Banana stall
Bananas on sale in a market

Most of us in the west associate bananas with the Caribbean or Central America, where the “banana republics” evolved in the last century. So some you may be surprised to find out that the banana is not native to the western hemisphere. In fact, it seems to have originated in Southeast Asia. The fruit actually is believed to have its origins in southern Thailand, along the Malay peninsula.

It would be hard to imagine Thailand without the banana. Even today, there are many different types of bananas available in Thai markets, varieties you will have never seen in western supermarkets. In all, the country is home to more than 30 varieties of banana, with common names such as “egg” (gluay kai), “100 bunches” (roy wee), “fragrant gold” (hawm tong) and “sandalwood” (jun).

Bananas are grown throughout Thailand, with some regions becoming famous for various types. The northern Thai province of Kampangphet, south of Chiang Mai, specializes in the egg banana variety, and an annual fair is held to celebrate it. Banana trees will grow easily in just about any type of soil, which makes them popular in tropical gardens as well as commercial farms. According to some resources, the banana is technically not a tree, but an overgrown herb. My own view is that any plant that grows taller than me is a tree.