9 AWESOME Thai Dishes You Must Try in 2023
Known for having some of the best cuisine on the planet, Thailand is home to over 300 dishes that are divided amongst 5 distinct regional styles (Bangkok, Central Thai, Isaan, Northern Thai, and Southern Thai).
Navigating through this dizzying array of food choices can be difficult for first-time visitors to the Kingdom, so we put together a curated list of 9 must-try Thai foods in order to help you narrow down your choices while traveling.
As a tropical fruit you’ve probably never heard of, Cempedak tastes like a durian crossed with an overripe jackfruit. Its aroma is slightly pungent (like a musty mango) but when eaten, it’s literally heaven at first bite.
Thais along with their neighbors in Malaysia and Indonesia, love eating Cempedak fried due to its crispy exterior and soft, warm inside that harbors an intensely sweet and luscious flavor. Furthermore, the seed can be eaten when cooked which adds a mild-nutty taste to the mix.
To try 3 pieces of deep-fried Cempedak, it’ll only set you back 20 baht.
*the best place to eat this dish: Khao Sok in Surat Thani.
A culinary classic within Thailand, Kaeng Som (แกงส้ม) is an authentic “spicy and sour curry” with a lingering tanginess that’s derived from its tamarind, shallot, and krachai khao base.
Throughout the Kingdom, Kaeng Som is found everywhere as hundreds of variations exist. At its core, the curry is made from a simple chili paste that’s dissolved in a salty broth and then simmered with snakehead or seabass along with local vegetables. Unlike most Thai curries, there’s no coconut milk in this soup to balance out the heat which makes it super spicy.
A bowl of Kaeng Som typically costs 50-80 baht depending on your choice of fish.
*the best place to eat this dish: Thale Noi in Phatthalung.
if you love sticky rice, eggs, and grilled food, then Khao Jee Joom Kai will be an incredible sight to your eyes. Aptly referred to as grilled sticky rice, this popular Isaan street food dish can be found all over Thailand – particularly at night markets.
Grilled over a bed of charcoal, the exterior has a great crunch that when paired with the egg, adds so much texture and flavor to the sticky rice. When taking a bite, you’ll be greeted by a warm, fluffy and chewy center that’s highly addictive and surprisingly satiating.
Each skewer typically costs 10 baht and is grilled-to-order.
*the best place to eat this dish: Nong Khai in Isaan.
With an umami-rich broth, Kuay Teaw Ped Toon (aka Thai duck noodle soup) is undoubtedly Thailand’s most flavorful noodle dish – cinnamon, star arise, galangal, coriander, peppercorn, and a myriad of spices are the foundation of its aromatic base.
As for the duck, it’s traditionally braised in a soy broth known as palo, which leaves the skin soft and succulent while the juicy meat almost falls off the bone with any minor movement.
For 50-70 baht, a bowl of Kuay Teaw Ped Toon can be found at small eateries within the Chinese neighborhoods of any provincial Thai city.
*the best place to eat this dish: Songkhla Old Town.
For adventurous stomachs, Silkworm pupae is a traditional delicacy in northeastern Thailand, where they are stir fried with kaffir leaves and sold as street food.
Taste wise, the flesh inside the soft outer-shell is relatively tasteless, similar to firm bean curd. Consistency wise, when you bite down on a pupae it’ll pop juicily in your mouth. An acquired taste? Absolutely, but it’s actually an environmentally-conscious delicacy.
Silkworms are one of the two most widely domesticated insects (the other is the bee). This might just make silkworms the most benign domesticated food source in the world. For 20 baht, you can try a spoonful of these critters at most local night markets around Thailand.
*the best place to eat this dish: Bueng Kan in Isaan.
As a popular breakfast snack across Thailand, Khanom Krok (ขนมครก) is a savory and slightly-sweet coconut pudding.
The main ingredients that make up this underrated Thai dish are: fresh coconut milk, rice flour, and palm sugar. Traditionally, Khanom Krok is cooked in a cast-iron pan over burning charcoals, but nowadays most hawkers just use modern gas burners.
Consistency wise, these tasty treats are crispy on the bottom while being warm and creamy in the middle. Ultimately, the balance of those textures is what makes Khanom Krok truly special. A set of 5 typically costs 20 baht and is served in a folded banana leaf.
*the best place to eat this dish: Loei in Isaan.
When cooked right, a Thai-style Egg and Cheese Roti is famous for its crispy texture with fluffy eggs and oozy cheese to soak up the trail of condensed milk drizzled on top.
While the Banana Roti is arguably Thailand’s most popular dessert, the Egg and Cheese Roti is a better option for individual’s that want a non-sweet version that can also be eaten with curry.
With a typical price from around 40 Baht per roti, it’s a cheap and easy way to get a quick snack on the go. To purchase this absolutely delicious dish, you can easily find a roti stall set up along the side of a town’s main road during the evening.
*the best place to eat this dish: Koh Lanta in Krabi.
Considered a staple dish throughout Thailand, Khanom Chin (ขนมจีน) is a bowl of fermented rice vermicelli that’s served with an assortment of curries and vegetables.
