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Thailand is world-famous for its mouthwatering cuisine and for good reason. Come and explore the flavours of the Land of Smiles by eating your way through our list of the 21 best dishes this foodie nation has to offer. Warning: You’ll be coming back for more.
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 (rarely vegetarian-friendly) 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.
This iconic bowl of steaming goodness is bold, aromatic and comes with a fairly strong spicy kick. Tom yum goong is created with quintessential Thai ingredients like lemongrass, chilli, galangal, kaffier lime leaves, shallots, fresh lime juice and plenty of fish sauce. Fresh prawns and mushrooms are added and coconut cream if you want the creamy version.
Tom kha gai is related to tom yum and offers people with a lower tolerance to spice the opportunity to taste the same beautiful flavours. Besides the spice scale, Tom kha gai is also unique in that it typically comes with lots of creamy coconut milk creating a rich sweet soup. Like most Thai foods, vegetarian options are easily adaptable by substituting a few ingredients.
Som tam hails from Isaan in Northeastern Thailand and is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. Som tam comes in a variety of styles, however, the classic som tam consists of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, carrots, peanuts, dried shrimp, runner beans, palm sugar, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and plenty of chillies. The ingredients are mixed together using a mortar and pestle, which amplifies the flavours into a super moreish dish.
‘Fluffy’ and ‘crispy’ might be the best words to describe this dish. Catfish is fried in teeny tiny pieces (read “blown up”) creating an airy, fluffy and scrumptious fish salad. The secret to this dish is the pairing of the crispy fish with sweet, sour and spicy green mango salad. This dish is best enjoyed as an appetizer with a group of friends or as a beer snack.
This mixed seafood salad is not only delicious but is also a healthy meal option. Depending on where you are, this salad can have any combination of squid, shrimp, mussels, scallops or crabmeat in it. Added to the seafood medley are tomatoes, onions and rice glass noodles for good measure.
Laab is a northeastern-style salad with meat or mushroom and mint which originates in the northeastern province of Isan. 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 hefty kick.
Stir-fried pumpkin or “pad phuk tong” is one of the best vegetarian-friendly dishes in the Land of Smiles. While it is more difficult to find than a good helping of pad thai, you should definitely be on the lookout for this dish. Order it with a plate of brown rice if available and you’ll be laughing.
Pad thai is one of Thailands national dishes and is a go-to for tourists who are starting out their Thai cuisine exploration. Pad thai is a fried noodle dish which is usually made with shrimp or chicken, however, the vegetarian option is popular too. Pad thai is available on almost every street corner and is a cheap and tasty meal.
This dish consists of wide rice noodles which are stir-fried in thick 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.
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 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 pad is maybe comparable to England’s love of sandwiches – consumed on mass khao pad is a Thai go-to. Khao pad simply translates to “fried rice” and is just that with some egg, onion and that’s about it. The dish usually comes with slices of cucumber to garnish and plenty of condiments are usually dumped on top to suit the consumer’s taste.
Pad krapao usually is made using minced pork or chicken (it’s also great with tofu) which is stir-fried with Thai basil and plenty of chillies. Pad krapow is 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 served with white rice and topped with an oozing running friend egg “kai dao” which blends through the rest of the dish for an unforgettable taste sensation.
Panang curry is a bit milder than its other curry counterparts in Thailand. It is for this reason that it remains a popular dish amongst tourists who are remaining in the spicy “safe zone.” Panang curry typically is served with shrimp, although vegetarian options are popular too.
Originating from central Thailand, green curry is the spiciest of them all, with a perfect balance of sweet from the added coconut milk. Green curry is made from some of the most mouthwatering ingredients, including fresh green chillies, ginger, eggplant, and, of course, plenty coconut milk. Eat with lots of steamed rice to bring down the spice level.
Arguably 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 with Chiang Mai being considered the khao soi mecca.
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 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.
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. It’s worth not underestimating the flavour of these fried vegetables as they are mixed with a perfectly harmonious blend of sugar, salt and spices.
Kai med ma muang is loved by locals and foreigners alike. This sweet and flavourful dish is stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts, soy sauce, honey, onions, chillies, pepper, mushrooms, basically whatever vegetables the chef has on hand. Simple, yet very tasty.
Kai jeow is one of the simplest Thai dishes but is a great protein-rich quick meal on the go or accompanying dish. Kai jeow is usually served on rice and served with sweet chilli sauce. Ask for “kai jeow pak” if you would like some vegetables added to your Thai omelette. If you’re new to Thailand and haven’t embraced “jok” (Thai rice soup) for breakfast, kai jeow can be a great way to start your day.
Looking for dessert? Look no further than the all-time crowd pleaser of mango and sticky rice. Kao niew ma muang is simple but extremely delicious, made with sticky rice, fresh mango slices, and lashings of sweet condensed milk.