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Thai Culture Guide >> Chinese Food Articles >> Thai Food

Hot and Spicy: Is That What Thai Food All About?

Of course not. But, for better or worse,
Thai Cuisine cannot lose its association with that hot and spicy taste of chilies. People tend to overlook the many other herbs and spices that combine to give Thai food its range of delicacy. It is the very delicate interplay of herbs and spices that makes Thai food so well-loved among all peoples of the world.

The single most outstanding character of Thai culinary may be the harmonious blend of the three S's of flavor - spicy, salty and sour. This is achieved fundamentally by the three key ingredients.

Chili - Spicy

Despite the paramount importance of chili or "prik" in Thai cooking, it is believed that Thai people only acquired the love for the spicy taste of chili in the 16th century. It is not clear whether the Portuguese or the Spanish merchants were responsible for introducing this chili pepper to the old Siam. In any case, Thai people have since mastered the use of this spice in their cooking blending it with other herbs and flavorings.

The green or red "prik kee noo", literally "mouse dropping chili" is the tiniest but packs a memorable wallop. Don't ever eat it one whole or you can burn your tongue instantly.

Fish Sauce - Salty

"Nam pla" in Thai, the second most important ingredient of Thai food. It is derived from brewing fish or shrimp mixed with salt and decanting the fermented result into bottles. Don't mistake this with Chinese or Japanese soy sauce. Its aroma of fermented fish can be annoying but when blended into other ingredients it becomes more subtle and unbelievably tasty.

Lime - Sour

"Manao" (lime) and sometimes "magrood" (kaffir lime) are used at every opportunity in a variety of Thai dishes. Its main role is to suppress the salty taste and strong aroma of fish sauce.

One very simple use of the 3 main ingredients of Thai cooking is a "prik nampla" sauce where chili is added to fish sauce with some lime and garlic. Add a few drops of this to any Thai dish like "gai yang" (grilled chicken), "khai jeow" (fried egg) or even plain white rice and you can enjoy the punch of spicy, salty and sour Thai flavor. This is what most Thai people cannot do without. And a Thaiphile cannot go about talking Thai food without ever trying "prik nampla" himself!

About the Author:

Witit Sujjapong is the web master of, a website specialized in things Thai