Thai cuisine traditionally shuns large chunks of meat and originally featured aquatic animals, herbs and plants. Later influences from the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Chinese, Indians and Japanese led the Thai to incorporate chili peppers, soy products and various seasonings. Rice and coconut feature heavily in Thai cuisine. Thai food also produces variations on foreign cuisines, substituting coconut oil for ghee in Indian dishes or toning down the intensity of herbs.
Thai cooking's signature is the careful balance of five flavors: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and hot. Meals usually consist of rice or noodles with curry and soup, followed by a sweet dessert. Dipping sauces appear on the side often. Tropical fruits such as mangos, papayas, jackfruit and custard apples are commonly eaten as desserts.
While Buddhism has influenced Thai cuisine, there are no true food taboos. Festivals and holidays are celebrated with large feasts with symbolic foods served. Golden threads, thin layer of eggs or noodles wrapped around a small chunk of food, represent longevity, a holdover from their southern Chinese roots. Chicken is a popular food item during holiday banquets. Traditional Thai New Year, called Songkram, serves egg rolls and custard.
Thais eat three meals daily, supplemented by snacks. Popular snacks are fish cakes, fried rice, noodles and egg rolls.