Thai Food in a Global Market

Stir-fried shrimp and vegetables, a Thai food staple.
Stir friend pak boong and shrimp, with some mushrooms. Aroy Maak! (Very delicious Thai food!)

[Page updated 1 November 2017]

Thai Food Globally!

Though most people believe in the uniqueness of traditional Thai cooking, and in the idea of an authentic Thai cuisine, in reality, Thai food is the product of the interaction between nations for centuries. What is widely regarded as Thai food is a combination of foods and influences of German, Chinese, Laos, Cambodian, and Burmese culinary traditions.

In the 15th century, Khmer (Cambodian) cooks gave curries and boiled red and white sweets which originated in India to the King’s court in Ayuddhya, then the capital of Thailand.

My field research reveals that Thai restaurants in a North American city highlight the authenticity of the Thai taste while at the same time adapting to local food customs.

Fish sauce, an ingredient in nearly every Thai food dish originated in China. Believe it or not, Chilies which also play a major role in Thai cuisine were introduced not by the Indians or Chinese, but by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The combination of chilis, fish sauce, galangal (an aromatic root), and lime gives Thai dishes their distinctive flavor today. These are the major ingredients for adding flavor to Thai foods.

The Rising Popularity of Thai Food Globally

Before the 1960s Thai food was not widely made outside Thailand’s borders. The change occurred when a large number of foreigners came to Thailand during the Vietnam war and were first exposed to Thai food and culture.

Baked fish in a serving plate with lemon, basil, chilis, and lemongrass
Baked fish in lemongrass and lemon, basil herbs. Awesome Thai food!

Small Thai restaurants began opening up in London, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles to accommodate the local Thai immigrants that needed their daily dose of heavenly Thai food.

In the decade of the 1970s, there were just four Thai restaurants open in London, England. By 2005 London hosts over 300 Thai restaurants!

Likewise, in the USA the Thai food restaurant industry exploded over a very short period of time. By the early 1990s, there were more than 200 Thai restaurants just in just Los Angeles, California alone!

Taking into account that Thai food has only recently expanded across the globe it has enjoyed a very high popularity trans-nationally. The Kellogg School of Management and Sasin Institute developed a survey to test the popularity of international foods across nations. Thai food ranked #6.

International Food Popularity

Question: What is your favorite cuisine?

  • Italian
  • French
  • Japanese
  • Chinese
  • Indian
  • Thai

In the year 2003, there were 6,875 Thai restaurants outside of Thailand. About half were in the USA and Canada. Thai food attracts a western audience in part because it is perceived as a healthy, low-fat alternative to the indigenous foods of that nation.

Though most Thai food restaurants internationally may have started to accommodate Thais missing their home country’s meals, it appears now that most customers are non-Thai. the westerners of Europe and North American have embraced Thai food and consume it on a regular basis

Thai Cuisine Changes to Accommodate Foreign Tastes, Preferences

Thai food changes as it goes into transnational space. Most cities in the USA have a 0-1% Thai populace. Many Thais in America eat at home in the interest of saving money and just because they know how to make Thai food themselves. Spending large amounts of money to eat at the usually more expensive Thai restaurants is something that isn’t done often in most Thai households in the USA unless of course, they own a Thai restaurant.

Although Thai restaurants in the USA emphasize authentic Thai tastes, for the most part, they adapt to the dining customs. For instance, in higher-end Thai restaurants, you might see the staff following western style in that they serve the meal in courses.

Dinner starts with an appetizer like a soup or salad. Dinner is followed by the main dishes which might be brought out at different times. In Thailand, the usual way is that all food is brought out at once. The entire table is covered with food and you eat as you wish, in any order. Soup and salad might be eaten with rice and considered as a main dish. A typical Thai meal might consist of two or three dishes of soup or curry and some stir-fried dishes with rice.

Thai restaurants in the USA need to be careful in serving spicy food. The American diet does not usually have anything spicy in the meal. A piece of red bell pepper or a strong red onion might be all the spice Americans are accustomed to! Thai restaurants usually serve their food according to a spicy scale, and they knock that down a couple levels to make sure they are not serving it too spicy. If you order your Thai food pedt-pedt, very spicy, in Thailand in Bangkok you might be able to eat it. However, if you order it pedt-pedt in Isaan (Northeast Thailand) you will likely stop before finishing your meal because the number of chilies they use in the meal is staggering! I have eaten som tam with a big handful of large chilies in Isaan and thought I would pass out from the heat!

