Best Thai Food: 30 Dishes You Should Try (with Pictures)
Thai food, as a popular international cuisine, distinguishes itself by its freshness, exotic fragrance, and extravagant spices. The best Thai food includes pad Thai and Thai fried rice, yet there are many other mouthwatering dishes you should order, such as various Thai curries, sizzling Thai hot pot, and spicy shrimp soup. They are all ready to thrill your taste buds to the extreme. Here, we introduce you to the best 30 gourmet Thai dishes you should try in Thailand.
1. Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
The unique flavor of this soup – rightfully famous all over the world – is achieved by the combination of fragrant lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, lime juice, fish sauce, fresh chilies (or chili paste), and fat juicy prawns. Its fresh and rich exotic flavor instinctively sets your definition of the flavor of Thailand!
2. Tom Kha Kai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)
Tom kha kai is a related soup dish to tom yum goong. Similar spices, such as galangal, shallots, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves, set the basic flavor of the soup, except chilies are optional this time. Tender strips of chicken and aromatic Asian mushrooms form the mild body of the soup while creamy coconut milk is introduced and blends nicely with everything else.
Tom kha kai could be the best Thai food for people who are not so keen on chili dishes and could also offer them the same quality taste of Thai freshness.
3. Guay Tiew Reua (Noodle Soup)
This noodle soup is a lot less of a main course than the ones above, but it is always a popular choice from local street restaurants. It was originally served from boats along the canals of Bangkok (its name means “boat noodles”). The noodles are cooked with an amazing meat broth, which is a simmered broth containing typical Thai spices and meat. The ways to order it vary according to the meat you are having with it, such as chicken, pork, or seafood.
4. Pad Thai (Thai-Style Fried Noodles)
A signature dish in Thailand, pad Thai is supposed be on the menu of every restaurant in Thailand, from noisy street stalls to Michelin-starred restaurants in Bangkok. It comprises rice noodles (thin or wide) stir-fried with extravagant amounts of fresh prawns, crunchy bean sprouts, eggs, tasty tofu cubes, onion, and finely grated peanuts. A squirt of lime juice will complete the dish before it thrills every taste bud in your mouth.
5. Pad See Ew or Pad Siew (Flat Noodles Stir-Fried with Soy Sauce)
Another frequently ordered dish of stir-fried noodles in Thailand, pad see ew comprises flat slippery rice noodles stir-fried with garlic, onion, egg, seasonal green vegetables, and meat (usually chicken or pork). A nice touch of adding oyster sauce and soy sauce provides the key elements to making the dish a tasty choice on every occasion.
6. Khao Pad (Thai Fried Rice)
This is a simple dish that you can find easily as it is served almost everywhere in Thailand. The ingredients include rice, egg, garlic, onion, and a form of protein, such as chicken, shrimps, crabmeat, or beef. The cooking method is very simple too — just put everything in a pan on the stove and stir-fry until everything has blended together and the flavors of the ingredients have been released.
7. Khao Pad Sapparod (Pineapple Fried Rice)
Always popular, Thai fried rice with shrimps and pineapple is easy to cook and very satisfying to eat. Thai jasmine rice, fresh shrimps, and pineapple are what makes this dish worthy of being on this best Thai food list. Curry powder, shrimp sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce are the major sauces which give this dish a delicious taste.
8. Gaeng Ped Gai (Red Curry with Chicken)
Huge amounts of fresh or dried red Asian chilies are crushed with garlic, shallots, blue ginger, and lemongrass. Together, these ingredients form the base of the red curry paste. The chicken breast slices obtain a nice strong red curry flavor before being mixed with the creamy coconut milk. Eggplant, mushrooms, or tomatoes are added and simmered slowly in the coconut milk. A nice touch of fresh kaffir lime and sweet basil leaves give balance to the creamy curry scent and the dish is served with steamed jasmine rice.
9. Gaeng Keow Wan Gai (Green Curry with Chicken)
This is the hottest curry in Thailand with its paste based on green chili peppers. It is a thrilling treat for hot food lovers but a challenge for people who have milder taste preferences. The sauce is created with coconut milk and enhanced to a greater level by spices and herbs, such as Thai basil, shallots, blue ginger, garlic, turmeric, and kaffir lime leaves. Vegetables are added, such as eggplants or potatoes. Most people order it with chicken but there are also options to have the green curry with seafood or beef.
