Thai cooking places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and a spicy edge. Thai chef McDang characterises Thai food as demonstrating "intricacy; attention to detail; texture; color; taste; and the use of ingredients with medicinal benefits, as well as good flavor", as well as care being given to the food's appearance, smell and context. Australian chef David Thompson, an expert on Thai food, observes that unlike many other cuisines, Thai cooking is "about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord it's got to have a smooth surface but it doesn't matter what's happening underneath. Simplicity isn't the dictum here, at all."
Traditional Thai cuisine loosely falls into four categories: tom (boiled dishes), yam (spicy salads), tam (pounded foods), and gaeng (curries). Deep-fries, stir-fries, and steamed dishes derive from Chinese cooking.
In 2017, seven Thai dishes appeared on a list of the "World's 50 Best Foods"—an online poll of 35,000 people worldwide by CNN Travel. Thailand had more dishes on the list than any other country. They were: tom yam goong (4th), pad Thai (5th), som tam (6th), massaman curry (10th), green curry (19th), Thai fried rice (24th) and mu nam tok (36th).