One of the best things about traveling is discovering new dishes and flavors! In this aspect, Thailand is a paradise of unique flavors and different foods where people can dive in. We elaborated this list of the best Thai food dishes for you to able to really appreciate Thai food’s glory!
What should you know about Thai food dishes
Thai food dishes use mostly fresh ingredients, that are slightly cooked but full of aroma, spices, and fresh flavors. Thai cuisine is based on the idea of a balance of flavors between sweet, salty, bitter and sour. In that way, Thai dishes are a mixture of different tastes combined perfectly. One of the indispensable ingredients in Thailand’s food is chilies. Generally, food in Thailand is very spicy, especially for our palate. So be careful if you aren’t used to spicy food, be advised to never ask for extra spicy 🙂
Nearly every meal is served with white rice. This rice is usually very little flavored and it should be eaten together with the gravies and curries that will give it the much-needed flavor.
Also, many Thai dishes can be made with any protein, so you can choose them freely. Usually, there’s at least chicken, pork, shrimp and tofu. But, they don’t use meat or fish in abundance, it is much more based on the veggies and spices than proteins.
Besides being delicious the food is also insanely cheap – one is able to eat in Thailand for about 2 to 3$ in the street stalls, or even 5$ in restaurants. Be aware that food in the south of Thailand is more expensive. In the islands, we spent much more than in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Western food is also more expensive, usually from 10$ in a restaurant.
Looking for more tips? Check out this post with 50 things you need to before going to Thailand!
How to eat Thai food?
Thai food is eaten with a spoon and fork, you eat with the spoon on the right hand and the fork on the left. You use the fork to push the food on the spoon and use the spoon to take the food to the mouth.
In Thailand, street food is elevated to a dimension of its own, there are food stalls everywhere, and basically, people eat on their way home or work, in the markets, on the streets… They eat along the day, whenever they are hungry. Nearly every food street carts have table and chairs.
Note that in Thailand there isn’t such thing as a traditional breakfast, locals eat a bowl of noodles and drink coffee or tea. But many restaurants serve western breakfast, like pancakes, scrambled eggs, toasts.
Top Thai food dishes you have to try
Stir-fry Thai Dishes
Pad Thai (Stir-fried noodle)
Pad Thai is the most famous Thai dish or at least the most requested by foreigners. And it is well justified: a plate of rice noodles with a fantastic sauce, chicken or shrimp, fresh veggies and topped with toasted peanuts…? What could go wrong? It is simply a mouth full of good stuff. Not only it’s delicious but normally it is very cheap and you can find it everywhere. If you want to learn how to do a wicked Pad Thai check out the recipe that we learned in a cooking class in Chiang Mai.
Kwaw Pad (Fried rice)
Although pleasant, Kwaw Pad isn’t one of our favorites… It’s steamed rice with chicken, pork or shrimp, and vegetables all involved in a fragrant sauce and at the end, topped with lime juice and chilies. In the south of Thailand, this Thai food dish is sometimes served inside a pineapple and has pieces of pineapple within the rice. It is quite beautiful.
Pad Kra Pao (Hot Basil with Chicken)
Pad Kra Pao is one of the most sold Thai food dishes. You can find it in nearly every food stalls, and it is extremely cheap. Chicken, vegetables and hot basil, served with sticky rice and usually topped with a fried egg. It’s like comfort food, right?
Som Tam (Green Papaya salad)
This salad is made of shredded green papaya, tomato, long beans, toasted peanuts topped with lime juice and fish sauce. Note that this is no ordinary salad, it has green papaya so it isn’t sweet, but bitter! Moreover, it has a striking taste of hot and bitter, that comes from the bitter green papaya and the soy sauce.
All in all, it’s an incredible salad that you will probably remember and crave for a long time. We know we do. 🙂
Laab Moo – Minced Pork salad
This salad is more traditional in the north of Thailand. It’s made of grounded Pork with toasted rice, green onion, shallot and without ever forgetting the fish sauce, lime, and chilies. When we traveled to Laos we found this salad very frequently, as it is also a Laos traditional dish.
Traditional Thai Soups
Tom Yum (Soup)
This is one of the most famous dishes and elected one of the best dish in the world by CNN. It is a spicy sour soup with prawns, mushrooms, galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, chilies, and onion. It’s a mouth full of flavor, but a bit on the spicy side. In Thailand, soup is served with big chunks of galangal, lemongrass, and other aromatic plants, that are just used to give flavor and aroma, you don’t have to eat them. (Though it happens… 🙂 )
Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in Coconut milk soup)
Tom Kha Gai is a light but very fragrant soup. It is a mixture of coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, tomato, onion, mushroom, and chicken. For once, it isn’t a very hot dish. Frequently, people add sticky rice to the soup.
Khao Soi (Chiang Mai noodle soup)
This soup or curry (not sure in what category fill it in) is typical in Chiang Mai, you can easily find it in food markets and restaurants. It is one of our favorites. Khao Soi is composed of egg noodles, a piece of chicken leg, red curry paste, coconut milk, and pickled cabbage. Our favorite thing is that it is topped with fried egg noodles, giving it a crunchy side.
