1. What is Thai Cuisine? An Introduction
There is a degree of ambiguity attached to the understanding of Thai cuisine. Having lived half of my life outside of Thailand, it seems that food became Thai only in foreign settings, whereas Thai food in Thailand is rarely identified in such fashion.
There must be, to borrow Roland Barthes’ terminology, ‘a system of communication’,1 and an established body of knowledge that enables Thais and foreigners alike to identify what food is and is not Thai. The making of this body of knowledge and its system of communication shall be explored in this thesis.
In the popular understanding and representation, ‘Thai’ cuisine today can be divided into seven subsidiary variations. Six of these are distinguishable regional variations:
Northern or Lanna, North-eastern or Isan, Eastern, Southern, Central Plain, and
Bangkok. The seventh variation is the royal cuisine. A singular ‘Thai’ cuisine, as marketed throughout the world today, represents an encompassing culinary landscape that includes dishes from all of these subsidiary culinary cultures.
The problem is not unlike the perception of an ‘Indian’ cuisine discussed by Arjun
Appadurai, who argues that a singular ‘Indian’ cuisine materialized, and continues to do so, through the representation and articulation of varieties of culinary forms, a cultural process influenced by what he calls ‘the seductiveness of variety’.2 The invention of an ‘Indian’ cuisine, as argued by Appadurai, belongs to the larger cultural process of constructing a complex national public culture, spearheaded by the
Roland Barthes, ‘Towards a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption’, in Food and
Drink in History: Selections from the Annales, Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations, Vol. 5, edited by
Robert Forster and Orest Ranum, Baltimore: Johns Hopkis University Press, 1979, p.168.
Arjun Appadurai, ‘How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India’,
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