Although Thai food can be found in almost every country in the world, it pales in comparison to the real deal. Its mix of spicy, sweet, and sour is a fantastic combination that produces a burst of flavour with every bite. Walking around Thailand you will be bombarded by the smells and sounds of street food. From delicious grilled meat and curries bubbling away, to the fresh ingredients being pounded in pestle and mortars – it is an assault to the senses. There are so many incredible Thai dishes to eat on your travels that this list could include 50 dishes, but here are 10 of my favourites. You will notice that there are some notable omissions, such as green Thai curry and pad Thai, but as these dishes are very well-known, I wanted to include some lesser known ones. When you are next in Thailand, make sure to eat as much as humanly possible.
Starting with one of my absolute favourites – Khao soi, a curry noodle soup from Northern Thailand. The base of this lusciously rich and creamy dish is similar to a red Thai curry, but with added spices more commonly associated with Indian food. It often comes served with chicken, but I would opt for the more traditional braised beef. What makes Khao soi unique is that it’s served with two types of noodles – soft boiled flat egg noodles in the broth, and crispy, golden, deep fried egg noodles placed on top. This creates a wonderful textural contrast.
On the side you will get a small plate of chopped red onions, pickled mustard greens, coriander, green onions, and lime wedges so you can customise the dish to your tastes.
Where to try it: Khao Soi Khun Yai (Chiang Mai) or Roast Duck Station (Pai)
Roti Gluay (Banana roti)
Banana roti is a rather indulgent sweet treat. A wafer thin sheet of dough is fried in copious amounts of butter, then filled with sliced bananas and whisked eggs before being folded back up and fried until beautifully crisp. It is then drizzled with condensed milk and chopped up into little bite size pieces. This makes it great for sharing, but you probably won’t want to do that. You can add a wide variety of toppings from fresh strawberries, drizzled chocolate or nutella.
Where to try it: Rotee Padae (Chiang Mai)
Sai Oua (Chiang Mai sausage)
As someone who lives in Germany, I was already a big fan of sausages before visiting Thailand. However I was completely blown over by the Thai variety. Fresh, aromatic Thai ingredients – such as lemongrass, chillies, and galangal – are combined with pork to create the fantastic Sai Oua (Northern Thai sausage, also known as Chiang Mai sausage). These sublime, spicy, grilled pork sausages are packed with flavour and are a great street food snack.
Where to try it: Warorot Market (Chiang Mai)
Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw
Another cracking Northern Thailand dish, Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw is a rich, thick, and spicy tomato and pork based rice noodle soup. One of the main ingredients is dok ngiew, which is a dried red cotton tree flower. It also comes with minced pork, pork ribs, and congealed blood cubes (the latter being one of those ingredients it’s better not to think too much!). Top with some bean sprouts, toasted chillies, coriander, and pickled mustard greens and you have a delicious, comforting dish.
Where to try it: Mordin Restaurant (Chaing Rai)
Pad krapow / Phat kaphrao
Pad krapow is a stir fried dish consisting of Thai basil, meat mince, garlic, and lots of birdseye chillies. It is normally ordered with either chicken (pad krapow gai) or pork (pad krapow moo), though there are other options. The seasonings include soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and cane sugar. This concoction is then placed on a bed of steaming rice. What makes this dish that extra bit delicious is the deep fried egg served on top.
Where to try it: กะเพราถาดคุณยาย (Basil Restaurant. Grandmother’s tray) (Chiang Rai)
Gaeng Hunglay is yet another iconic and delicious dish from Northern Thailand that has its roots in neighbouring country Myanmar. Chunks of slow cooked, tender pork belly and pork ribs are served in a sumptuous red curry-like sauce made from Indian influenced spices like cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, and star anise. Top with some coriander and julienned ginger and you are left with a dark, rich, and incredibly warming stew-like dish.
Where to try it: Barrab restaurant (Chiang Rai)
Som Tam (Green papaya salad)
Though originally from Laos, Som Tam is now one of Thailand’s most popular dishes. This wonderfully fresh and crisp salad is a fantastic combination of sweet, sour, spicy, and savory in one dish. There are several types across the country depending on the region, but one of the most commonly found variations includes shredded green papaya, tomatoes, dried shrimp, green beans, and roasted peanuts. These ingredients are muddled together in a pestle and mortar with lots of lime, birdseye chillies, fish sauce, garlic, and palm sugar. We tried several versions of Som Tam during our time in Thailand, including one with small crab legs at a shack on Koh Lipe.
Where to try it: Somtum Der (Bangkok)
Another wonderful Thai “salad” is larb (or laab). Like a lot of dishes in South East Asia, there are various iterations of larb depending on where you are, but one you will often come across consists of minced pork, mixed with fish sauce, chillies, shallots, and lime. An important ingredient is the crushed toasted sticky rice, which gives the salad a nuttiness and crunch. Throw in some fresh herbs like Thai basil, coriander, and mint to finish it off for a refreshing and tangy salad. Larb can be made with other proteins like chicken and we even had a delicious one with minced catfish.
Where to try it: Sorn Chan (Chiang Mai)
Thai iced tea
You can’t go to Thailand without consuming copious amounts of Thai iced tea. It’s just too damn good and goes down a treat in the hot, muggy weather. Thai iced tea is made of strong black tea leaves, often infused with spices like cardamom and star anise. Once brewed, it is then poured over ice and sweetened with sugar, a generous amount of condensed milk, and evaporated milk. You can have it served warm, without any ice. It’s certainly not the healthiest way to consume tea, but it is truly delicious.
Where to try it: ChaTraMue (multiple locations)
Thailand knows how to make delicious curries, and Massaman curry is one of the best. This dish has its roots in the Arab world, and as such the paste is flavoured with spices like star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon (along with local ingredients). However, unlike many other Thai curries, Massaman is not overly spicy. I love spicy food, but sometimes you don’t want to sweat profusely while eating. Normally made with chicken or beef, this curry also includes chunks of potato and whole peanuts, served in a delicious, rich, coconut gravy.
Where to try it: Pad Thai @ Klong Nin (Krabi)
So that’s it, folks! Ten absolutely delicious dishes that you have to try when you are in Thailand. If you have any other favourite dishes or restaurants that I haven’t mentioned, please share them in the comments below.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow