When describing Thai food, the first adjective that comes to mind is spicy. In fact, one of the reasons Thai food is so popular is because it is so spicy and zesty.
So, why do the Thais like their food so spicy, and what are the ingredients in Thai food that give it so much heat?
Thai chili peppers
First, many Thai dishes include red-hot Thai chili peppers and those are what burn your tongue and mouth. In the West, we call these peppers bird’s eye chili, and they are native to Southeast Asia.
Almost all the restaurants in Thailand have a condiment dish on the table with a potent mixture of these chilies. Usually, there is a combination of red and green chili. Thai chilis are green when they are young and turn red as they mature, and they have different flavors.
I live in Thailand, and I can relate to you from direct observation that Thai people spoon these chilies on just about every dish. I’m serious. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner they add these burning hot chilies to every meal that they eat. And in liberal proportions.
Sometimes I like to add some Thai chili pepper to my meal to give it a little extra kick, but I usually don’t because it tends to upset my stomach. Thai food is spicy enough without it, anyway, in my opinion.
Spices used in Thai food
But the Thai chili peppers are only one reason why Thai food is so spicy. Thai food includes many different pungent spices as base ingredients for almost all soups and most meat and rice dishes. The Thai love their food to have bold flavors and very few dishes are bland or lacking in flavor.
There are a variety of heavy spices added to Thai food to give that intense flavor. Holy basil, galangal, tumeric, Kaffir lime, coriander, and lemongrass are a few of the most popular Thai spices.
I especially love Thai soups, especially Tom Yum, which is probably the spiciest in the Thai arsenal. Almost all the soups in Thailand are incredibly spicy and I love all of them.
Don’t give up on Thai food just because it is so spicy!
When you first start eating Thai food, it can be a bit of a shock because it is so hot and spicy. Westerners are just not used to eating food that intense. It was the same for me when I first came to Thailand.
But don’t give up eating Thai food if it seems to spicy at first. Your senses will grow more accustomed to it over time and you will probably learn to like it. I like my Thai food moderately spicy, and I’m always disappointed now if the chef cooks my food mild because I am a falang (Thai for foreigner).