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As the only country in Southeast Asia to never be colonized, Thailand was able to develop strong culinary traditions. It started with a natural abundance: a stone inscription credited to King Ramhkhamhaeng of Sukhothai, the first independent Thai kingdom in the early 13th century, reads, "In the water there are fish, in the fields there is rice." The central plains, watered by the Chao Phraya River, form one of the richest rice-growing regions on earth.

These traditions did take advantage of imports from abroad, however. Thai people migrated south from China, which explains the prominence of rice noodles in Thai cuisine. Europeans introduced the chili pepper from South America. Indian traders established ports along the southern peninsula, bringing spices as well as Buddhism.

Thailand has traditions of both simple and complex food. In the 1800s, vendors offered quick meals of noodles from boats along the country's webs of canals; today these are served by numerous pushcart vendors on the streets of Bangkok and other cities. Meanwhile, "royal" or "palace cooking" developed among the upper class, with complex blends of spices and artistically carved ingredients; several great chefs are now dedicated to exploring these dishes.

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