Thai restaurants serve the most popular Thai foods as a rule. It just makes sense to serve those Thai foods that customers are going to order and enjoy the most.

Top 10 most popular Thai foods among foreigners are:

1. Pad Thai

2. Roast Duck Curry

3. Tom Kha Gai

4. Moo Satay – Barbeque pork with curry.

5. Tom Yum Goong (Tom Yam Kung) – Spicy and sour shrimp & vegetable soup.

6. Cashew Nut Chicken

7. Chicken & Green Curry (Gang Kiow Wan Gai)

8. Kang Panang – Panang (Penang) curry

9. Pad Krapow (Grapow, Gapow) – Stir fried basil & Egg

10. Tod Mun – Fried fish cakes

11. Yum Nua – Beef salad

12. Gai Haw Bai Teuy

13. Gai Yang – Barbecued chicken

14. Som Tam – Spicy & sour unripened papaya salad.

These Thai food dishes are on almost every overseas menu, so if you are wondering what to order – just become familiar with these dishes and you will have fourteen of the best Thai foods that most people like to eat.

Some Thai restaurants have invented new variations on the original Thai foods seen above. Sometimes you’ll see Tom Yum Pak (vegetable tom yum). This is unheard of in Thailand as all tom yum soup there has the main staple like squid, shrimp, chicken or pork. There is no such thing as spicy soup with just vegetables. Americans like it though, as many are vegetarian customers.

Similarly, some restaurants serve vegetarian spring rolls. In Thailand spring rolls always contain ground pork. Some restaurants even go so far as to suggest that all meat dishes can be substituted with Tofu or vegetables. Substitutions are common and sometimes necessary due to the availability of authentic Thai ingredients like Kra Pao  which is Thai Basil, the North American basil is substituted, but not authentic.

Something people should realize that is eating food at Thai restaurants outside of Thailand is that many things may have been substituted during the creation of their Thai food dish. Thai owned restaurants come closest to authentic Thai cuisine, but they too have to Americanize the food a bit to get Americans to eat it. Same in Europe and Australia. The authentic Thai dish of labp, originating in Isaan has pork skin pieces all through it. Rarely will you find that in restaurants overseas because it is not something Americans would find to be a pleasant texture? There may be a substitution of ingredients for the pork skin or it may be left out completely.

One of the biggest challenges to the national image Thailand has overseas in Thai food restaurants is non-Thai owned restaurants that proclaim to be authentic Thai food. When visitors to these restaurants eat at a true Thai food restaurant they don’t understand why the food is so different. They are disappointed because the dishes they enjoyed at the restaurants taste quite different.

Standardization of Thai food spellings and ingredients is something aspired to, but something that, of course, can never come about as a whole. The Thai government encourages Thai restaurant owners overseas to use standard spellings to make it easier for foreigners to understand what they are eating and enable them to order the same thing at different Thai restaurants, but I have yet to see two menus that looked anything alike. Here in Thailand, there are attempts at English menus which are all unique and sometimes impossible to decipher. If one doesn’t speak Thai here, getting the right meal can be difficult, to say the least!

Authentic Thai Cuisine – What Is It?

Does Joy Cook Authentic Thai Cuisine?

There has been a debate raging about what authentic Thai cuisine is, for years. Apparently it’s a big topic that most people that blog outside Thailand get all worked up about. I just read an article by SheSimmers about this and thought I would weigh in.

Joy grew up in Sisaket, Thailand. It’s a small town, or at least it was at one time – a very small out of the way town that was the last stop on the train before Ubon Ratchathani, way to the east of Bangkok, near Laos and Cambodia.

She grew up cooking what I can only term, authentic Thai food. She ate what her parents were eating. She ate what her aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends, schoolmates, teachers, and strangers were all eating. Authentic Isaan style Thai food from recipes that were never really written down, but just passed down from adults to kids in the new generation.

Joy learned to cook at such a phenomenal level, you really couldn’t understand until you eat some Thai dishes she made. When I first tasted some of her food, I was astonished. It was better than any Thai restaurant I’d ever eaten at. The vegetables were always cooked perfectly – never too little, or too much. The salt level was always perfect. The spice level was whatever I asked for. Eventually she came to know what was too much or too little for each dish.