10. Yellow Curry with Chicken
Thai yellow curry has a much milder curry paste compared to the spicy red and green curry dishes. Thai yellow curry with chicken is a popular dish among people who prefer a mellow taste and is the best curry choice for kids. Instead of using serious amounts of red or green chilies, yellow curry paste has a large proportion of turmeric and curry powder pounded together with coriander, cumin, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, garlic, and shallots plus coconut cream in addition to coconut milk. Vegetables and chicken are added in the simmering process.
11. Gaeng Massaman Gai (Massaman Chicken Curry)
Massaman curry is less soupy than the other curries mentioned above and it has a mild, slightly sweet flavor. It is actually a dish derived from Indian curry and has a Persian influence. It originated in South Thailand near the border of Malaysia where Muslims previously lived.
12. Gaeng Panang Gai (Panang Chicken Curry)
Thai panang chicken curry has a thicker curry paste. This dish will be less soupy as well and is often served with rice. The paste is made from coriander seeds, cumin seeds, shrimp sauce, peanuts, and red curry paste, which are all ground together. Use coconut milk instead of water to make the sauce thick and add some fresh kaffir lime leaves before putting any chicken in — this gives it a great fresh flavor. Then you need to slow cook the chicken together with the paste. It is always a good dish to go with rice.
13. Mookata Thai BBQ
This is a nice choice to eat with your family and friends at a street side barbecue restaurant. With a couple of beers, it is a classic hot pot that makes for a relaxing meal. There are no particular ingredients in this dish because it is like a hot pot buffet — you choose various vegetables, meat, or fish to suit your preferences. The pot used for this meal is a clever invention. The dome-shaped surface is used to barbecue the pork fillets, or any other protein slices, and the moat channel around it is used to contain the aromatic broth, which is meant to cook the vegetables you choose.
14. Pla Nueng Manow (Steamed Fish with Spicy Lime Sauce)
Pla nueng manow is a nice Thai-style steamed fish dish that you should try. Usually, the fish will be snappers. The spicy sauce is made from chili, garlic, cilantro, fish sauce, lime juice, and chicken broth. It will impress you with its thrilling flavors.
15. Pad Kra Pao Moo (Minced Pork Stir-Fried with Thai Basil)
This is a popular “one plate” dish that is frequently ordered in Thai restaurants. Often, you will be asked whether you would like to have an egg with it or not. With a nice touch of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and a little sugar, the flavor of this wonderful dish will be nicely balanced between sweet and spicy. The cooking method is simple and quick — just put chopped shallots, garlic, and chilies into the pan and stir-fry until all the aromas are released, then add minced pork and mix it well with the rest of the ingredients before introducing Thai basil leaves.
16. Gai Pad Med Ma Muang (Stir-Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts)
If you can only order one stir-fried dish in Thailand, this is seriously the real deal. The name says it all — its main ingredients are cashew nuts and chicken breast meat. Both are deep-fried briefly before being mixed together with onions, shallots, garlic, chilies, and mushrooms. Spicy, sweet, chewy, and crispy — the ingredients work very well together.
17. Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
This is another amazing example of a simple but wonderfully tasty dish. The ingredients are very simple: a small green (unripe) papaya, tomatoes, carrots, long beans, peanuts, garlic, chilies, palm sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce. Together, they provide five vibrant flavors: sweet, savory, spicy, salty, and sour.
18. Yum Nua (Spicy Beef Salad)
If you enjoy eating chilies and spicy food, you will love this spicy Thai salad.
Tender strips of beef are mixed with fresh vegetables and herbs, such as fresh mint leaves, cilantro, green onions, red onions, sweet tomatoes, and seedless cucumber. Then everything is soaked in a thrillingly spicy juice made of Thai chilies, fresh lime juice, fish sauce, and stevia.
19. Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cake)
Tod mun pla is a good choice for an appetizer. This fish cake is made from fresh fish mixed with lime leaves, Thai basil, and long beans. After it has been deep-fried, the fish cake will be served with a bowl of spicy, savory, and sweet Thai dipping sauce. The spicy dipping sauce is the soul of the dish. It normally contains chopped cucumbers, chilies, shallots, peanuts, sugar, fish sauce, and vinegar.
20. Poh Pia Tod (Thai Spring Rolls)
Thai spring rolls are made with ground pork, carrots, sliced cabbage, rice noodles, and onion all wrapped up in spring roll wrappers and fried until golden. The crunchy shell contains a good combination of fresh aromas, making the dish a great choice for an appetizer.
21. Banana Roti (Banana Pancake)
This is a lovely treat from street vendors that not many people can resist, even though it is not a low sugar option. A pancake is fried on both sides until it is golden and crispy with banana slices inside it. Then the whole crispy pancake is topped with condensed milk and sugar. Some people may add strawberries as well or replace the pancake filling with them.
