Chinese Vietnam and Thai have some of the best cuisines. This is a result of their geographical location and also the weather condition that has diversified their cuisine.
As a result, they have a wide variety of cuisines that they borrow from each other but incorporate ingredients that make their cuisine unique to their countries and culture.
They also have similarities in everyday food items like rice, noodles, and other spices like ginger, and beverages such as tea form part of their everyday meal.
However, the difference comes in how they prepare the food, the methods or techniques used, ingredients that are uniquely different, and the cultures attached to their cuisine, like eating and serving and further the table etiquettes.
If you are interested in Asian cuisines, specifically the Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese, but you have a hard time differentiating the three, here is a guide to some of the significant differences that applies to all three countries.
1. Origin of the foods
Thai cuisine was influenced initially by the emigrants from the southern Chinese provinces who brought their food customs to modern-day Thailand. Historically there are other influences like Szechwan.
Also, Thai has traces of Indian touch in their cuisines brought by the Buddhist, while the Muslims influenced the food in the southern parts of Thailand.
Later, Thai cuisine also adopted the European touch brought by Portuguese missionaries and Dutch traders. Thus, today Thai foods are uniquely their own with a different unique blend of its own five tastes spicy, salty, sweet, bitter, and sour.
Chinese cuisine presents one of the most diverse and richest culinary heritages in the world. Chinese food originated from the different regions of China and has spread to other parts of the world.
China has eight cuisines: Shandong, Cantonese cuisine, Sichuan, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, human, and Anhui.
Modern-day Vietnamese cuisine has its influence mostly from other countries. Most of its cuisines are influenced by the neighboring country, China.
This is true because the Vietnamese are the only people in southeast Asia who adopted chopsticks. Their cuisines are also influenced by the French, who colonized them.
2. Variance in spice quantity
Thai food, compared to Chinese and Vietnamese, has a lot of spice. It is considered hot and spicy additionally. The spice is a unique trait to Thai cuisine such that you can easily distinguish Thai cuisine by the level of spice.
Thai people like spices because Thai’s weather is tropical; the locals adopted the spice to help them feel better and preserve their food because tropical weather is always humid and hot; hence, food goes rancid quickly.
Also, the spice reduces the chance of intestinal bacteria’s emerging.
The level of spices in Vietnamese cuisine varies from one region to another. For example, in the northern region, they use little to no spice on the food and are heavily influenced by China.
But in the central areas of Hue and Quang tri province, they cook food with a generous amount of chilies; hence if you aren’t a chilies person, do not try the foods.
In southern Vietnam, the foods are hugely influenced by Cambodia and Thailand, to which most food tastes either a little spicy or sour. Therefore, Vietnamese foods are characterized by sweet and salty flavors; however, you can still find spice in them.
Chinese foods generally do not use a lot of spice in their food compared to Thailand; however, the spice in dishes varies from the region. For example, Shandong cuisine is salty and crispy, Sichuan cuisine is spicy and Cantonese cuisine is sweet.
3. Variance in healthy food
Traditional Thai food is healthy since its meal features a balanced diet consisting of carbs, protein, and fats. They also use vegetables like cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and onions that provide fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
Thai food also emphasizes herbs and spices which have health benefits such spices include lemongrass, chili turmeric, Thai basil. Other healthy food items include tofu, seafood, papaya coconut milk, among others.
Chinese food compared to Thai and Vietnamese may be quite unhealthy because Chinese use many fats, calories, and sodium.
Additionally, Chinese food expert Lorraine Clissold says that fatty meat dishes and rice-heavy meals affect health leading to the development of heart disease and obesity.
However, if you want healthy food in Chinese cuisine, stick to stir-fried food that uses less oil and steamed food. Stay away from the fried dishes.
Vietnamese is one of the healthiest food in the world and also delicious. You can meet all your dietary needs in one served Vietnamese dish, be it proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, lipids, and minerals.