Thai Food According to Regions

There are regional differences in Thai food. When I go to Bangkok a couple of times a year, I don’t tend to eat Thai food there. I don’t like it. It’s dumbed-down. It doesn’t seem like northeastern (Isaan) style, or Southern style Thai like where we live now. It’s muted. The food isn’t what I’d consider authentic. Too many people, cultures, regions, and even countries, have conspired to change the taste so much that nobody even knows what authentic Thai food in Bangkok is any more. It’s almost like what I found at restaurants in the USA when I lived there. The spice is toned way down. The spices used are sometimes swapped for others, or sometimes left out. In Isaan they don’t leave something out – they have everything they need and half of it is coming directly from their backyard. If they can’t find something at the market, they’ll cruise the sides of the road with their motorbike and find it growing wild and grab some.

So, that’s just a bit about Thai food in the country of Thailand here. I’ve been here straight for ten years. I can see a lot of differences between regions. I don’t think some of the authentic spices are available all over the USA. Substitutions are OFTEN made. I remember water chestnuts in my Tom Yum Soup! What the heck!

So, I think there is such a thing as authentic Thai food – but it comes from each region. Bangkok is a region that some consider Thai food. I see it as a melting pot where the authenticity has dissipated… evaporated. I’ll continue to eat pizza in Bangkok!


Vern – Joy’s hubby

Our Daughter Sees Grandma for the First Time – Video

This video makes me cry so much every time I see it. Our daughter was 4 years old when she first saw Grandma – my husband’s mom from the USA. She loved her so much already because we told her so much about her grandma! She came to see Mali at our home in Thailand. I met her at the airport in Bangkok and flew with her down to our home in Southern Thailand! 🙂


Thai Food Blog Secret Post… What is Joy REALLY Like?

Here are some photos of Joy doing what she enjoys… she isn’t always making and eating delicious Thai food… sometimes, well, she has a sweet tooth… haha.

Joy Drinking Thai Tea (Cha Yen) at a Thai restaurant in Southern Thailand.

Joy drinking what I think is her 2nd favorite Thai refreshment, Cha Yen or Thai Iced Tea.

the other one is…

Joy drinking her favorite drink - PEPSI at the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand.

Joy LOVES Pepsi… she drinks it at every opportunity she gets.

Pepsi here is made in Thailand I think. It’s different from American Pepsi as it’s not the same caramel sugar base. It’s a dry sugar base that dissolves. The Pepsi isn’t thick here – it’s light… hard to explain. Joy could probably go over the nuances of the flavors, she’s had enough of it!

Last Pic…

Joy blowing bubbles with a straw and shampoo I think.

She was out on the porch for 30 minutes or so and I popped out to see what she was doing so quietly… she was just blowing bubbles into the wind… watching them go over the chickens, over the cows… on into the back wooded area… She was so at peace… She blew them for 30 more minutes.

Ok that was your sneak peak into Joy’s life here in Thailand. She is an absolutely incredible person to know. I’m a much better guy for having met her. She’s so giving of herself to whoever needs her time or energy. She’s ego-less and great fun to be around.


More to come in the future as I guest post on her blog to say nice things about her…

Sawasdee Krup!


A Little History About Thailand – and Thai Food Facts

A Little Bit About Thailand!


Ao Nang Beach, ThailandThailand was called Siam starting in 1939. Thailand as a country has never been colonized by a foreign nation unlike Laos, Cambodia and other Asian countries.

Thailand’s culture, politics, economics and social aspects have all changed in a great procession of steps.

Thailand’s development started in the 13th century. Thailand amassed a lot of ancient customs and cultures. This blend of customs and culture has created a Thai-ness that is uniquely its own. Thai means free. Thai people call Thailand Bra-teht Thai meaning country of the free. In English was call it Free-land. It is not quite free – but it is probably at a steeply discounted cost of living compared to your home country!

Geographical Area

Thailand is located in Southeast of the continent of Asia. Thailand’s geographical area covers over 513,000 square kilometers. It runs nearly 1,620 kilometers from the northernmost to the southern most points and over 770 km measuring from east to west.

Thailand borders four other countries: Myanmar (Burma) on the west side; Myanmar and Laos on the North and East sides; and Cambodia and Malaysia (Thais say, Gamboosha) on the southern side. The longest border Thailand has is with the Andaman sea though! Thailand has many incredibly scenic beaches along the coast.

Thailand is located between the latitude 5˚ 37″ N. with 20˚ 27″ N. and between longitude 97˚ 22″ E. with 105˚ 37″ E. in the Low Latitude Zone between the equator and tropic of cancer. This means Thailand is in the tropics, or the Tropical Zone.