Curry Thai Dishes
This Thai curry comes from the influence of the Islamic community in Thailand. It consists of coconut milk with massaman curry paste, boiled potatoes, chicken or beef. Therefore, it is a delicious creamy curry, served with sticky rice, however, it’s very hot. This Thai food dish has to be on your must-try list, despite not being the most famous one.
The green curry is one of the most famous Thai food dishes though, we prefer Massaman Curry. The green curry has eggplant, basil leaves and green curry paste (made with small green chilies). The small green chilies, known as bird’s-eye chilies, are extremely hot. So be careful when you ask for this curry.
Red curry is very similar to green curry, the difference is that it uses red curry paste, made of medium dried red chilies. So it isn’t as hot as green curry.
Fruit and Fruit Shakes
Fruit in Thailand is amazing… Mango, pineapple, dragon fruit and banana are especially good. Very sweet and tasteful. There are fruit stalls on every corner selling sliced fruit. In most of them, they slice the fruit you choose. Most of the time it is quite a show just watching them slicing the fruit, particularly the pineapples. They meticulously cut every piece of fruit peel.
If the fruit is amazing, then the fruit Shakes are mind-blowing. You can find stalls selling fruit shakes nearly everywhere, especially in the islands and Chiang Mai. There is an endless combination of fruits: banana with mango, pineapple and mango, coconut and passion fruit… Or whatever you feel like trying! Typically they are made of fresh fruit, ice and palm sugar syrup. You haven’t really tried a fruit shake until you’ve been to Thailand.
Sticky rice with mango
Basically, this dessert is made of sweet sticky rice, with sweet delicious mango and coconut milk syrup. It is the kind of food that makes you want to go to Thailand just to eat it right now. Sticky rice comes in different variations, like colored sticky mango.
In Portugal, we have a dessert made of rice (arroz doce) so this recipe didn’t seem so weird to us. Although in Portugal, we don’t have sticky rice nor the Thai fantastic mangoes, nor use coconut milk…
Banana in Coconut milk (Glauy Buad Chee)
Banana in Coconut milk is a simple dessert, hot coconut milk with banana and sugar, but it is surprisingly delicious. It’s also something you can do anywhere, and very quickly. We know we do it…
This is a caloric bomb, but it is so delicious that you’ll just want to stuff your face in it. We are a bit of a sweet tooth, but we have a good excuse – we are Portuguese, and Portugal has a lot of incredible pastry. The dessert is made of a dough called roti, a kind of crepe but more elastic, butter and stuffed with banana, chocolate and topped with condensed milk. How can it go wrong? 🙂 Oh, and it’s cooked right in front of you and serve hot…
Roti Sai Mai (candy strings in roti)
We only found Roti Sai Mai in Ayutthaya and it’s a weird one. This dessert is basically candy strings with different colors served in an also colored pancake. The candy and the pancake come in different colors, it is sold in big plastic bags with several pancakes and candy.
Pan Gi (Coconut Pancakes)
Small little pancakes made of coconut milk, flour, shredded coconut, and banana. We found this pancakes in a stall in Chatuchak Market in Bangkok. They were freshly made, we ate them hot and it was super delicious.
Nam Kang Sai (mixed ice dessert)
The first time we saw this dessert we thought “What the hell in this?”. Well, this is crushed ice, bathed in coconut milk and sweet syrup with tapioca balls. Later, we found out that it’s a south-east Asian thing 🙂 Now that you know about these, you can try it without hesitation…
Thai Street food
As we said in the beginning, in Thailand, there is a big variety of street food. It’s part of daily life, eating in the street as you walk, or sitting in a food stall with a plate of noodles or curry. You will find many options for finger food, and if you are brave sometimes you won’t even know what you are eating. Though, there’s something for everyone, from the simple but delicious food to the very exotic flavors.
Where to eat in Thailand?
In our experience, Chiang Mai and Bangkok are the best places to eat street food, but in different regions, you will find different dishes. What may you find? Quail eggs, Pork Satay, Grilled Shrimp, Grilled Pork, Grilled chicken, Thai sausage…
Don’t be afraid of trying, even when you don’t know what you are eating, exploring new food and flavors is a big part of exploring a new culture and therefore of traveling.
Thai people are very hygienic and proud of what they do and serve, so nearly everything is done meticulously. We never had a food poisoning in Thailand, but use your common sense, if you feel like some dish isn’t well done, don’t take unnecessary risks…
One of the best ways to experiment and taste new dishes is by taking a Thai food tour. The guide will show you the best places to eat Thai food, the street markets, and the floating market, explaining the ingredients and the history behind the food. It is a fantastic experience. Click here for more information.
You can also take a cooking class, where you’ll learn all about the ingredients, the techniques and the history of the food. You’ll learn how to cook several dishes and then you’ll be able to cook them by yourself at home. We did one in Chiang Mai e years later, we still do Thai food at home!
We hope we have inspired you to try as many dishes as you can and make the most of your Thailand trip!