This is true because of the natural and diverse agricultural products.
Vietnamese foods have health benefits like boosting the immune system. In addition, Vietnamese foods are naturally gluten-free as many ingredients are made from rice noodles, rice pepper, and rice flour instead of wheat.
This helps to regulate the sugar. It also has coriander and mint, which are herbs that help improve indigestion problems.
4. Variance in cooking methods
Thai cooking methods are pretty simple. The only thing is you need to master how to blend the ingredients to make the tastiest yummiest food with the right textures and aromas.
Stir-frying –is the fastest method to cook Thai food. It is a method adopted from china. This method requires one to have a turner or spatula paired with a wok or skillet.
Boiling- many recipes requires quick boiling; hence the Thai people have incorporated this into their cuisine. For example, soups and curry are usually boiled in Thailand. Tom yam going food is a perfect example of the boiled recipe.
Grilling- Thai people love to consume grilled food. If you want to make any marinated vegetables or meat, grilling is your option. The tastes are enhanced by dipping grilled foods in sour and sweet flavored deep like Nam phrik.
Salads- it is a delicious and straightforward technique for enjoying your meal. This process involves dressing the salad that is mixed with fresh ingredients and blended.
Steaming – steaming method helps to provide a moist and smooth steadiness for food. the preparation is healthy given that it does not require oil
Vietnamese also cook their food by stir-frying, boiling, steaming, and deep frying their food. While cooking, Vietnamese tend to use minimal oil compared to Chinese and emphasize fresh and natural tastes of foods; hence their food is perceived as one of the healthiest food in the world.
In the Chinese culinary world, cooking is more like an art that one has to master. It involves studying the ingredients, understanding how to blend them, and paying attention to the food’s complexity and process.
Chinese ingredients have different cooking methods; hence, it has more than 100 methods, with the most notable ones being stir-frying, braising shallow frying, deep-frying, boiling, Steaming, and roasting.
5. Variance in popular dishes
China is diversified in terms of cuisine; hence you find Chinese cuisine all over the world. Additionally, most countries have Chinese restaurants in the big cities meaning their cuisine is a favorite to many people here are the ton most popular cuisines in china.
Spring rolls –also known as spring pancakes, are presented either with a sweet or a salty flavor, and the fillings could either be vegetables or meat.
Hot pot– is a variety of dishes served in one plate, for an instant you can different types of vegetables and meat that way you can find what your heart desires most.
Chow Mein– other countries like America have their version of the chow Mein brought by the Chinese emigrants. However, the only authentic Chow Mein is from china made from stir-fried vegetables with boiled noodles.
Yangzhou fried rice- this is a typical recipe in china, and there are different ways of cooking the fried rice, but the most notable style is Yangzhou fried rice from the province of Jiangsu.
Other Chinese foods include mooncake, dumplings, lychee, Peking roast duck, ma po tofu, sweet and sour pork.
Vietnamese have also diversified their cuisines. Thus they have a variety of notable dishes that one should try.
Pho- forms part of their staple food served both at families and restaurants. It can be taken for dinner, lunch, or breakfast. It involves rice noodles with soup which could include meat or chicken,
Bun Chan is typically a handful of sliced papaya and carrots with flavourful barbecued pork, fish sauce, and fresh nodules.
Bahn mi- is a perfect example of Franco-Vietnamese food. This is because the French colonialists initially influenced it. It involves meat, fresh vegetables, and a moreish sweet sauce.
Others include Goi Cuon, Banh Cuon, Hu Tieu, Che, Banh Xeo, Bia Hoi, and Mi Vit Tiem.
That has a load of the list for the most popular cuisine. It’s almost like all the cuisines in Thai are popular. So here we have the best commonly used food in Thai.
Massaman curry has a complex and aromatic taste fried in a pan using coconut cream and tamarind paste.
Pad kra pao –it is a dish packed with minced pork and rice. It can be served alongside steamed jasmine rice. If you go for a night out and are not particular about what to eat, try this pad kra pao.
