Like the country, Thai food also offers subtle combinations of spices, herbs and market-fresh ingredients that has made it popular around the world. Although Thai food is well known for being hot and spicy, this is not necessarily the case. Many dishes are high in chili content, but many other use no chili at all.

The real objective of Thai meals is to balance flavors and textures. A typical Thai meal will therefore include sweet and sour dishes, soup and a grilled or fried item, a curry and plain steamed or fried vegetables. Much of the pleasure, too, comes in the garnishing, for the Thais say "you must also eat with your eyes."

A Thai meal is usually a family or group occasion. The dishes are served simultaneously, placed in the center of the table, allowing the diners to enjoy the entire spectrum of flavors. A plate of rice is set for each person, replenished when needed. The rice of choice is one of the country's best known food products, jasmine rice, so named for its delicate fragrance when cooked. The utensils are a spoon and fork, although sometimes chopsticks are used for noodle or other Chinese dishes.

Seafood, fish, and shellfish will be found at every meal, and chicken, pork, beef, and duck are staples of the Thai diet. The abundance of vegetables grown in the country allows a wide choice during the meal, the main criterion being freshness.

Curries are generally creamy, prepared with coconut milk, and vary in their hotness. Plenty of lime juice, lemon grass, and fresh coriander are added to give the food its characteristic tang, while fish sauce and shrimp paste add saltiness. Garlic and shallots also feature prominently. Other popular seasonings include black pepper, basil, ground peanuts, tamarind juice, and ginger.

Chili, in varying degrees of strength, can always be found on a Thai table. The tiny, super-hot chili know as Phrik Khi Nu is seldom far away. Condiments include ground red pepper, ground peanuts, vinegar with sliced chilies, soy sauce, spicy sweet and sour sauce, and a variety of dips.

Thai food is so adaptable that it can be easily introduced into Western meals. Some Thai dishes are ideal as a first course as part of a traditional Western meal or can be served as a simple one-dish meal.