Thai Cuisine History through Cultural Influences

Thai Cuisine History through Cultural Influences

I have visited Thailand six times till now and I always loved the Thai Cuisine. Thailand is one country which I love to visit again and again. So as soon as Thai Smile Airways (fully own subsidiary airlines of Thai Airways) launched its flight from Kolkata to Bangkok and knowing that Visa on Arrival fee is exempted till Oct'2019, I had to travel to Thailand again.

While eating a Thai Cusine in a restaurant I started wondering how was this cuisine invented or how this cuisine entered Thailand. That's when I started to delve a little deeper to understand Thailand history through its Thai Cuisine.

A country's history defines the cuisine of a country. If you delve little deeper into the history of a country you will find that the taste of the cuisine has evolved due to the direct or indirect influence of various cultures. Thai Cusine has also evolved over the years due to the influence of various cultures on Thailand History. Today Thai cuisine is among the Top 5 cuisines in the world which are found across the world. 

In my earlier blog post on Ultimate Bangkok's Street Food guide, I had mentioned about the must-have street foods in Bangkok. This time we will try to trace Thailand History through Thai Cuisine. The history mentioned here are in chronological order basis the Thailand History which defines Thai Cuisine.

Note: This tracing of Thailand history through its Thai Cusine has been done by me through researching through various articles. I have tried to go through various historical articles to understand the rich history of Thailand and how it would have influenced Thai Cuisine. Since there is no concrete historical artifacts/literature/evidence which traces the Thai Cuisine this article is purely based on my research. If you have any contrarian view with concrete historical evidence or proof, please feel free to connect at

The Advent of Chinese People ( Tai)  

Around 1400 years ago, Chinese from the provinces of Guangxi & Yunnan started migrating south. They migrated to Northern Regions of Thailand. The Tai people brought Chinese influence to Thai Cuisine.
Chinese immigrants introduced different cooking techniques such as Stir-Fried & Deep Frying employing the use of wok to Thai Cuisine. They also introduced noodles to Thai Cuisine. The Chinese people also introduced Soy Sauce to Thai Cuisine.

It is also believed that the birthplace of Thai Street Food is Chinatown District also known as Yaowarat Road.

The world famous Pad Thai is influenced by Chinese immigrants. Do you know the real name of Pad Thai is Kway Teow Phat Thai. "Kway Teow" is a Chinese word in a Chinese dialect which means rice noodles, and the entire name means stir-fried rice noodles Thai-style. Noodles and stir-frying are very Chinese, and immigration likely brought the practice to Siam. Flavors like tamarind, palm sugar, and chilies were the Thai twists.

So next time you are having Pad Thai you know whom you should thank - The Tai Chinese people who immigrated to Thailand thousands of years ago.

Thailand History Thai Cuisine
( Pad Thai)

Top 3 other famous Thai Cuisine which got influenced by the Chinese are :

1. Pad See Ew 

It is more or less similar to Pad Thai, however, it is made with Flat Noodles. Pad See Ew is cooked with Pork/Chicken along with eggs.

Pad See Ew Thai Cuisine Shoestring Travel

2. Khao Kha Moo

Khao Kha Moo is fragrant stewed pork with rice. You will find many street vendors selling the same on the roads.


3. Salapao

In Thai Cuisine the Baos or the baozi is referred to as Salapao which is filled with barbecued pork, minced pork, sweet red beans & creams.

Tracing Thai History through Thai Cuisine

Influence of India & Indian Culture on Thai Cuisine

If you are having a Thai Curry then thank the influence of India on Thai Cuisine. It is debated that the curry was introduced by the Khmer Kingdom who had extremely close ties with India and other Indian Kings mainly the Chola Empire. The Khmer kingdom had trade alliances with Chola Kings of India.