Traditionally, the noodles are made from rice flour that’s been soaked and fermented for several days, then strained and kneaded through a complex and time-intensive process. As a dish that originated with the Mon peoples, Khanom Chin’s history dates back to ancient times – there are even canals in Ayutthaya named after this dish!
When in Thailand, trying Khanom Chin should be considered a “rite of passage” for visitors to the Kingdom. A typical bowl of goodness costs 20-30 baht each.
*the best place to eat this dish: Khanom Beach in Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Saving the best for last, Kluay Tod (กล้วยทอด) is an incredibly popular Thai street food that fills the bellies of millions of Thai people every single day.
Made from ripe Burro bananas that have been dipped into a batter of rice flour and then deep fried to a golden crisp, Kluay Tod’s taste is slightly-sweet, crunchy, and over-the-top delicious. Some vendors even add-in grated coconut, white sesame seeds, and freshly-roasted Tiger peanuts to pack-in even more flavor.
For a mere 20 baht, you’ll get a handful of delicious fried bananas. To try this Thai street food dish, you’ll need to scour morning markets before 11:00am (these stalls always sell out before lunch time, so get there early).
*the best place to eat this dish: Chiang Khan in Loei.
Thai cuisine has a rich and diverse history that has been influenced by various cultures and civilizations throughout the centuries. The development of Thai food can be attributed to a combination of indigenous cooking techniques, regional flavors, and external influences.
Early Thai Cuisine: Thai cuisine has its roots in the indigenous cooking practices of the people who lived in the region that is now known as Thailand. These early Thai communities relied on local resources such as rice, fish, herbs, and tropical fruits. The cooking methods included grilling, boiling, and steaming.
External Influences: Over time, Thai cuisine was shaped by cultural exchanges and influences from neighboring countries. Indian, Chinese, and Southeast Asian traders and immigrants introduced new ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques. For example, Indian traders brought curries and spices, while Chinese immigrants introduced stir-frying and the use of noodles.
Royal Cuisine: The refinement and sophistication of Thai cuisine can be attributed to the influence of the royal court. Thai kings in various historical periods promoted the development of a distinctive culinary style known as “Royal Thai Cuisine.” This cuisine emphasized intricate preparation, artistic presentation, and a harmonious balance of flavors.
Regional Diversity: Thailand’s regional diversity also plays a significant role in Thai cuisine. Each region has its own distinct culinary traditions and flavors. For example, the northern region of Thailand, influenced by Burmese and Lao cuisines, is known for its mild and earthy flavors. The southern region, influenced by Malay and Indian cuisines, is characterized by spicy and flavorful dishes.
Key Ingredients and Flavors: Thai cuisine is known for its vibrant flavors and the skillful use of ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, lime, chili peppers, coconut milk, fish sauce, and fresh herbs like cilantro and Thai basil. These ingredients contribute to the unique balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors that define Thai food.
Street Food Culture: Thailand is renowned for its vibrant street food culture, where vendors sell an array of delicious and affordable dishes. Street food has become an integral part of Thai culinary heritage and offers an opportunity to experience a wide variety of traditional and regional specialties.
Overall, Thai cuisine is a result of a fascinating blend of historical, cultural, and regional influences. Its diverse flavors, use of fresh ingredients, and culinary traditions continue to make it popular both within Thailand and around the world.
Thai food can offer a range of healthy options, but it ultimately depends on the specific dishes and ingredients involved. Traditional Thai cuisine incorporates a variety of fresh herbs, vegetables, lean proteins, and aromatic spices, which can contribute to a balanced and nutritious meal.
Some healthy elements commonly found in Thai cuisine include:
Vegetables: Thai dishes often feature a generous amount of vegetables, such as broccoli, bok choy, Thai basil, and bell peppers, which provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Lean Proteins: Thai cuisine includes a variety of protein sources like fish, chicken, tofu, and seafood. These lean protein options can be a healthy addition to your diet.
Herbs and Spices: Thai food utilizes herbs like lemongrass, cilantro, and galangal, as well as spices like turmeric and chili peppers. These ingredients can have health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
However, it’s important to note that some Thai dishes may contain ingredients high in sodium, sugar, or unhealthy fats. Popular dishes like Pad Thai or curries may have added oils, sugars, or high-sodium sauces, which can affect their overall healthiness.
When enjoying Thai food, it’s advisable to make informed choices. Opt for grilled or steamed dishes instead of fried ones, choose dishes with more vegetables and lean proteins, and be mindful of portion sizes. Additionally, communicating your preferences to the restaurant staff can help ensure that the dish is prepared to your dietary preferences.
Ultimately, Thai cuisine can be a healthy choice when selected wisely, emphasizing nutrient-rich ingredients and mindful preparation methods.
Thai street food is a beloved aspect of the country’s culinary culture and is enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike. In general, Thai street food is considered safe to eat, and many people find it to be a delightful and authentic dining experience. However, it’s important to take certain precautions to ensure food safety and minimize the risk of any potential health issues. Below are some guidelines to follow:
Choose Busy Stalls: Opt for street food stalls that have a high turnover of customers. A bustling stall indicates that the food is freshly prepared, and ingredients are likely to be replenished frequently.