Others in the list include Kao Ka Moo, Yam Nua Khao Soi, Kway Teow, Pad Woon Sen, Hor Mok Ma Prow Awn, and Mango Sticky rice.
6. Variance in the type of rice produced
Thailand’s most famous rice type is jasmine rice, commonly used by the inhabitants of Thailand’s central and southern regions.
Jasmine is a medium-sized grain with a uniquely sweet fragrance that arises from the sweet-smelling flower. The rice is also known as Khao daw mall.
The grains of the white rice has a sticky, moist, and fluffy texture which allows for soaking of all ingredients combined with it like curries, spices, and Asian stir-fried dish flavors. Nevertheless, jasmine is the most popular Asian rice variety.
Vietnam produces a type of rice known as the broken rice, also known as com tum. As most people would prefer eating whole rice grains, the Vietnamese found better ways of using the leftover rice developed during rice production’s drying and milling process. Instead of throwing it away as waste, they incorporated it into their diet.
The broken rice was initially a staple food for the poor peasants as it was made affordable. Nowadays the rice is eaten by all Vietnamese. it has the same taste and texture as the usual rice, only that its broken
The black rice or the forbidden rice hails from china. It was initially used for medicinal purposes, precisely as an antidote for liver, kidney, and stomach problems. Then, the Chinese grasped control of the rice. Finally, it was made accessible to the royal family and those in the high rank of society.
Black rice has a sweet and nutty flavor. Additionally, it is full of nutrients like the grain is a good source of fiber, it has antioxidants and helps reduce cholesterol and has iron and vitamins. Black rice can be consumed with meat and greens.
7. Variance on how food is served
Vietnamese emphasize observing meal times like breakfast is served before 9.am, lunch was taken before 1.30 pm, and no dinner is served later than 9. Pm.
All the meals must have rice. Meals are shared with the family, where food is set in the middle of the table. Then each person gets a bowl of rice and shares it with everyone.
Vietnamese rarely serve meat in their meals not unless the family is quite wealthy. Hence noodles and veggies are what you encounter in a standard diet for Vietnamese families. So a typical Vietnamese serving includes seafood dishes or meat, rice, vegetable.
Thai meals are always served in a family-style way. You serve yourself from a shared platter. Thai have many table etiquettes that should be adhered to consistently. For example, you are not supposed to serve more than two spoons from the platter.
The host should sit at the middle seat of the dining table, and if there is a visitor, the visitor should sit on the opposite side so they can have their conversation as they eat. Also, if people are sitting on the mat, they should sit so that no one can see their feet.
While eating Thai food, their tables are set with a fork handle on the left hand and a spoon on the right hand. The fork assists in directing food to the spoon. Also, if you are not given chopsticks, do not ask for them as they are only meant for eating Chinese food.
In the Chinese context, a meal consists of two parts—staple food that consists of rice, vegetable noodles, and then meat dishes. The foods are set with chopsticks as the primary eating utensil.
Chinese meal also has communal eating where everyone is served with a rice bowl and served from a typical dish shared by all. The dishes are often served together in one bowl.
Desserts in China are not the main course of the meal; hence they are either served in between meals or served during the meal. But when served after the meal then the Chinese people prefer fruits for their dessert.
8. Variance in terms of regional diversity
Thailand is located in southeast Asia. Chinese has a significant influence on Thai food. If you want to understand Thai cuisine better, it is essential to grasp its diversity. Four regions in Thailand significantly impact the cuisine.
Central Thailand – it is the center of all cultures in Thailand. The staple food is jasmine rice. However, the area has a more significant influence on Chinese food. Evident by their preparation techniques, such as stir-frying, Chinese-style barbecue, and noodles are prominent in the area.
Northern Thailand- it is a mountainous region that produces foods that are more into meat, solid herbs, and fish. The staple food is sticky rice.
