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Differences

Northern

Northern Thailand, which is the area bordered by Burma in the west and Laos in the east, has always had a strong regional identity that is distinctively different from Southern and Central Thailand.

Hills in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The cooler climate of the hills means that many types of European fruit grow well there, so peaches, apples and strawberries are commonly found growing alongside lychees.

Northern Thai curries do not use coconut milk as a result of their Burmese influences and hence, their curries taste fierier and are thinner in consistency as compared to Malaysian or Indian curries.

Generally speaking, the dishes in the North (known as Lanna or Isaan) tend to be salty and sour in taste with great depth of flavor. They are usually served with sticky rice and can be jazzed up with spicy green or red chili sauce. Although you won’t find much seafood in the North – due to the huge distance from the coast – you can try traditional meats like the spicy Sai Oua sausage found in Chiang Mai.

Southern

South Thailand, located in between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, is mainly known for their scenic beaches and islands. The region of South Thailand has an approximate area of 70,715 sq km and is home to 14 provinces such as Chumphon and Krabi.  They are surrounded by the sea and the mountains such as the Tanaosi mountains.

A map of Southern Thailand.

Southern Thailand is known to rain heavily throughout the year while being very humid at the same time. The general climate for Thailand is summer all year round with monsoon and rainy seasons.

Seafood and fish are the predominant features of Southern cuisine and are acceptable to all, both culturally and in regard to religion, with the advantage of two long coastlines, fresh fish and seafood are eaten in abundance.

Southern Thai curries and soups are often enriched by the addition of coconut milk or cream. Spices include turmeric and pepper and chilies.

Under Muslim influences, Southern Thai dishes use ghee and oil rather than coconut and use a larger range of fragrant spices including cardamom, cumin and cloves.

The use of ghee is extremely common in Southern Thailand.

Fish and seafood are often grilled and flavored with chilies and lime, roasted in a pot filled with sea salt, boiled in curries, stirred into salads or simply deep-fried. Outdoor vendors operated by Muslim Thais sell deep-fried fish and chicken, with packets of sticky rice and sweet chili sauce or a ladle full of fish sauce laced with fresh chilies.

Numerous seasonal vegetables are available year-round along with tropical fruits like mango and papaya which are served both ripe or unripe.

The Phuket Vegetarian Food Festival, also known as Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is a traditional festival that is celebrated by the Thai and Chinese communities.

An example of an act for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

The ceremony was brought into Thailand by a Chinese opera group in the 19th century. The purpose of the festival is to honor the gods and celebrate their existence. During the ceremony, there are fire walks, body piercings and many more daring and dangerous acts. The festival takes place in 6 Chinese temples in Phuket. Since it is a vegetarian festival, soybean and protein act as a substitute for meat.

Comparison

The North of Thailand is mountainous and more temperate than the rest of the country, with slightly cooler weather year-round. Its location near China and Burma has made the North a trading centre and a crossroads for culture and people like the Thai, Burmese, Chinese and many various hill tribes who all brought their own foods and cooking styles.

The South of Thailand, especially the islands, focus on fresh seafood with sweet, sour and spicy flavors. Most of these dishes are served with jasmine rice instead of sticky rice which is one way to know if you’re eating Southern Thai food. Many of the dishes and drinks also are fruity thanks to the abundance of delicious, fresh, tropical produce.

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