Your trip to Thailand is not completed without trying these amazing dishes.
My friend in Thailand who has been living there more than 3 years, has a wise advice for travelers who first come to this country: “One thing you shouldn’t forget when choosing a restaurant to eat in Thailand: Looking at the number of people inside, not the décor of it.”
With her recommendation, I had tried many Thai dishes from Bangkok, Pattaya of the South Thailand to Chiangmai of the North to find out that, this country has the some of the most mouth-watering foods in the worlds. World-famous or just popular within the local, there are 10 dishes which are worth to try at least once in life, and you will never have to regret your decision.
1. Kao Niew Ma Muang
This is my first Thai food when I first arrived this country in summer, one of the reasons is I’m a big fan of mango. This dessert is available all the time of year but it tastes best in summer or mango season when the mango is sweetest and the prize is down to half.
Just 5 minutes walk down the crowded streets, you can get a Kao Niew Ma Muang on the streets or in major shopping centers. But the best place for me is Phaya Thai Phahon Yothin Soi 1 Lue Cha. The food here is served on a plate with a spoonful of sticky rice and some slides of smooth, ripened mango set aside, topping with coconut sauce and toasted sesame seeds. You can feel the sweetness of mango, the scent of sticky rice and the fatty taste of coconut sauce in your first bite and in a second, you might think this is the best dish of Thailand until you try the next food.
2. Tom Yum Goong
Tom Yum Goong may be the most famous food in Thailand, well-known for its special hot and sour flavor – the main feature of Thai cuisine. That is the reason why almost everyone will try this when they come to Thailand, and I’m one of them, of course. I like herbs so I soon fell in love with Tom Yum when I found out that its broth was made of fresh local herbs and ingredients such as galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and juice, lemongrass, tomatoes, mushroom, fish sauce, and chili. The boiled (Tom) the broth has all the tastes which are featured most about the Thai cuisine: salty, sweet, spicy and sour (Yum) and it usually served with beef, pork or chicken but most popular is shrimp (Goong), the food’s name expresses the cooking process and its flavor, very interesting, right?
Tom Yum Goong is often served in a large bowl and has many types depending on your interest. My favorite is Tom Yum Nam sai with clear broth but you can try Tom Yum Nam Khon with cream and coconut milk, Tom Yum Kung served with prawns and most famous with travelers, Tom Yum Po Taek for seafood, and many other variants such as Tom Yum Kha Mu (cooked with pork leg), Tom Yum Kai (a chicken version), Tom Yum Kung Maphrao (made with meat of young coconut and a dash of coconut milk). Get to Tom Yum Goong Banglamphu, a street food stall just two blocks from Khao San road, for your first Tom Yum, but don’t forget that the lemongrass and lime leaves are just for flavor, not for eating.
3. Panang Curry
Named as the most popular of the Thai curries, Panang or called Phanaeng in Thailand has a slightly sweet and salty taste. The curry paste is a combination of galangal, lemongrass, chili pepper, garlic, cumin seed, kaffir lime, shrimp paste, fish sauce and palm sugar which give the food its own distinctive flavor as soon as it touches your tongue.
Panang curry is served with meat cut into thin strips such as beef (Beef Phanaeng) or chicken (Panang Gai). If you are a vegetarian, you can order Panang curry with vegetable and tofu for a healthier diet.
4. Gang Massaman
Comes from the southern Thailand, Massaman is one of the best curries in this country. Despite the fact that, it is less popular than red or green curries but from my experience, I can assure you that this dish is deserved a try.
This curry is a mixture of curry paste, coconut milk, peanut, cinnamon, and cardamon. The last two ingredients might remind you of Indian flavor give Massaman somewhat different from other Thai curries. You can choose either chicken, beef, pork or fish when ordering a bowl of Massaman and it tastes the best with Thai rice.
5. Pad Thai
Another name I highly recommend here is Pad Thai, it is unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before. The vendor will ask you to choose between thin or wide noodle before dropping it to a hot pan to stir-fried with onion, peanuts, shrimp, garlic, and fish sauce. When the food is almost done, a scrambled egg will be mixed into the noodles to stick them together and bring the delicious and fatty taste.
A Pad Thai stall (Photo: Bluebalu)
Pad Thai is somewhat of sour and sweet flavor, you can always adjust the taste you like by squeezing more lime or adding more sugar. Now, enjoy!
6. Yam Khor Moo Yang
This is not for people who are not able to eat spicy food because red hot chili peppers are considered the main ingredient of Yam Khor Moo Yang but it doesn’t mean you cannot give it a try, like other foreigners, you just simply say to the vendor ‘mai phet’ (‘not spicy’) or ‘phet nit nawy’ (‘a little bit spicy’).
This delicious salad consists of grilled pork slices mixed with lemon juice, onion, parsley and lots of chilies. The dipping must be an equal proportion of sour, salt, spice, if it is not your interest, adjust accordingly by adding more lime or sugar. Now you dip a slice of pork into the dressing, eat it with a small spoon of rice and wait to get a kick in taste.
7. Yum Nua
In my introduction to Tom Yum Goong, you have known Yum means spicy and sour, and now I introduce you another Thai word, Nua, means beef. So Yum Nua simply is an appetizing beef salad which is a combination of onion, spearmint, lime, dried chili, and beef is cut into thin strips. If you a fan of spicy and sour savor, Yum Nua is made for you.
8. Som Tam
The first time I came contact with Som Tam was on a mild afternoon. Watching the vendor at Chatuchak Market preparing for the dish was quite an interesting experience. She put garlic and chilly in a bowl and crushed them, then added sugar, dried shrimps, cherry tomatoes cut half, lime juice, fish sauce and grated green papaya and a few carrots. She mixed them all together and sprinkled roasted peanuts on top and gave the bowl to me. The dish is a balance of sour, salty and sweet, and it is nothing but tempting.
9. Geng Kheaw Wan Gai
I had Geng Kheaw Wan Gai, or green curry due to its color, on my second trip to Thailand and then I couldn’t understand why I could miss this dish before because, after the first try, it became my favorite curry.
The ingredients to make this special curry are coconut milk, eggplant, herbs like lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves,… and lots of green peppers so it is definitely not a choice for people who are less-shape spicy. Geng Kheaw Wan Gai has some variants for your choices: veggies, chicken or beef. I often go for chicken because beef isn’t something always good in Thailand.
10. Cha Yen
After a tour of food, now it is time to look for something to drink, and I would admit that Cha Yen or Thai ice tea is my first choice. You can order this drink everywhere: at a coffee stall, a drink stand or any restaurant in Bangkok. It is made from a cup of Thai tea mix, with sweetened condensed milk and lots of ice. You can get many different Cha Yen by ordering half and half, whole milk, coconut milk or low- fat milk instead of sweetened condensed milk.
If you fall in love with this iced tea, now you can enjoy it at home as well with a simple recipe:
- 4 cup of water
- 4 black tea bags
- 4 teaspoons white sugar
- ¼ cup of sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ cup of half and half (you can use coconut milk or whole milk)
- Bring water to boil and add tea bags
- Add sugar and gently stir until dissolved
- Allow tea to steep for at least 5 minutes then remove the tea bags.
- Fill glasses with ice and pour tea into glasses almost full.
- Stir 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk into each glass. Finish with 1 tablespoon half and a half on top the iced tea.
Thai food is famous for the balance of sour, spicy, sweet and salt, you can find all of these flavors in most of their dishes. Even though you can make your own dishes at home with recipes shared by many YouTubers, but nothing like following a Thai local guide, sitting in a crowded Thai street, enjoy the food and listen to the vendors telling stories of their country’s culture and people.