Thailand is known the world over for its delicious cuisine, and all my friends know that it’s one of my favorite go-to delivery orders when I’m back home from trips. If you plan on traveling to this Asian country, then taste-testing Thailand’s mouthwatering cuisine MUST be part of your itinerary. However, with a wide variety of Thai dishes, choosing what to eat can be overwhelming.
To ensure you get to try the best of Thai food, I’ve compiled this list of Thai dishes you simply cannot leave the Land of Smiles without trying. Let’s start with one of my favorites.
1. Pad Thai (Stir-Fried Rice Noodles)
This is a national dish in Thailand and one of the most popular. It is cheap, tasty and available on pretty much every single menu everywhere you go in Thailand, from street corner food stores to five-star restaurants. When I took a cooking class while in Chiang Mai, we actually learned how to make pad thai from scratch, which was such a treat.
Some of the ingredients used to make this classic dish include rice noodles, shrimp, chicken or beef, bean sprouts, eggs, tofu cubes, onions, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, and ground nuts. The ingredients you choose are fried together to create a flavor that is a little bit sweet and and a little bit sour.
If you’re a vegetarian you can also ask the chef to make you pad thai sans meat and I promise — it tastes just as good.
2. Som Tam (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
This is one of the most popular salads in Thailand, and as you travel around the country you’ll find different variations of it. The most common som tam is made from shredded green papaya, runner beans, tomatoes, fish sauce, chilies, lime juice, carrots, dried shrimp, peanuts, palm sugar, tamarind pulp, and garlic.
All of these ingredients are mixed together using a mortar and pestle to create a meal that is sweet, spicy, salty, sour and crunchy. Yes, there are a lot of flavors packed into this one. In Bangkok, it is hard to miss som tam carts where you can sample this salad.
3. Tom Yum Goong (Spicy and Sour Shrimp Soup)
Prepared with tomatoes, mushrooms, shrimp, lemongrass, bird-eye chilies, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal, tom yum goong is a very popular Thai soup. Best served hot, the soup has several tastes: salty, sweet, sour and spicy, all in one bowl. You can order the soup together with steamed white rice for a tasty meal that will give you a great taste of Thailand.
Because of the chilies used to make tom yum goong it can be really hot, so if you are not used to eating spicy foods ask for a milder version. While in Thailand, I definitely got surprised by some dishes that were hot beyond my liking (even after requesting no spice), so be firm in your request for mild! If you want the soup to be creamier you can order the one with coconut milk in it.
This is a meat salad that originated from northern Thailand. To make it, the chef uses mushrooms or ground meat (you can choose beef, pork, duck or chicken), roasted rice, lime juice, fish sauce, fresh herbs, chilies, and sliced onions. The ingredients used make larb spicy, so you should avoid this Thai meal altogether if you cannot handle spice.
Larb is usually served with steamed rice and vegetables such as carrots, lettuces, and cabbages.
5. Khao Pad (Fried Rice)
Khao Pad is a very simple meal that is very famous in Thailand. To whip up a delicous khao pad, fried rice is cooked together with eggs, onions, and seasoning. If you want, you can add prawns, beef, tofu, chicken, basil or vegetables.
Khao pad is a common meal for many Thais in Bangkok during lunch. Be sure to try this simple but filling dish during your trip to get a taste of local life.
6. Pad Phak (Fried Vegetables)
One thing you will quickly realize about Thai cuisine is that meat is the main ingredient in most meals. If you’re a vegetarian, you may decide to skip tasting Thai food because of this fact, but you shouldn’t because there are several vegetarian meals that are perfect for non-meat-eaters.
One of these meals is pad phak, a dish prepared using only vegetables of your choosing. These vegetables could include broccoli, spinach leaves, cauliflower, carrots, sliced bell pepper, mushrooms or snow peas.
When you visit a food stall in Thailand, the vegetable ingredients are usually displayed, so you can easily point out the veggies you want in your pad phak to the chef. This dish has a salty, sour, spicy and sweet taste.
7. Kai Med Ma Muang (Stir-Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts)
As the name might indicate, the key ingredients in this meal are chicken and cashew nuts. These are stir-fried together with honey, soy sauce, onions, bell pepper, mushroom and a lot more ingredients the chef throws into the pan.
Many Thais consider this a healthy meal because cashew nuts are rich in vitamins and minerals. Order kai med ma muang with some Thai steamed rice as the two go down really nicely together.
8. Thai Fruit
Thailand has many rare and healthy fruits you should try during your trip. These include rose apples, guava, dragon fruit, mangosteen, pomelo, rambutan, and lychee.
Durian is another fruit you’ll find in Thailand that is considered to be the smelliest fruit in the world, so it may be one to try if you consider yourself a more adventurous eater. I haven’t personally tried it, but the taste is supposed to be much better than the smell!
A bag of these fruits bought from a street vendor will cost about 40 Baht (the currency of Thailand) which is roughly $1.
Are you hungry yet?
As I said at the beginning of this post, Thai food menus are wide ranging and you’ll be hard-pressed to try all of Thailand’s varied dishes in one trip. The foods I have listed are incredibly delicious, popular and can be found easily in most eateries across Thailand. So, these are some good options to kickstart your Thai food culinary journey.
Some helpful tips before traveling to Thailand
Remember, depending on what country you’re from, to travel to Thailand you need to apply for the Thai eVisa. For stays under 30 days, US citizens typically can get a visa on arrival. However, if you want to be safe, you can apply for a visa online by filling out the Thailand visa application form.
In the form, you’ll be required to provide your personal details, show a departure and return ticket, prove you have money to pay for your accommodation in Thailand, etc. The process takes a few minutes, and if your details check out your visa should be sent to you via email in 48 hours.
Be sure to print a copy of the Thailand eVisa that you’ll present together with your passport at your point of entry into Thailand. The Thai Visa costs 2000 Baht which is about $61.
When you travel to Thailand, go with a big appetite because you’ll often be asked by the locals ‘gin khao reu yang?’ meaning, ‘have you eaten yet?’ before you’re offered food. So be prepared to do a lot of eating!