Terrain and Weather

Since, Thailand is in the Tropic Zone, the climate is not too hot, not too cold or not too dry. Therefore Thailand is a warm and rather humid tropical country with monsoonal climate.

Temperatures are highest in March and April with average temperature of 28 degree Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius and humidity averaging between 82.8 percent to 73 percent. There are 3 seasons in Thailand though in certain parts of the country one weather pattern may dominate for the good part of the year.

Rainy Season: mid May to mid November. There are raining in early July and raining all over the country. The most raining is in September, overall. In the southern provinces of Phuket, Krabi, and Trang the rainy season lasts pretty much all year with a slight break in January. The most rain is received in October and November usually.

Winter Season: mid November to mid February. There are heavy raining and flooding in the southern of Thailand. Therefore, this season is not good for traveling along the west bank of Thailand. It never snows in Thailand but if you spend time in the far north during December to February you might be waiting for it. It does get almost freezing cold during those months in the far north.

Summer Season: mid February to mid May. April is the hottest month in the season. This is when Thais celebrate their new year, Songkran with a water throwing festival. It’s appropriate because the temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius all over the country during this time.

Agriculture: Most of the areas are of a plain topography which is suitable for agriculture.

By far the most important crop in all of Thailand is, as you can probably guess, RICE! This is the main export of the country and Thailand is the top producer of rice across the globe. Thailand’s fragrant Jasmine rice is considered the best in the world.

Other farmed foods include corn, sugar cane, vegetables and fruits. Thailand exports large quantities of bananas, long an, durian, custard apples (sugar apples), grapes, oranges, watermelons, pineapple, cabbage, some Chinese vegetables, tomatoes and more.

Another export that is grown in Thailand is Teak Wood – used primarily to build boats for its strength and water resistance.


Thailand’s population is relatively homogeneous. More than 85% speak a dialect of Thai and share a common culture. This core population includes the central Thai (34% of the population, including Bangkok), Northeastern Thai (34%), northern Thai (19%), and southern Thai (13%). 90% of population have Thai Nationality and another 10% are of different nationality. The population of Thailand is about sixty-seven million people.

There are smaller groups of local Thais, mountain-dwelling tribes, such as the Hmong and Mein, and Karen hill tribe that number about 200,000 to 500,000.


The language of the central Thai population is the language taught in all schools and used in government. Everyone refers to this as “Bangkok Thai” or Bangkok dialect. Those Thais living near a bordering country usually grow up speaking the foreign tongue as well. My friend here can speak Bangkok Thai, Isaan Thai, Laos, and Cambodian (Khmer).


Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. If you are not counting the recent military coup which ended in 2007 after lasting one year. For 76 years Kings of Thailand have exercised their constitutional legislative powers through a bicameral National Assembly comprised of a House of Representatives elected by popular vote and a Senate appointed by the King with the PM (Prime Minister’s recommendation. Thai Kings exercise executive powers through the cabinet headed by a prime minister, and judicial powers through the law courts. While not directly involved in Thailand’s political life, Thailand’s King exerts a strong moral influence on carefully selected issues. Thailand’s present King is so well revered that nearly a million well-wishers gathered for his 80th birthday.

Food and Fruit of Thailand

Thai food is internationally famous both for its taste and aesthetics. Whether hot chili spiced or bland, harmony between ingredients and tastes is the guiding principle behind each Thai food dish.

Thai cuisine is a rich fusion of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely and deliciously Thai.

Perhaps the most famous two food dishes from Thailand available at nearly every Thai food restaurant in the western world are Pad Thai (stir-fried noodles) and Tom Yum Goong (Spicy and Sour Shrimp soup).

Regions of Thailand tend to flavor their foods and use certain ingredients a little different from other regions. There are generally these distinctions.

Northern Food: such as Nam Prig Num, Hungla Curry and Sai Oury.

Central Food: such as Tai Pla Curry, Nam Prig Ong, Tom Jerd, Geng Som, Nam Prig and Pla Too.

Northeastern Food: such as Lahp (Minced meat), Som Tam (spicy green papaya salad), Gai Yang (Grilled Chicken), and Bla Rah (fermented fish paste). Isaan is known for it’s spicy chili dishes.

Southern Food: such as Geng Liang, Nam Bpoo Doo, which are hotter than other parts of Thailand, but nothing tops the Northeast (Isaan) region for hot spicy foods. I think the south is more known for it’s sour foods. They tend to like a little bit more lemon / lime in their Thai food dishes.