle differences in the proportions of ingredients used. Another distinguishing features of Thai food is the combination of different spices including mint leaves, lime leaves, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, curry, cilantro (coriander), galangal, chilli, and basil. Jasmine rice or fragrant or scented rice is the most important ingredient in Thai cooking and is the staple food in Thailand.
A proper meal should consist of a soup, a curry dish with condiments, a dip with accompanying fish and vegetables. A spiced salad may replace the curry dish. The soup can also be spicy, but the curry should be replaced by non spiced items. There must be a harmony of tastes and textures within individual dishes and the entire meal.
A century ago, meals were eaten by hand, pressing the rice into the little balls; today a spoon and fork are used for eating rice, while chopsticks are used for Chinese-type noodles.
Thai food differs from region to region. Unlike the North and Northeast, where glutinous rice is popular, central Thai dishes like the fragrant plain variety, most commonly steamed. In addition to fresh-water fish, there is seafood from the Gulf of Thailand, as well as a wide range of fresh vegetables. Chinese-Thai food is popular in cities like Bangkok, particularly in the form of numerous noodle dishes.
Thai desserts are usually based on fruits, coconut, rice or flour. They are often very sweet with a delicate, scented flavor.