North-eastern Thailand- the famous starch is sticky hand just like northern Thailand, and the rice is eaten by hand. The food has strong influences from the Lao or the Khmer, who are the area’s inhabitants. So if you want the grilled meat or the famous green papaya salad, this is the place.
Southern Thailand – the population in this region is mostly Muslims. This region relies heavily on coconut. The fruit is used in making sweet-savory curries and soups. The region is surrounded by ocean hence relies more on seafood, and they also use jasmine rice.
The diversity of the three regions also influences Vietnamese foods
Northern cuisine – the food is known to be colorful but has a neutral taste; therefore requires you to season the food. Hanoi is the central part of this region and is famously known for serving dishes such as Bun thang, Pho, Bun oc, Banh Cuon, and Bun Cha.
Central cuisine- the people from central are more distinct in the cuisine as they like to have extra taste, spice, and intense flavors. Their staple seasoning is Mam Tom Chua and a variety of shrimp paste. In addition, they have imperial dishes, which is their signature cooking known to serve royals in the past.
Southern cuisine- the southern region is the primary source of agricultural work. Dried fish forms part of the commonly consumed dish. The rural occupants of the region mostly use raw fresh foods gotten from the fields to prepare their food. The dishes here are both sweet and spicier.
Chinese has a vast territory with diverse resources. Therefore, their cuisine is developed based on the region, raw materials, and the weather. Chinese food culture is rooted in Chinese philosophy; hence the food culture plays an essential role in Chinese culture. Also, Chinese foods reflect the balance and harmony of nature.
The Chinese foods base their diversity on the eight regions with different cuisines with different flavors and spice. This also affects the diversity in the cooking method, which is considered to have more than 100 techniques.
9. Difference in beverages
The popularly drunk beverage in Thailand is cha Yen, also known as iced tea. It is the milky orange drink. The tea is a combination of evaporated and condensed milk with brewed black tea with boiling water. Traditionally the orange color came from a natural source. However, these days they use food coloring.
Tea is a traditional drink consumed by the Vietnamese. They mostly take tea after meals or as a way to welcome guests into the house. This might also symbolize friendship, communion, and peace.
Tea in Vietnam has a unique fragrance owing to the combination of green tea, artichoke, bitter cucumber, jasmine aroma. They help to bring a refined taste to the teas. It is important to note that Thai people also use iced tea.
The most commonly used beverage in china is black tea, which can either be served during or after meals. The black tea of China is well known in the world and enjoyed for it can retain its flavor for quite a long time.
Complexity in the food
Thai foods are made with simplicity not. Thai cuisine aims to combine the meal and make one epic and delicious dish. Thus it requires you to take strict measures only for you to arrive at your perfect meal.
The foods involve different ingredients, have spicier foods, and way over the top compared to Chinese and Vietnamese.
Chinese pay much attention to the outcome of the food prepared, such as the flavor, and hence they try to create a teste that is yet to exists using the natural ingredients. Hence you find that the chef will use the complex cooking process to arrive at what they want. So, for example, the chef might decide first to stir-fry the components, then boil it to make soup, then later deep fry.
Vietnamese cuisine is complex in that they stress using the five flavors, which give a unique, refined flavor. Vietnamese cuisine also makes use of the five senses see, touch, feel and smell.
The expression of seeing involves the phrase eating with our eyes; hence the food must bring color and well arranged. Moreover, the ingredients should be aromatic with the different herbs and flavors brought together.
The staple food
Asia consumes around 90% of the world’s rice. All Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cultivate rice which forms part of their staple food.
Rice in the three countries is also primarily prepared for all the meals. In addition, rice is usually the first food taught to children to cook.
Thai cuisine, Chinese cuisine, and Vietnamese cuisine are far from being similar.
However, the best thing about having a difference in the cuisine is that each country strives to come out with the best version of their cuisine, thus making the Asian continent have one of the world’s best-diversified cuisine.