Although Thai food is renowned primarily for its spiciness and pungency, the unique blend of many distinct flavors, often described as harmonious, sets itself apart form the cuisine of other countries. Whether the food is in the form of a small snack eaten at one of the many street vendors or an elegant dinner at a world-class restaurant in Bangkok, the basic intent is the same: to please the senses. From the beginning, the food entices the eyes with its art. Then a single bite of Thai dish reveals not one taste but a contrasting mixture of sweet, sour, and salty.
The tastes that change with geographical regions add further to the variety. For example, northern people favor salty food while in the central region, sweet delicacies are preferred. In contrast, the South boasts exceedingly hot dishes, even for Thai standards. Presentation and style also varies with locale. Despite many differences, Thai food in any region share many defining characteristics that help distinguish it. The staple item for almost every meal in any part of Thailand is rice in some form. In fact, the phrase, gin khao, which means to eat literally translates into "to eat rice." Above all, the ability to satisfy the appetite while appealing to the senses is the quality that defines that defines Thai food. Other common ingredients include chili peppers, fish sauce, coriander leaves, and lemon grass.
In addition to the multitude of delectable cuisines that can be prepared to almost any taste, nature offers its own selection of delicacies in the form of exotic fruits including mangoes, jackfruit, and the infamous, strong-smelling durian.
Like in every other aspect of life, Thais look for sanuk, or Thai for fun, in their meals. Fittingly, their meals are a communal affair, with everybody sharing several main dishes, all served at one time to allow the enjoyment of complementary combinations of flavors. Thais do not have set times for eating: they believe that anytime is a good time to experience the wonderful variety of food.