Hot And Spicy - Is That What Thai Food All About?

By Witit Sujjapong

Of course not. But, for better or worse, Thai cuisine cannot
losen 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 charater 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

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

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.


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