There are two common options when it comes to ordering takeout: Thai and Chinese. Despite their similarities, these two cuisines have unique tastes and tastes have been influenced by centuries of cultural exchange between China and Thailand.
What are the main differences between Thai and Chinese food? Thai cuisine is known to be spicy, complex, and curry-laden. Chinese cuisine is all about stir frying, deep frying, umami flavors, and delicious noodles. Although both cuisines share ingredients, recipes, and techniques, each has its own unique flavor.
The Ideology Behind Thai Food
Considering Thai food as a whole, you will notice that it is all about balancing flavors. When it comes to their food, Thai people are known for their complexity and combination of flavors and ingredients. They seldom make a straightforward curry or noodle dish.
As a belief system, Thai food can be defined as finding order in chaos. It is a philosophy of combining different things to make a whole, which is why it is not just food, but also a belief system.
Notable Thai Recipes
As a result of its healthy ingredients and flavors, Thai food quickly became popular in the Western world. Those who try this type of food for the first time describe it as a journey filled with rich flavors and spices. Take Pad Thai, for instance.
Thailand has a well-known street food called Pad Thai, which consists of stir-fried rice noodles with vegetables, scrambled eggs, peanuts, shrimp, and bean sprouts.
To elevate the flavor of Pad Thai, a wide variety of ingredients can be added, and the fun part is that they all work together rather than competing for attention; this is the genius of Thai cuisine.
There are always multiple ingredients working behind the scenes in any Thai dish, even if they have a small cameo role. Thai food is known to be spicy.
Instead of long-grain rice, Khao Pad uses a mixture of jasmine rice, shrimp, peanuts, and veggies. It pairs perfectly with curries.
In many Thai dishes, fish meat is almost always included. Fish, shrimp, and prawns make up a huge part of the Thai diet. However, vegetables and fruit are also prevalent.
Among the world’s 50 best foods, CNN Travel ranked Som Tam, a spicy salad dish made with shredded unripe papaya, spice, lemon zest, palm sugar, and fish sauce, at number 46.
As with Thai food, there are dozens of famous rice, curry, meat, soup, and salad recipes that make Thai food highly desirable both in Southeast Asia and North America.
It would be impossible to talk about Thai food without mentioning Chinese food as well!
Chinese Cuisine And Its Influence
From the Ming Dynasty onwards, immigrants and traders have brought ingredients, techniques, and recipes to and from China and Thailand.
As a result of their shared history, these cuisines have many similarities when it comes to style and ingredients.
Chinese immigrants brought to Thailand the humble wok and cooking techniques such as deep-frying and stir-frying.
Using umami-laden flavorings and superior cooking techniques, Chinese food emphasizes maximizing ingredients, such as stir-frying vegetables and noodles and fermenting soybeans to make soy sauce.
Using a lot of oil while cooking meat or vegetables, this cuisine brings out the best in sauces, noodles, and rice recipes.
Cooking time is also an important factor in Chinese cooking because most recipes, aside from broths, are designed to be prepared fast over a high heat.
Famous Chinese Dishes
Like Thai food, Chinese cuisine focuses on vegetables and healthy ingredients. However, you’ll find less curry and more oil, soy sauce, and other umami flavors. There are a variety of comfort foods associated with Chinese food in the Western world, including Chow Mein, dumplings, wontons, Ma Pa Tofu, spring rolls, and more.
It is interesting to note that Chinese food in the United States is not authentic Chinese food. It is based on Chinese cuisine, techniques, and ingredients, but it is a unique and local take.
It is erroneously believed that chop suey originated from China, but it is actually an American invention. It combines stir-fried meat, vegetables, and seasonings with steamed rice. In addition to General Tso’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken, these two extremely popular dishes were created specifically for Western diners’ taste buds.
It’s okay, there are plenty of authentic Chinese dishes served worldwide. It’s easy to find recipes for Dim Sum, noodle dishes, spring rolls, Szechuan Chili Chicken, and more.
In spite of some similarities between Chinese and Thai food, each cuisine celebrates food differently. There will always be regional adaptations, inventions, and changes in recipes.
Following the overview of the main differences between Thai and Chinese cuisine, here are some related questions.
Does Thai food take inspiration from other cuisines?
Thai cuisine is not only influenced by Chinese cuisine, but it is also influenced by Indian and Portuguese cuisines. Similarly, you may even find hints of Thai cuisine in other cultures. However, these influences are not immediately apparent, but have developed over centuries.
Can you find Chinese restaurants in Thailand?
Both Thai and Chinese signs can be found on both Thai and Chinese signboards in Thai restaurants all over Thailand.
There are many Chinese restaurants in Thailand that serve authentic and regional dishes. The same can be said of Thai restaurants in China. Street vendors in Beijing sell authentic Pad Thai.
Is Thai food healthier than Chinese food?
In general, traditional Thai food is considered the healthier option since it uses much less oil, different vegetables, and low-sodium ingredients. It is possible, however, that both cuisines may be adapted to fit the palates of different regions, resulting in several recipe variants with unhealthy ingredients.
Traditional Chinese food isn’t generally unhealthy (even when oil is used), but some regional recipes may contain high-carb and low-nutrition ingredients, such as Crab Rangoon, Lo Mein, or fried rice.