Around the 10th Century, the city-states merged into two mandalas, the Lavo which is known as Lopburi and Suvarnabhumi which is currently known as Suphan Buri. It is said that a king of Tambralinga installed a Malay prince on the throne of Lavo ( Lopburi). This Malay prince was married to a Khmer princess. The son of this couple challenged Khmer king and later became to known as King Suryavarman 1 from 1006 to 1050. The king Suryavarman 1 established trade relations with the Chola Dynasty of South India. Not only trade relations but king Suryavarman1 and Emperor Rajendra Chola fought together against the Tambralingam kingdom and defeated them.

Thus with the reigning Khmer Kingdom who had such great relations with Chola Dynasty of South India enter the Indian style of cooking. 

This Indian style of cooking the curry entered Thai Cuisine and thus we have the famous Thai Curry. The Ghee ( clarified butter made from the milk of a buffalo or cow, used in Indian cooking) slowly got replaced by the coconut milk as ghee was not abundantly found in the Kingdom of Siam. Also along with curry entered various spices which are commonly used in Thai Cusine from India.

On a later date, Lemongrass and Galangal were introduced to the Thai Curries giving a unique taste to this Thai Cuisine.

Top 3 Thai Curries you should taste when in Thailand are :

1. Khao Soi Curry

Khao Soi is the most underrated of Thai curries and for me is the most delicious. Khao Soi is a mild, coconut-based curry served over soft egg noodles and topped with crispy egg noodles. It is then perfected by optional additions of lime, onion, chili, and pickled cabbage.

Thai Cuisine Shoestring Travel

2. Green ‘Sweet’ Curry - Kaeng Khiao Wan

The full translation of ‘Kaeng Khiao Wan’ is ‘Green Sweet Curry’ (‘Wan’ meaning sweet). The curry is little sweet, salty, a little sour and the curry is very hot and very coconutty. In Thailand, you will find Green Curry served in a coconut milk soup with unique local ingredients and flavorings of Thai sweet basil, kaffir lime leaves, eggplant, and pea aubergine. 
This Green Sweet Curry is one of the hottest curries in Thai Cuisine.

Thai Curry Thai Cuisine

3. Thai Red Curry - Kaeng Phed

The Thai Red curry is almost made like the Green sweet curry however instead of green chilies which are extremely hot, red chili powder is used. Thai red curry is also less sweet.

Thai Red Curry Thailand History

Buddhism and Thai Cuisine

With the weakening of Khmer regime and then at a later date Sukothai Kingdom , the kingdom of Ayutthaya emerged. This kingdom led to the establishment of the Ayutthaya Period in Thailand from 1351-1767. The word Ayutthaya is said to be derived from Indian word and city called as Ayodhya.

During the Ayutthaya period Buddhism mainly Theravada Buddhism flourished. Theravada Buddhism is the most practiced Buddhism in Thailand as of today. The Ayutthaya period is known as the golden period of Thailand.

Buddhism not only defined the way of life in Thailand but also had a definitive influence on Thai Cuisine.

Thai Cuisine Buddhism Influence - Thailand History

Buddhism brought the consumption of Vegetables in large quantities in Thai Cuisine also the people of Thailand like to eat lots of fresh fruits which is also a brought in by Buddhism in Thai Culture.

One of the most important elements of Buddhism is balance. Thai cooks strive for the perfect balance between sweet, sour, cooked, fresh, mild, bitter, salty and spicy. Also according to the Buddhist custom no whole animal should be cooked and served and hence in most Thai cuisine, you will find bite-size pieces of meat. You will never ever find huge chunks of meat in Thai Cuisine.

Dutch & Portuguese Influence on Thai Cuisine

During the Ayutthaya period trade relations flourished with the Dutch and Portuguese. Along with the Dutch and Portuguese came the dreaded chilies.

The Portuguese introduced the hot chilies in Thai Cuisine which they found during their rule in South America. South American chilies are known for their hotness and thus Thai Cuisine started to be known for their use of chilies and hotness.

It is also said that the Portuguese introduced Papaya ( native to Southern Mexico and neighboring Central America) in Thailand and thus you get the famous Thai Cuisine Som Tam.