22. Mah Hor (Galloping Horses)
A small snack that originated inside the royal palace is something you have to try. Mah hor is delicate, but richly flavored, and it is made with mandarin orange or pineapple and topped with pork, chicken, peanuts, sugar, peppercorns, and coriander. The result is a combination of sweet fruit with a savory topping, and the taste is hard to forget.
23. Khao Soi (Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Soup)
This is possibly the most famous northern Thai dish, especially in Chiang Mai where it was influenced by Burma. The noodles, made with wheat and eggs, are served inside a fragrant curry broth. On top, a lot of people like to add chunks of pickled vegetables and sliced shallots. A squeeze of lime completes the dish.
24. Sai Oua (Northern Thai Sausage)
This long sausage is easy to spot in Thai markets and at food vendors. Outside it has a red brown color, while inside it is golden with a little bit of green and yellow. Its prominent taste comes from lemongrass, kaffir lime, and galangal. It is usually made with pork and cooked on a grill, which adds a smoky flavor as a final touch.
25. Nam Prik Ong (Spicy Pork and Tomato Dip with Vegetables)
This dish is quite popular in northern Thailand. You will be served with a plate and a bowl. In the small bowl, you will find a thick dip made with sweet cherry tomato sauce and minced pork. The plate is full of raw slices of cabbage, long beans, okra, cauliflower, and eggplant. Some places serve it with fried pork crackling, boiled eggs, and Thai sausage.
The taste is garlicy, sweet, and usually a little bit spicy. It is a good change from the usual flavors, since it doesn’t make use of lemongrass, galangal, or soy sauce. It is perfect as appetizer.
26. Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw (Spicy Noodle Soup)
A soup noodle with a dark red broth cooked with beef or pork, and dried smoky chilies. Vegetables like cabbage, pickled mustard greens, bean sprouts, cilantro, and fried garlic are added to enrich the smoky and tangy flavor. It is a spicy dish, and the broth is a little oily. If you look carefully, you may find a particular version with pieces of stewed oxtail: extremely tender and extremely flavorful.
It also contains some unusual ingredients like the stamens of the dried red cotton tree flower and some dark red cubes made from blood.
27. Gaeng Som (Sour and Spicy Fish Curry)
This sour curry is a signature dish of southern Thailand, a soup so full of flavor that will wake up all your senses. The base is made of fish combined with curry paste and turmeric, which gives the dish its characteristic yellow color. It is usually cooked with bamboo shoots, green papaya, or pieces of pineapple.
28. Khua Kling (Thai Dry Meat Curry)
A dry curry made with a choice of pork, beef, or chicken. The meat will absorb a lot of the spices; it is injected with curry paste, chili, garlic, and lemongrass, and seasoned with kaffir lime leaves, resulting in little tender chunks of concentrated flavor.
29. Gaeng Sataw (Thai Stink Beans with Shrimp)
The main ingredient of gaeng sataw are a kind of stinky beans, extremely popular in southern Thailand. The beans are fried with shrimp paste and meat. Don’t be afraid of the smell; like durian, the smell and the taste are completely different. Ignore it and eat this delicious dish, focusing instead on the spiciness of the curry and the good taste of the beans.
30. Khao Yam (Southern Thai Rice Salad with Shrimp)
A fragrant rice salad with grated coconut, dry shredded shrimps and a lot of herbs (like kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, turmeric, etc.). The rice salad is mixed with all these ingredients and then dressed with a little bit of sweet fish sauce: a combination of flavors that will make you love this ubiquitous street food.
Tips to Ensure You Have the Best Thai Food Experience
1. Thai people prefer to cook with or add sugar in almost everything, so don’t forget to tell the waiter that you don’t want any sugar included if you are on a sugar-free diet.
2. There are so many popular Thai foods to try that you may get confused, so remember this: Thai soups, such as spicy shrimp soup, and Thai curries, are the best choices, so at least make sure you try those dishes.
3. From the northern and southern islands to the central plain, every region in Thailand has its own popular food, so the Thai dishes that are popular in Phuket won’t be exactly the same thing as those served in Chiang Mai.
4. Northern Thai food sets itself apart from the rest of the country due to the mountain vegetables, unusual ingredients, and unusual flavors. It is heavily influenced by China, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Vietnam.
5. Thai food in the south is strong and intense, with lots of spices and herbs. It is preferable to use seafood and coconut milk as part of the ingredients.
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