Thai Food seems to have taken the world by storm. Every big city seems to have at least one Thai restaurant. The popularity has reached such global proportions that the Thai government itself now considers Thai restaurants an "export" commodity. Although known for its spiciness, what draws many people to Thai cooking is the emphasis on fresh ingredients and variety.
Thais themselves have a passionate love for their own food. While they can occasionally be coaxed into trying other cuisines, their overwhelming preference is for their own food, and who can blame them?
One of the secrets to the success of Thai food is its emphasis on fresh ingredients. Where-ever you go in Thailand, you're never far from a market or stall selling fresh fruits or vegetables.
However, you will find restaurants representing most of the world's popular cuisines in the larger tourist destinations. Italian and German are the most common, followed by Japanese, French, Indian and Vietnamese. Quality can vary from unrecognizable to very good, and menus themselves can sometimes be the source of amusement. It wasn't long ago that a stroll past the restaurants on Patong beach in Phuket would present you with several places serving "Chicken Gordon Blue."
Thailand is actually a big country, with many regions. As with many other countries, some regions have their own styles of cooking. None of these is more distinctive, or more popular among the Thais themselves, than the cuisine of the northeastern plateau, know to Thais as Isan. Isan food is a bit more pungent and hearty than the central Thai cuisine you may know from typical restaurant fare.
A "classic" Isan meal would be Laap, Nam Tok, Som Tam and fried chicken; eaten with "sticky" rice. Sticky rice is made with the glutinous variety. It literally does stick together -- and it's supposed to! You usually eat Isan food with your hands, balling up a bit of rice, then picking up a small amount of food and popping the whole thing in your mouth.
Isan is still a largely rural area of Thailand, and these dishes are the traditional fare of the people who work the land. As such, they can be prepared in the morning and taken out to the fields to be eaten some time later. You could say that they can be served "cold" but that would be hardly accurate in a country where the daytime temperatures are rarely below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sticky rice is usually packed into individual cylindrical containers shaped like a can of vegetables, but woven out of dried banana leaves.
Thailand has several home-grown national restaurant chains with branches in most major cities. While many tourists turn up their noses at chains, the food is generally of a high standard and these places often make a good option for a quick meal. Plus, you can always be sure they'll have a menu in English. Most of these will be located in major shopping centers, which is where Thais go for casual dining.