What comes to mind when you think of the food of Thailand? Chances are, it’s the perfect balance of flavours: hot, sour, salty and sweet. So it’s interesting to find in The Food of Thailand (2001) that “hot” didn’t play a big role in the kingdom’s culinary vocabulary until the 16th century. In the book’s introduction, Lulu Grimes writes, “Geographically, culinary ideas have seeped into Thailand through the permeable borders with Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Burma. China, which had a far-reaching influence on the entire region, also made her mark on Thai cuisine. As would be expected, influences are strongest near the borders. The dishes found along the Mekong River have close affiliations to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Around Chiang Mai there are Burmese-style curries and soups, and close to Malaysia, Muslim recipes such as massaman and roti are common. “The most significant addition to Thai cuisine came not from Asia but from South America, via Europe. In the 16th century the Portuguese introduced what was to become one of the hallmarks of the cuisine, the chilli. Thai cuisine, like that of other cultures which accepted the chilli so readily, had long included an element of heat by way of fresh green peppercorns, dried white peppercorns and galangal.” Grimes writes that in the past, the monarchy helped to maintain the quality of Thai food. “The basic tenets of Thai cuisine are ancient in origin and were upheld for centuries by the royal kitchens while being supplemented by outside influences. Even though they are worlds apart in terms of wealth, the underlying ingredients and recipes used, as well as styles of cooking, were, and still are, not much different between court and country. “Presentation, with intricate artistry employed, and to a certain extent, the superior quality of ingredients available to the court, were what elevated the cuisine of the royal kingdoms above that of the common people. Palaces put much effort into teaching culinary skills and crafts in order to maintain their proud traditions.” The longest chapter in The Food of Thailand is devoted to snacks and street food, which, as any visitor to Thailand will tell you, are inexpensive, varied and delicious. In that chapter you can find recipes by Oi Cheepchaiissara for miang kham (betel leaves with savoury topping), chicken wrapped in pandanus leaf, sweetcorn cakes, chicken satay, fried fish cakes with green beans and fried mussel pancake. Other recipes include crispy fish salad, wing bean salad, cracked crab with curry powder, rice soup with prawns and chicken, vermicelli soup with minced pork, sticky rice with mango, shredded chicken and banana blossoms, snapper with green banana and mango, red curry with roasted duck and lychees, fragrant tofu and tomato soup, mixed seafood with chillies, and tapioca pudding with young coconut.