A Thai meal is a harmonious blend of the five taste elements: spicy, sweet, sour, savoury and bitter (optional). These should complement each other, balancing the flavours and textures and satisfying the senses of sight, smell and taste. It is for this reason that all the dishes are served simultaneously with all the element being present together.
In addition to rice, a typical meal might include a soup, a curry, a salad, a fried dish and a steamed dish, and vegetables. There will also be a variety of sauces and condiments.
Most Thais eat steamed rice, though in the North and Northeast there is a long tradition of eating glutinous or sticky rice. Rice for the meal is kept in a large bowl and ladled out by the host or a server, so the guest will start with a plate of rice, onto which he or she places spoonfuls from each dishes spread out on the table. Essential to each meal is yam, a hot, tangy salad made from lime, herbs, chilli and salad leaves with a choice of meat, seafood or vegetables. Soup is not an appetiser before the main meal; it is there to add moisture, and is usually spooned onto the rice to bring out the flavour of the ingredients. The soup may be spicy or plain, and the spiciest is tom yam, usually made with fish or seafood -- shrimp is by far the most popular ingredient, as in tom yam kung.
Thai curries differ from Indian curry in that they are usually made from fresh, rather than dried ingredients. Many use coconut cream as their chief ingredient, with duck, chicken, pork, beef, seafood or fish being added after the cream has been brought to the boil. Massaman curry has Malay origins and is one of the most frequently seen curries in restaurants in Thailand.
Stir-fried dishes originated in China but over the generations many have evolved that are essentially Thai in character. While beef stir-fried in oyster sauce is Chinese, chicken stir-fried with ginger, garlic and chilli is Thai, especially if cashews, native to Thailand but not China, are added.
A fresh fish cleaned and wok-fried in oil is not only quick and easy, it is also vary satisfying. Steamed fish is somewhat more elaborate and usually involves a topping of colourful and tasty ingredients such as Chinese celery, onions, lemongrass, garlic, preserved Chinese plums and others. Sometimes a whole, fresh fish is wrapped in a balana leaf to preserve all its natural juices and grilled over a charcoal fire. Large shrimps are barcecued with the head still on to retain its natural moisture; squid are parboiled to keep their creamy texture.The list of recipes and ingredients for noodle dishes is endless, whether sir-fried or as soup. A bowl of noodles makes a satisfying breakfast, a plesant mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, and a wonderful supper.