If you are courageous and want to get a taste of hotness of Thai Chili in Thai Cuisine then you can try the below Top 3 Dishes :

1. Som Tam - Papaya Salad

Papaya salad or Som Tam takes the bronze medal in the list of Thailand’s spiciest foods. The raw papaya is tangy in taste and served with a pounded mixture of salt, lime juice, fish sauce, coconut sugar and – of course –and lots of hot chilies.

Thai Cuisine Som Tam Papaya Salad

2. Pad Ka Prao

Pad Ka Prao is Thailand's most popular and best-loved dish. It is made with fish, chicken, and pork, pad ka prao features overwhelming tastes of the holy basil after which it’s named and the fiery heat of the chilies that are added liberally to the dish, combining to make a meal that’s incredibly tasty as well as spicy.

Thai Cuisine Pad Ka Prao

3. Pad Prik

Pad Prik is beef, pork, chicken which is cooked with peppers, onions and garlic and basil. Lots of chilies are added which makes it fiery.

The Famed Massaman Curry

Massaman Curry is a famous Thai Cuisine which is loved by people across the world. Massaman curry is a staple curry from Thailand and is made mainly with beef, chicken or lamb. Massaman curry is also known to feature in the list of Top 50 Dishes across the world according to the survey done by CNN in 2017.

The Massaman Curry is also known as the Masaman Curry in Thailand. The curry entered into Thailand with the migration of Malaysian Muslim people in Thailand. It is also said that the curry gets its name from the word Mussulman which is another word for Muslims. The Massaman curry has a blend of taste from Malay & Indian cuisines. The pork massaman curry that you find in many places in Thailand was not a part of the original Thai Cuisine as Muslims don't eat pork.

Next time you visit Thailand have this Massaman curry to get a taste of Muslim influence  on Thailand.

Tracing Thailand History through Thai Cuisine

Snapshot of Influence of Cultures on Thai Cuisine

Below is the pictorial depiction of how various cultures influenced Thai Cuisine through migrations and trade relations.

Shoestring Travel - History of Thai Cuisine

Next time you have Thai Cuisine you will know the rich history which created it. You can enjoy the nuances of taste of a food better if you know the history of the cuisine and how it originated.

Enjoy Thai Cuisine and share your feedback with Shoestring Travel in the comment section below.

Disclaimer : I was invited to be part of joint familiarization trip by Tourism Authority of Thailand and as well as Thai Smile Airways to witness the New Shade of Bangkok. This research was done exclusively by me and in no way was influenced by the above authorities/companies.This article is written out of Love of Thai Food and Culture of Thailand and is no monetary gains have been made from above authorities through this article. 

Shoestring Travel


  1. I love Thai food, be it on the streets or while fine dining. The kick of spice and coconut milk is a fab combination in Thai curry, my favorite

  2. Whenever me and my husband go out for dinner we mostly order Thai food because it something we generally don't get to eat in routine..personally my favourite is green curry and I love the lemongrass flavour In it..

  3. Thai cuisine is indeed one of the most widely loved food choices.

    The flavour and aroma makes it a gastronomic delight at any time.

  4. Thai cuisine is always a gastronomic delight, with its unique flavour and aroma.

  5. Such a wonderful post on food & cultural well explained nice.

  6. All the thai dishes look interesting . But since all include egg or something non veg i cnt try it. As i m veg :)

  7. Thai cuisine is a combination of flavours, colors, aroma and texture. While Thai food can get spicy, the heat is very different and milder than Indian food. Thai food is easy to digest and is very suitable for the ongoing crazy days of super high temperature.

  8. I love Thai cuisine . These are so delicious and healthy, my fav is Red Thai curry chicken or prawn with pad Thai noodles. Thai ice cream is also very yummm... loved your post

  9. I truly loved how thoughtfully you have described the Thai cuisine and culture. Well done!

  10. Thai cuisine is my favorite. This restaurant seem to be a perfect to have thai cuisine.. Will surely try



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