Though the food of Thailand features literally hundreds of dishes, the very highest quality of Thai food is termed Royal Thai Cuisine, or Chaowang food in Thai, a phrase that describes not only the individual dishes, but to all aspects of each dishes preparation and the final presentations.
Royal Thai Cuisine refers to the food eaten in in the royal court and traces its history back to the palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom, a period of Thai history that existed between 1351 and 1767.
Originally only served in Thailand’s royal palaces, the recipes and preparation methods for Royal Thai Cuisine were closely guarded secrets, with the non-royal classes forbidden from cooking or eating the dishes.
Though there no longer remains laws in Thailand today preventing the non-royal classes from eating whatever food they wish, the term Royal Thai Cuisine is still used today by restaurants that wish to position themselves at the high end of the Thai food hospitality sector.
Just as in the past, the term applies to Thai culinary dishes that use the choicest, freshest ingredients available, dishes that require painstaking preparation – often employing several people working on the one dish, and meals served with lavish garnishes and table decorations.
Visitors to a restaurant anywhere that labels itself as offering Royal Thai Cuisine should find themselves in traditionally outfitted establishments, often featuring the traditional low tables and cushions common in the Ayutthaya period, while the meals should be served on fine quality porcelain and the staff dressed in formal attire. Tables will usually be decorated with Thai flowers and local decorations.
In addition to traditional music, often performed by a live band, the tables where diners are seated should be contain elaborate decorations, with tradition dictating major and minor table settings made from intricately carved fruit and vegetables.
Amongst the favoured fruits and vegetables used for these table decorations are watermelons, radishes, cucumbers, pineapples, tomatoes and carrots, all of which are intricately carved as decorative table pieces, as well as colourful garnishes to accompany each meal.
While most people who dine at a Thai or Asian-style restaurant generally follow the Asian practice of ordering several dishes and sharing portions of each amongst the entire table, Royal Thai Cuisine has its own set of rules.
Generally a Royal Thai Cuisine meal will be offered as a set, comprising predefined meals chosen for their balance of taste and texture, with the order of delivery strictly regulated ‚All mildly spiced and seasoned meals are served first, followed by stir-fry dishes, salads, curries and then deep fried foods, which are all offered with the finest quality Jasmine rice available.
In following the original principles of combining the highest quality ingredients, careful preparation, the delicate balancing of flavours and pleasing decorations, Royal Thai Cuisine is also said to contain health benefiting properties, making extensive use of herbs and natural extracts, such as screw pine leaves, fruit juices, wild funguses, and roselle juice, in its preparation.
Examples of Royal Thai Cuisine dishes include: de-boned honey roasted duck; crispy deep fried boneless duck cooked with spicy basil sauce; sliced marinated eye fillet beef with sesame oil, grilled shrimp and topped with spicy ground chicken sauce and crab meat; fresh crispy tilapia fish fillet topped with stir-fried fresh chilli, garlic, bell peppers, fresh basil leaves and cashew nuts in a mango sauce and many more.
No Royal Thai Cuisine meal is complete without a final serving of perfectly ripe fresh fruit, with such items as mangosteen, lychees, jackfruit, longan and pomelo being typical, accompanied by elaborate fruit and floral decorations, as well as small bowls of condiments comprising salt/sugar and ground chilli, or made from a base of palm sugar or coconut milk.
Wherever the term Royal Thai Cuisine is used, diners should expect to experience he various finest food and service possible, with diners feeling like royalty by the time the meal has even commenced.