One of the most exciting aspects of travelling for me is experiencing different cuisines, discovering new foods and flavours. If you are a foodie like me with a passion for trying authentic local dishes, then Thailand is one of the best destinations to visit.
I’ve been to Thailand twice, spending three weeks overall exploring Bangkok and travelling from north to south, west to east. Some of my favourite memories of these trips are wandering through the night food markets in Chiang Mai, drinking fresh pineapple or watermelon juice on the beach in Ko Tao, learning how to cook Som Tum and Tom Yum Goong in Phuket, and drinking Thai iced tea in the old-style cafés of Bangkok.
In Thailand, you will find incredibly picturesque beaches, ancient Buddhist temples, year-round sunshine and a rich history and culture. You will also experience first-hand one of the world’s greatest cuisines.
Thai cuisine is delicious and diverse, developed through centuries, often absorbing the ingredients, flavours and culinary traditions of its neighbouring countries. Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Malaysian and other gastronomies influenced and helped create Thai food as we know and love it today.
If Thailand is a foodie’s dream, then Bangkok is the starting point of your dream trip! The dining scene in the Thai capital is flourishing, with an abundance of street food stalls, traditional eateries, modern fusion restaurants, and fine dining to be discovered by hungry travellers.
Thai dishes are often replicated by restaurants around the world; for example, the classic Pad Thai features on the menu of every “Asian” or fusion restaurant in the UK or Europe. Unfortunately, it is often a disappointment (I’ve eaten many over-cooked noodles drowned in soy and fish sauces). To a certain degree, western restaurants will always adapt Thai cuisine to western tastes. And so, to experience the authentic flavours of Thailand – punchy, zesty, spicy, addictive, and unique – you must travel to Thailand!
The best way to experience Thai cuisine is to book a food tour with an expert local guide or sign up to a cooking class with a passionate chef or home cook. If this is not an option – perhaps your trip is too short or your budget too tight – then use this guide to the tastiest dishes to eat in Thailand to plan your food stops around Bangkok and the rest of the country! By no means an exhaustive guide of all that Thai gastronomy has to offer, but it is a great start!
Top 12 Dishes and Drinks to Eat in Thailand
1) Som Tum
Som Tum is one of my favourite Thai dishes: a salad of shredded raw green papaya mixed with tomatoes, chillies, green beans, garlic, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime. All the ingredients are pounded by hand, using a pestle and mortar, to release the distinctive zesty, sour and spicy flavour.
2) Pad Thai
One of Thailand’s most recognised dishes, Pad Thai are stir-fried noodles cooked with crunchy bean sprouts, onion, and egg in a searing hot wok. Topped with crushed roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. Usually you can choose to have this dish with seafood (fresh shrimp, crab or squid), chicken, pork, beef – sometimes tofu). To try the best pad thai in Bangkok, go to Thip Samai restaurant.
3) Guay Tiew Kua Gai
Guay Tiew Kua Gai are rice noodles stir-fried with pieces of boneless chicken and topped with a runny fried egg. This is a classic street food dish; the best one I ate was from a stall located in a narrow alley in the Wat Thepsirin district.
4) Yum Pla Duk Fu
This recipe of dried catfish – which has first been shredded and then deep fried until crispy – comes from the north-eastern part of Thailand. I got a taste of it during a Tuk Tuk food tour of Bangkok. The look of Yum Pla Duk Fu isn’t too appetizing, the taste however is out of this world! This recipe truly turns a humble fish into something delicious. I am told, it is a popular accompaniment to alcohol in Thailand.
5) Tom Yum Goong
Tom Yum Goong is a bold, sour, refreshing prawn soup. The broth is made with a blend of fragrant lemongrass, chilli, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, lime juice, and fish sauce. It is often paired with steamed white rice. I tasted it during my stay at Amari Phuket resort and it was easily one of the most memorable Thai dishes of the entire trip!
6) Gaeng Daeng
Gaeng daeng is an aromatic red curry cooked with meat, red curry paste and smooth coconut milk. The paste – a key ingredient of many Thai dishes – is made with shallots, lemongrass, chillies, garlic, galangal, fish sauce, lime, shrimp paste, sugar, cumin, coriander and pepper. Don’t be put off by the fiery colour: this dish is actually quite mild (compared to other Thai dishes at least!) because of the coconut.
7) Poh Pia Sod
Poh Pia Sod are fresh and soft spring rolls Thai Spring Rolls. Chinese dishes are very popular in Thailand, they have been adapted and changed somewhat and are now part of Thai cuisine. Poh Pia Sod are sold at street food carts and open food markets, restaurants or food courts. You will find the best in Bangkok’s Chinatown.
8) Kaeng Khiao Wan
This green curry is popular all over Thailand and it’s become one of the country’s most famous culinary exports. The distinctive flavour of Kaeng Khiao Wan comes from the fragrant and spicy green chilli paste used as a base for the thick soup. Coconut milk is another essential ingredient of this dish. The Thai green curry is topped with kaffir leaves and served with steamed rice.
9) Moo Ping
These Thai-style grilled pork skewers are a flavorful snack, one meat-eaters shouldn’t miss while visiting Thailand. You’ll see them being grilled over a charcoal BBQ on the streets and at food markets all around the country. What makes this dish so tasty? The pork meat is marinated in pounded coriander, pepper, garlic, oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar.
10) Kang Liang Goong Sod
Kang Liang Goong Sod is a healthy, warming, spicy mixed vegetable soup with fresh prawns. It is a classic Thai-Chinese dish, one you won’t easily find in every restaurant (especially not outside of Thailand). I recommend ordering it if you get a chance. It has an incredibly aromatic taste from the mixed herbs and sweet basil leaves.
Ow-ew is a dessert of jelly (made from ow-ew seeds, a herb similar basil), served with ice and honey syrup. It’s very sweet, but also very refreshing and perfect to cool down after a few hours spent outside in the steaming heat. Try this dessert at the famous Café’in in Old town Phuket.
12) Cha Yen
Thai iced tea is made from strongly brewed Ceylon tea blended with a mix of spices such as orange blossom, star anise, and tamarind. It is mixed with evaporated milk and sugar, and sometimes served with a dash of condensed milk. Try it at old-style cafés like Kope Hya Tai Ke in Bangkok. Traditional Thai coffee from home-roasted coffee beans is also a must-try.
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide to my favourite Thai food and that my post has inspired you to plan your next holiday to the beautiful land of Thailand!
Of course, we cannot travel or make plans right now, but we can dream about our next holiday. While we wait for a time when travelling is possible and safe again, you can (if you live in the UK) experience delicious and fresh Thai food in the comfort of your home thanks to Rosa’s Thai Meal Kits. Priced from £30, the kits serve 4 and are delivered nationally by Great Food 2U (delivery cost included).
Disclaimer: this post is a collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).