The main characteristic of Thai food is that each meal should comprise of four fundamental taste areas: spicy, sweet, sour and salty. The spice comes from chillies, the sweetness from cane or palm sugar. Tamarind or lime juice provides the acidity while the saltiness comes from a variety of ingredients such as soy sauce, fish sauce or shrimp paste. vegetarians need to be aware that some vegetable dishes may contain fish sauce or shrimp paste so check with the restaurant.
Different regions in Thailand and individual chefs may have a preference for one of the four taste senses. That is why in Thailand the table will often have a tray of condiments such as sugar, fish or soy sauce, vinegar and dry or or fresh chillies. So the diner can adjust the balance to suit his or her taste. So if you are served a dish which is not quite to your taste, e.g. not spicy enough, try asking the restaurant if they have a condiment tray.
A Thai meal usually involves a selection of dishes which are shared among family and friends. In a restaurant it is usual to order a variety of dishes such as soups, salads, stir-fried dishes, grilled or fried fish or meat and curries. The dishes are served together rather than as individual courses. Food is eaten with a fork and spoon and each dish is sampled in turn with a serving of rice.
There should be a mix of spicy and mild dishes with vegetables to soften the fieriness of the chillies. This way of eating provides a tantalising variety of flavours and textures and creates a convivial occasion as the food is shared. Restaurants in the west often provide set menus to provide the variety but you can have fun creating your own selection. A knowledgeable server should be able to help you.
We hope this short introduction will help you enjoy the delights of Thai cuisine. We would welcome your comments or questions.