When in Thailand, eat as the Thais eat! The food of Thailand is a compilation of many wondrous sights, sounds and smells characteristic of the country's culture. The streets are never empty, and for the most part are lined with food vendors and stalls, which create a delightful experience for the senses as you walk past them. Huge woks and pots can be seen sizzling with foods and spices and herbs of all kinds, compelling you to stop, observe and taste them. If street side stalls are not your thing, there are innumerable Thai restaurants across the country which offer you the same delicacies. Thai food is ranked highly among the cuisines of the world.
So eat where you will, but if you truly want to experience Thailand, you cannot miss out on these 10 dishes from amazing food in Thailand:
1. Tom Yum Goong - SpicyThai Soup with Shrimps and Herbs
This list couldn't start off with anything else but Tom Yum. Tom Yum soup is one of the most popular defining features of Thai food. Its most loved variation is Tom Yum Goong, which is a hot and sour soup dish chocked with spices, shrimp, vegetables and herbs. One serving is quite filling given its numerous ingredients, but it is so delicious that just one serving will not suffice and you will be compelled to take a second helping. Every spoon packs a flavourful punch, and what's more, it is extremely healthy. It is made from the goodness of shrimps, mushrooms, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed chilli peppers, all mixed together in a light watery broth making it one of the most loved food from Thailand globally. The USP of this dish is its zesty spiciness, but you can also ask for a mild version that contains coconut milk. And if you can't have enough of it, you can also buy the Tom Yum paste which is easily available in markets, and give it a homemade twist.
2. Som Tam - Green Papaya Salad
Green papaya salad, locally known as Som Tum, is one of Thailand's most prized culinary creations. It is a spicy composition, made from shreds of unripe papaya combined with an assortment of vegetables and other ingredients that contains a potpourri of spicy, sour, chilli and sweet tastes. All the condiments, garlic, chillies, green beans, cherry tomatoes and shredded raw papaya are pounded using a mortar and pestle, enhancing each ingredient's individual flavour. The raw papaya, however, remains crunchy, lending the meal an interesting and fun texture. The dish has a distinctive tangy taste typical of the Thai food, that has the ability to please even foreign taste buds. You can find many variations of this dish across the country, some with dry shrimp, salted crab and sausages, and others with peanuts, asparagus beans and Thai eggplant. This is a major staple food of Thailand as it is easy to make, and easier to enjoy.
3. Khao Phat - Thai Fried Rice
A type of Thai fried rice, Khao Phat is one of the most famous food from Thailand, finding its place amongst the must-haves of the world. It is superior in taste to plain ol' fried rice, and needless to say is a national favourite. It can be had at any time of day and is so delectable that is often eaten as a standalone dish without any sides. It makes use of Thai jasmine rice which has a pleasant aroma. Other ingredients include meats (chicken, shrimp, crab, pork), egg, onions, garlic, tomatoes, spring onions and lime. Khao Phat is seasoned with sauces and pastes of many kinds, the most common being soy sauce, chilli sauce and fish sauce. This food from Thailand has many variants, especially in the Southeast Asian countries, such as the khao phat maphrao (coconut fried rice), khao phat kaphrao (basil fried rice), khao phat mu (pork fried rice) and khao khluk kapi (fried rice with shrimp paste). Khao Phat is the best example of a convenient dish that doesn't compromise on taste.
4. Gaeng Keow Wan Gai - Thai Green Curry
If you haven't tried gaeng keow wan gai, have you even really tried Thai food? Gaeng Keow Wan Gai, or Thai green curry, is an unmissable part of the food in Thailand. It derives its name from the green colour of its curry and is relatively milder in nature than its red counterpart. Its coconut milk and green chilli base complement each other, producing a lovely spiced dish. Gaeng Keow Wan Gai contains an assortment of vegetables like Thai eggplant, pea aubergine, and other green vegetables, and meats like fish balls, beef and chicken. Several sauces also go into making this dish, ranging from green curry paste (made from herbs like lemongrass, kaffir lime, coriander, garlic, cumin) to fish sauce. The end result is a creamy, thick soup that tastes as healthy as it looks. Green curry is best paired with rice, or eaten as a dish of noodles called khanom chin.
5. Chim Chum
This dish is as fascinating as its name. Chim Chum is a popular street food of Thailand, that is enjoyed in many parts of Southeast Asia. Interestingly, the name of this Thai food derives from its method of cooking and eating. Chim refers to dipping, while Chum refers to dripping something swiftly in broth. Walking down the lanes of Thailand, it is hard to miss the preparation of Chim Chum, since it is cooked in a burning clay pot atop a traditional charcoal stove. The broth is flavourful, made using stock, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime and basil. Once the broth is ready, vegetables and meat (usually pork) are added one by one and allowed to cook for not more than a couple of minutes. Along with glass noodles, the meat can then be dipped into the nam chim (special sauce) and consumed instantly, for a wholesome meal that you won't be able to get enough of making it a must have food in Thailand.
