Thai food has become more and more popular in recent years as more restaurants and takeaways open up across the UK. It is hardly surprising, given the flavour explosion present in every Thai dish! It is incredibly moreish, but what is it that gives Thai food its distinctive kick?

A careful balance of hot, salty, sweet and sour is what. Not all are present in all dishes, but it is these elements that make Thai food so vibrant and tasty.

What are the key elements of Thai food?


Chillies of course! But seriously hot bird’s eye chillies! You can find them in most supermarkets these days – they are small, pointy and potent – no wiping your face after chopping these bad boys!


Fish sauce. This pungent delight should be used sparingly! It is often made using fermented anchovies which gives it the distinctive fishy flavour – sounds gross, but used sparingly it gives Thai food its balance. Oyster sauce, soy sauce and shrimp paste are also used for the salty element.


Palm sugar, which is made from the sap of palms is used frequently to sweeten Thai food, but coconut sugar and sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) are used too.


Lime juice is often used to cut through the salt and the sweet of Thai food, but tamarind gives food an added tang. Tamarind is a fruit like pod and you can buy the pulp in most Asian supermarkets.

One of our favourite dishes that incorporates all of these elements so well is Thailand’s national dish – Pad Thai. The dish was originally Vietnamese, but got its name and became popular in Thailand after the Second World War when the then prime minister Luang Phibunsongkhrum used it as part of a campaign to promote Thai nationalism and sought to reduce rice consumption to allow more for exports!

The dish combines noodles with, fish sauce, lime juice, red chilli and palm sugar along with chicken, eggs, beansprouts and peanuts among other things – delicious!