Thai cuisine is again a mixture of imported dishes. Thai cuisine is also a non-homogeneous style as there are four distinct regional styles: southern, central, north-eastern and northern. Along with these there is a very definite Chinese influence that has been adopted and probably modified to accommodate available ingredients. Authentic Thai cuisine has little to do with origin or antiquity but more to do with the traditional style of preparation. In an interview with Leela Punyaratabandhu, M.L Sirichalerm Svasti well known as Chef Mc Dang, a nephew of the late queen HM Queen Rambhai Barni, spent 10 years of his youth at Sukhothai Palace and is a first hand witness to the style of dining and cuisine at the royal palace. He has taken on a role of a cultural leader in the field of Thai cuisine looking at many aspects that have influenced the evolution and development of this cuisine. His analysis to the key to comprehending what authentic Thai cuisine is, lies in the rules and regulations that govern Thai cooking. "There are basic do's and don'ts in Thai cookery which most Thais don't even know or bother to try to understand". There are two major rules and one exception to authentic, Thai cooking according to McDang's theory:
1. Salinity (saltiness) is derived from fish sauce; sweetness from palm or coconut sugar; sourness from locally-available tropical fruits, e.g. tamarind, green mango, lime. The use of soy sauce for salinity or vinegar for acidity is all a result of late foreign influence.
2. One cannot cook Thai food without making a kreung tam or a paste regardless of the cooking technique.
The exception to the rule is when you make a soup that is an infusion . Tom Yam, Tom Kha Gai, etc., fall into this category of pasteless dishes.
Southern cuisine has a real focus on seafood and strong flavours. It is particularly spicy and enjoys a marked contrast with a sour predominance by the use of ingredients such as tamarind. Southern Thai cuisine shares a lot in common with Northern Malay cuisine and this is associated with earlier kingdoms.
Central Thai includes the classical coconut cream based curries including the green curries and various red-curries and many of the so called Royal dishes, a defintion which McDang refutes, telling of the dishes that are served in the palace being the same as those all through the kingdom. There is a strong adoption of Chinese style with many stir-fried dishes including dishes like the phad grapows. Seafood is extensively used but has more of the natural grilled flavours in comparison to the bold manipulated flavours of the south. Central Thai cuisine has adopted many external food influences ranging from Indian, Portuguese and Sri-Lankan. The Nam Phriks can be traced through a couple of routes. Some through the Southern Thai and others through Laos Cambodian routes. Very interestingly there are these occurring in the Tai Yai collection of recipes they call Nam Phit so this causes a confusion of the original concept of the Nam Prik and there fore could equally be from the contact of the Tai Yai with Indian groups and the widespread use of Sambals in their collection of recipes?
The northern dishes are noticeably influenced by Lao cuisine and this can be attributed to the close royal ties in times gone, changing borders as well as political bonds in prior history.
North-eastern cuisine is called Isaan cuisine and is pure Lao cuisine.
Thailand is very proud of her cuisine and even at ports like Chiang Saen with the row of Chinese Restaurants along the esplanade road serving the sailors of the large Chinese cargo ships, she modifies the Chinese dishes and sells them back to the Chinese. Obviously the sailors enjoy it. The cooks in these restaurants can certainly prepare the food as it's prepared in China but their confidence to offer a variation is remarkable and I think something that almost defines the Thai evolution of cuisine.
There is an ongoing recipe development happening all the time in Thailand. It's a nouveau cuisine in a sense but very traditional and follows the governing principles. The television has these rapidly presented productions most days. Interestingly the most sophisticated recipe items do not mention quantity of ingredient. This is very traditional and harks back to the Thai premise that the flavours should be in balance not the quantities being exact.