If you are like most other newbies and head straight to the comfort zone of a pad thai stall, prepare to be enlightened! We’ve compiled a list of 11 Thai dishes that go beyond the pad Thai culinary experience, all of which are available at most local street side restaurants. We’ve also included a fair amount of vegetarian dishes. You’re welcome!
Guay Teow is arguably one of the most popular Thai dishes and can be found almost everywhere. Guay Teow describes any type of noodle soup. It can be made with chicken, pork, or beef stock (rarely vegetarian), as well as either rice noodles or egg noodles. Most of the time, vendors also add wontons or meatballs to the broth. The dish is best topped with a selection of condiments including, sugar, dried chilli peppers, lime juice, and fish sauce. Guay Teow can be eaten at any time of day and is particularly good as a late night snack.
Pak Boong (morning glory) is known for being extremely healthy. This spinach-like vegetable is typically fried and seasoned with soybean paste, soy sauce, garlic, chillies and more. Morning glory is somehow salty, spicy, sour and crunchy all at the same time, satisfying anyone’s palette. This dish is often made with oyster sauce, however, the vegetarian option can easily be prepared.
Khao Soi is the quintessential northern Thai dish. Khao soi is a Burmese-inspired coconut curry noodle soup. Available in chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian options, this mouthwatering dish has a rich coconut curry base, boiled egg noodles and is garnished with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime and ground chillies fried in oil. Khao soi should be on every travellers’ ‘must eat’ list in northern Thailand.
This Thai classic will leave vegetarians and carnivores alike full and content. Most Thai dishes attempt to combine as many flavours as possible to make the most noteworthy dishes, and stir-fried vegetables are no exception. While these veggies may sound rather bland, when they’re combined with a spoonful of sugar, salt and some spices, you may find yourself ordering another helping of this delicious dish.
Vegetarian or not, som tum is one of our favourite Thai dishes of all time. This mouthwatering meal is made up of garlic, sugar, lime and tamarind juice. In combination with freshly shredded green papaya, juicy tomatoes and delicious peanuts, you can not go wrong while ordering som tum. Be sure to tell whoever is making your salad that you are “mawng sa vee rat” or “gin jay” (vegetarian/vegan) — as this salad is usually prepared with lashings of fish sauce and salty dried shrimp.
One of the cheapest dishes you’ll see served at most food stalls is kai jeow, or a Thai omelette served over rice. Thai omelettes are made a little differently from their Western counterparts; the inside is fluffy like a standard omelette, but the outside is golden and crispy. The dish is usually cooked with fish sauce and chillies, and topped with chilli sauce. It can be eaten any time of day, but many Westerners enjoy it for breakfast as a substitute for eggs on toast.
Pad See Eiw is like the spaghetti and meatballs of Thai cuisine: hearty, warm, and comforting. The dish consists of wide rice noodles which are stir-fried in dark soy sauce with chicken, pork, or beef as well as either Chinese broccoli or cabbage. A flavorful but safe choice, it’s an excellent option for those who can’t handle spicier Thai dishes but want to branch out from pad thai. Foodies who like a little more kick can add dried chilli flakes, vinegar, or both.
Fried chicken may not be a uniquely Thai dish, but it’s extremely popular in Thailand. Gai tod is typically prepared by marinating chicken wings or drumsticks in a blend of spices and rice flour before deep frying the whole mixture. To add a little extra flavour, the chicken is also often finished with Thai chilli paste or served with a spicy dipping sauce like nam jim. Gai tod is best eaten with sticky rice and makes for a perfect on-the-go snack.
Pad kra pao consists of minced pork or chicken stir-fried with Thai basil and chillies, all served over white rice. It’s definitely not a dish for picky eaters: The Thai basil has a very sharp, peppery flavour, while the chillies add a hefty dose of spice. You can always take the heat down a notch by asking the vendor to make it “pet nit noi” (only a little spicy). The dish also often includes pieces of chicken and a runny fried egg on top oozing with goodness.
Kaeng hang lei is mild on the spicy spectrum and is highlighted by tender pork pieces and fruity tomato. This Burmese-infused dish includes a variety of spices including turmeric, tamarind, ginger and garlic. Kaeng Hang Lei might not be easy to find everywhere as it is a northern Thai speciality, so might be best to put on your “what to eat in Chiang Mai” list.
Laab is a northeastern-style spicy salad with meat or mushroom and mint which originates in the northeastern province of Isaan. Laab comes in a variety of styles including chicken, pork, and mushroom. It is not recommended for those who can’t handle spice as it tends to come with a strong kick.