6. Khao Niew Moo Yang - Thai Style Grilled Pork and Sticky Rice
Undeniably among the most popular street food in Thailand, Khao Niew Moo Yang is the perfect option to grab a bite on the go. It is a simple combination dish of Thai style grilled pork and sticky rice. The pork, poked with skewers, is very tasty, marinated first in coconut milk, coriander, pepper, garlic, fish sauce, lemongrass and palm sugar, and then grilled to perfection. Even though it is without a gravy, the delicacy has a pleasant pop of flavour that goes well with rice. The meat has a mild taste, which is why it is sometimes complemented with the fiery nam jim jeaw sauce. In many places, Moo Yang, or the dry grilled pork, is also enjoyed all by itself without a side of rice. You can find Khao Niew Moo Yang almost everywhere in Thailand, starting from prices as low as THB 5 to THB 10, making it the ultimate go-to appetiser and a favourite Thai food.
7. Yam Nua - Beef Salad
Yam Nua is a simple, beef salad preparation that will be the perfect companion to you and your beer on a warm, summer day. It is available in many restaurants and street stalls in Thailand, but you can even enjoy it within the comfortable confines of your home because the recipe to make it is very easy. This spicy beef salad is made using every type of flavour you can imagine, from tangy to saucy to hot to sour and so on. Different places serving Yam Nua use different herbs and condiments to make it, but the basic seasonings involved are lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, cilantro, mint, lettuce, cucumber, garlic and Thai chillies. As with most Thai food, this salad too contains a generous portion of fish sauce (nam pla) which adds a little tasteful pungency to the flavour. Not to forget the main ingredient, the juicy chunks of steak make up the main part of the salad, dripping with sauces and savoury tastes that will give you a gastronomic high.
8. Pad Thai Noodles
A signature food of Thailand, Pad Thai noodles are commonly found on menus across the world today. So when in Thailand, you cannot afford to miss out on a plate of this dish prepared the authentic Thai way. The best part about this delicacy is that you just cannot go wrong with it because it is highly convenient and can be adjusted according to your likes and preferences. It primarily consists of stir-fried rice noodles garnished with a plethora of local flavours and ingredients that will delight your palate. Things that go into making these noodles are wide-ranging, beginning from tamarind pulp, fish sauce, turnips, garlic, shallots, red chilli pepper, palm sugar, lime to even roasted peanuts. More often that not, the noodle dish also contains one or more kinds of meat, like shrimp, crab, squid and chicken. Though every restaurant menu lists this item, the best types of Pad Thai are available at inexpensive street food stalls. Often featured among the most delicious dishes in the world, Pad Thai noodles are a hard miss food in Thailand.
Larb Muang Moo, also known as Laap, is a spicy meat salad, most popular in the northeastern regions of Thailand. It originates from Laos, but its popularity has now spread to many countries in Asia, where several variations of it are consumed. The most essential part of Thai Larb is the range of spices, known collectively as phrik lap, used in making it. These dried spices range from cumin, cloves, long pepper, star anise, prickly ash seeds to cinnamon, creating a wonderful blast of flavours in the Larb salad. The salad comes with choices of minced meats like chicken, pork, duck and beef. Sometimes, the blood, fat, kidney, etc. of the animal may be used in the salad to give it an extra edge, and while it may be an alien concept to foreigners, this special preparation of Larb is relished as a food in Thailand. Larb salad is a dynamic dish and can be coupled with anything from rice noodles, sticky rice, to raw vegetables.
10. Khao Niao Ma Muang - Mango Sticky Rice
Every meal should be finished off on a sweet note. Khao Niao Ma Muang is one of Thailand's most beloved dessert dishes and a common household name. It is known in English as mango-sticky rice, owing to the two main ingredients used to prepare this dish. Its simple and unusual combination is what catches the foreign eye first, followed by its captivating yumminess making it a must-have food in Thailand. It is a no-frills, traditional Thai dessert made of glutinous rice, mangoes, and coconut milk. The method of cooking it is quite easy, which is one of the reasons for its popularity, aside from its heavenly taste. The sticky rice is cooked and then left to rest, mixed with sweet coconut milk. The rice absorbs the milk and is served with peeled slices/pieces of mango on the side. Khao Niao Ma Muang is best enjoyed fresh after preparation, which is when all the sweet and sticky goodness is at its peak.
In a country like Thailand, which ranks high on variety, availability and taste of food, you will be spoilt for choice. There is something for everyone here, so whether you are a vegetarian or meat-eater, food critic or food enthusiast, child or adult, get out there and grab some of the amazing food in Thailand.