Observe Food Handling: Take a moment to observe the food handling practices of the vendors. Look for cleanliness in their preparation area, as well as hygienic practices like wearing gloves or using utensils to handle food.
Cooked-to-Order: Whenever possible, choose dishes that are cooked-to-order and served piping hot. High cooking temperatures help kill bacteria and other pathogens.
Fresh Ingredients: Pay attention to the freshness of ingredients. Look for stalls that use fresh produce, meats, and seafood.
Clean Eating Utensils: Ensure that the utensils and plates used for serving are clean. If you’re concerned, you can carry your own utensils or use disposable ones.
Build Up Gradually: If you’re new to street food or have a sensitive stomach, it may be wise to gradually introduce your system to local cuisine. Start with well-cooked and familiar dishes before trying more exotic options.
Water and Beverages: Be cautious about consuming tap water. Stick to bottled water or opt for sealed beverages to prevent any potential waterborne illnesses.
Trust Your Instincts: If a stall or food item doesn’t look or smell right, it’s best to avoid it. Trust your instincts and choose stalls that appear clean and reputable.
By following these precautions, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with consuming street food and enjoy the flavors and authenticity of Thai street cuisine.
Thai food is renowned for its deliciousness due to several key factors that contribute to its unique and flavorful appeal:
Harmonious Balance of Flavors: Thai cuisine is known for its exquisite balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors. Each dish strives to achieve a harmonious combination of these taste elements, creating a multidimensional flavor profile that tantalizes the taste buds.
Vibrant and Fresh Ingredients: Thai cooking emphasizes the use of fresh and high-quality ingredients. The abundant use of aromatic herbs, such as lemongrass, galangal, basil, and cilantro, imparts intense and fragrant flavors to the dishes. The inclusion of vibrant vegetables, tropical fruits, and seafood further enhances the overall taste and visual appeal of Thai food.
Aromatic Spices and Pastes: Thai cuisine employs a variety of aromatic spices and pastes, such as chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and turmeric. These ingredients infuse the dishes with complex and enticing flavors that contribute to their overall deliciousness.
Skilled Preparation Techniques: Thai cuisine encompasses a range of preparation methods, including stir-frying, grilling, steaming, and curry-making. Each technique is executed with skill and precision to maximize the flavors and textures of the ingredients, resulting in mouthwatering dishes.
Culinary Diversity: Thailand’s regional diversity and cultural influences contribute to the vast array of flavors found in Thai cuisine. From the bold and fiery dishes of the Northeastern region (Isan) to the milder and coconut-infused curries of the Southern region, Thai food offers a wide range of taste experiences.
Attention to Presentation: Thai dishes are often visually stunning, with attention given to the presentation and garnishing of each plate. The vibrant colors, careful arrangement of ingredients, and artistic use of herbs and spices make Thai food visually appealing, enhancing the overall dining experience.
These factors collectively contribute to the deliciousness of Thai food, making it an internationally celebrated cuisine that has captured the hearts and palates of food enthusiasts worldwide.
Thai cuisine relies on a variety of ingredients that contribute to its distinct flavors and aromas. Here are some of the most common ingredients found in Thai cooking:
Rice: Rice is a staple in Thai cuisine, and jasmine rice is the most commonly used variety. It is served as a side dish or forms the base of many Thai dishes.
Fish Sauce (Nam Pla): Fish sauce is a key ingredient in Thai cooking, adding a salty and savory element to dishes. It is made from fermented fish and is used as a seasoning and flavor enhancer.
Coconut Milk: Coconut milk is widely used in Thai curries, soups, and desserts. It adds a creamy texture and a subtle sweetness to dishes.
Thai Chili Peppers: Thai cuisine is known for its spiciness, and Thai chili peppers play a vital role in achieving that heat. They are used in various forms, either fresh, dried, or in the form of chili paste or sauces.
Lemongrass (Takrai): Lemongrass is a fragrant herb used in Thai cuisine for its citrusy flavor. It is often pounded or sliced and added to soups, curries, and stir-fries.
Galangal (Kha): Galangal is a rhizome similar to ginger but with a distinct flavor. It is a common ingredient in Thai curries and soups, providing a slightly spicy and aromatic taste.
Kaffir Lime Leaves: Kaffir lime leaves have a strong citrus fragrance and are used to add a distinctive flavor to Thai dishes. They are often torn or finely sliced and added to curries, stir-fries, and soups.
Thai Basil: Thai basil has a sweet and slightly peppery taste. It is commonly used in stir-fries, curries, and noodle dishes to add an aromatic and fresh herbal flavor.
Coriander (Cilantro): Coriander leaves and roots are widely used in Thai cuisine as a garnish and flavoring agent. The leaves provide a fresh and citrusy taste, while the roots are often used in curry pastes.
Shrimp Paste (Kapi): Shrimp paste is a fermented paste made from ground shrimp. It adds a deep umami flavor to many Thai dishes and is an essential ingredient in Thai curry pastes.
These ingredients, along with a wide variety of vegetables, meats, and spices, contribute to the rich and diverse flavors of Thai cuisine. The combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy tastes creates the distinctive and delicious taste that Thai food is known for.