The Chinese Influence on Thai Cuisine

The Chinese Influence on Thai Cuisine

Without doubt the biggest, single influence on Thai cuisine has come from the Chinese. To begin to understand that influence, one must first examine Chinese migration to Thailand over the centuries.

Migration Thailand is home to the largest overseas Chinese community in the world. As of 2012, there were approximately 9 million Thais who claimed Chinese ancestry; around 14%. These people are spread the length and breadth of Thailand, with the majority in the Central regions and in Bangkok in particular. Slightly more than half of the ethnic Chinese population in Thailand trace their ancestry to eastern Guangdong Province. As history tells us, with poverty and rampant starvation in the mountainous regions of southern China, many Chinese ethnic groups embarked on the arduous journey towards a better life in places like Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Many died along the way, but those that made it to Thailand worked very hard, many becoming extremely successful. The Hokkien were good sailors and had no problem making journeys by sea; southern Thailand was generally their destination. They were primarily rice merchants and when they arrived they continued in the trade. Many leading Thai rice merchants are of Hokkien descent.

Chinese-Influenced Dishes

With the ever-growing immigrant communities from China came the introduction of different cooking techniques such as stir frying and deep frying, both employing the use of a wok. They introduced the making of broth and several types of noodles, Taochiao (fermented bean paste), Soy Sauces, and Tofu. They also brought different ways to eat the food. Chopsticks were foreign utensils to most in Thailand at the time, though now when eating a Chinese-style noodle soup; most Thais will opt for chopsticks. It is believed that the birthplace of Thai street food was in the Chinatown district, better known as ‘Yaowarat’, due to its prime location of Yaowarat Road. The vast bulk of Thai street food is influenced by Chinese immigrants. Much of the cooking of the entire Central regions of Thailand traces its heritage to China and much of the Southern Thai food bears the hallmark of having Chinese heritage including those introduced by the Hokkien people from around the 15th century, and by the Teochew people who started settling in larger numbers from the late 18th century onward.

Many noodle dishes have clear links to China including Ba Mii (บะหม่ี) clear egg noodle soup, Khanom Jiin (ขนมจีน) fermented rice noodles with curry sauces, Guay Chap (ก๋วยจั๊บ) a seriously pork flavoured soup and Guay Tiaw (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว), a noodle soup that has many variations. Other dishes that exhibit Chinese influence are such dishes as Jok (โจ๊ก), a rice porridge, Salapao (ซาลาเปา), steamed buns and Khao Kha Moo (ข้าวขาหมู), fragrant stewed pork with rice.

In 1939, Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram supported the change of name of the country from Siam to Thailand. Thailand’s very own Pad Thai became part of a campaign to establish Thai nationalism. At the time, Chinese wheat noodles were very popular in Thailand; however the government promoted rice noodles to help establish the identity of Thai cuisine.
However the enduring influence of Chinese food can never be denied. Provided by Feast Thailand Food Tours Contact: +66 32 510 207 or info@feastthailand.co, www. feastthailand.com.

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