Thailand Food

Food in Thailand - popular Thai dishes you should definitely try

Administrator 03.10.2023
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Food in Thailand - popular Thai dishes you should definitely try
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Thai cuisine - is there any other place that so subtly combines flavors in a harmonious dance of spicy, sour, sweet and salty in every bite? It's not just about the searing chili or the aromatic herbs. It's about the heart and soul that locals put into each dish, setting Thai cuisine apart on the world gastronomic stage.

Let's dive deeper - check out this list of the most popular Thai dishes you can (or should) try on your trip to Thailand.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai, often considered the "hallmark" of Thai cuisine, is a fried noodle dish known and loved by many people around the world.

It is the best manifestation of Thai gastronomic traditions - a harmonious combination of sweet, salty and sour flavors. It is based on rice noodles fried with tofu or shrimp, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic and a sprinkle of palm sugar. A garnish of crushed peanuts, lime wedges and fresh herbs completes the dish.

Ingredients:

  • Rice noodles
  • Tamarind pulp
  • Fish sauce
  • Palm sugar
  • Eggs
  • Fresh shrimp or tofu
  • Bean sprouts
  • Garlic
  • Chili
  • Ground peanuts
  • Lime slices
  • Fresh coriander

Although shrimp and tofu are commonly used, Pad Thai can be found with chicken, pork or even beef. In some variations, based on regional preferences or dietary requirements, additional vegetables can be added or certain ingredients can be omitted.

The origin of Pad Thai is a combination of politics and culinary evolution. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Thailand faced economic hardship. To strengthen the sense of national identity and reduce rice consumption, the government promoted rice noodles and introduced this dish.

Tom Yum Goong

This delightful dish is a spicy and sour Thai soup that is usually made with shrimp and seafood. It tastes as tantalizing as it is flavorful.

Tom Yam Goong is a reflection of Thailand's aquatic abundance and the country's penchant for combining contrasting flavors. Its origins are believed to be in central Thailand, but it has since become popular around the world.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh shrimp
  • Lemongrass
  • Galangal (a relative of ginger)
  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Bird's eye chili
  • Fish sauce
  • Lime juice
  • Mushrooms

A broth with a searing, spicy flavor is the hallmark of Tom Yam Goong. Popular tourist areas make a less spicy soup - it's best to check with the waiter at the restaurant before ordering. The soup contains a number of medicinal herbs and spices, making it a favorite not only for its taste, but also for its health benefits.

Sometimes coconut milk is added to it for a creamier version called Tom Yum Goong Nam Khon. There are also variants with other meats, such as chicken (Tom Yum Gai).

Kaeng Lueang

Known as "yellow curry", Kaeng Lueang is a flavorful Thai dish that is quite different from the better known green and red curries. Originating in the southern regions of Thailand, Kaeng Lueang has been influenced by both local flavors and neighboring countries, especially Malaysia.

Kaeng Lueang is characterized by a sour and spicy broth. It usually includes fish or shrimp, complemented with vegetables and flavored with fermented fish sauce or shrimp paste.

Ingredients:

  • Fish or shrimp
  • Turmeric
  • Bird's eye chili
  • Tamarind juice
  • Shrimp paste or fermented fish sauce
  • Seasonal vegetables such as bamboo shoots or papaya

The type of fish or seafood can vary, and in vegetarian versions, fish is substituted for tofu or mushrooms, allowing this dish to be used for a variety of dietary preferences.

Gaeng Daeng

Gaeng Daeng, known as "red curry", is a richly flavored dish that is both creamy and spicy. The dish has a deep red hue, which is due to the use of dried red chilies. It is a mixture of succulent meat (most often chicken, beef or duck) stewed in coconut milk and seasoned with various spices.

Ingredients:

  • Coconut milk
  • Meat of choice (chicken, beef or duck)
  • Red curry paste (a mixture of dried red chilies, garlic, lemongrass, shallots, galangal, etc).
  • Fish sauce
  • Palm sugar
  • Thai basil
  • Kaffir lime leaves

The choice of protein part can be varied: some variations can use tofu for vegetarians or shrimp for seafood lovers.

The red curry, which uses coconut milk and a paste of various ingredients, reflects Thailand's tropical abundance and its history of trade that brought various spices to the region.

Khao Soi

Dive into Northern Thailand, and you'll find that on many tables is the flavorful and rich Khao Soi soup. It's a noodle soup whose history is as multifaceted as its flavors. It is thought to be influenced by Burmese cuisine, but the history of Khao Soi dates back to the trade routes connecting Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, and brings together a mix of cultures and flavors.

Soft wheat or egg noodles in a curry sauce flavored with coconut milk, garnished with crispy fried noodles. The spiciness of the curry blends perfectly with the subtle sweetness of the coconut.

Ingredients:

  • Egg noodles
  • Chicken or beef
  • Coconut milk
  • Red curry paste
  • Soy sauce
  • Shallots
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Lime slices for serving

Although chicken meat is the most common option, there are often beef and even tofu options. Some variations may use different types of noodles depending on regional preferences.

Khao Pad

Khao Pad, which translates to "fried rice", is a versatile dish that can be found in almost every Thai restaurant around the world. Fried rice as a concept is a staple dish throughout Asia, but each region brings its own unique twist to it. Khao Pad is a Thai version influenced by Chinese immigrants but adapted to Thai flavors.

Ingredients:

  • Jasmine rice
  • Protein (chicken, pork, beef, shrimp)
  • Eggs
  • Soy sauce
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Cucumber slices for garnish

At its core, Khao Pad is fried rice, often with a protein - chicken, pork, beef or shrimp - seasoned with soy sauce, garlic and perhaps chili. It is often accompanied by slices of cucumber and tomato. Although the base is the same, you can find Khao Pad with pineapple, crab or even in a vegetarian version with tofu and various vegetables.

Pad Kra Pao Moo

The name of this Thai dish may be perplexing, but its taste is very simple - spicy, flavorful and addictive. This dish, because of its simplicity and exuberance of flavor, has become a favorite street and home food throughout Thailand.

Ingredients:

  • Ground pork
  • Holy basil leaves
  • Bird's eye chili
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Garlic
  • Sugar

Pad Kra Pao Mu is minced pork stir-fried with holy basil (kra pao), which gives the dish a flavor enhanced by the stinging chili peppers. Chicken or beef can be used instead of pork, depending on preference. The degree of spiciness can be adjusted, but traditionally it is very strong!

Som Tam

Som Tam is a refreshing symphony of flavors and textures. Often referred to as "spicy green papaya salad", it is one of the staple dishes of northeastern Thailand. Som Tam originated in the Isaan region of northeastern Thailand, but has already gained popularity throughout the country and beyond.

Crunchy shredded green papaya mixes with a spicy, tart, sweet and salty dressing to create a bright and flavorful salad that is both refreshing and searing.

Ingredients:

  • Green papaya, chopped
  • Bird's Eye Chili
  • Garlic
  • Tomatoes
  • Long beans
  • Fish sauce
  • Lime juice
  • Palm sugar
  • Dried shrimp (optional)

There are many variations, including Som Tam Thai (with peanuts), Som Tam Boo (with crab), Som Tam Lao (with fermented fish sauce).

Laab

Laab, also spelled Larb, is a "meat salad" native to the northeastern region of Thailand and Laos. Although it is a dish common to Thailand and Laos, laab has made its way into Thai cuisine, especially in the Isaan region.

Ingredients:

  • Ground meat (pork, chicken or beef)
  • Lime juice
  • Fish sauce
  • Fried polished rice
  • Mint leaves
  • Cilantro
  • Green onions

This dish is finely chopped meat, usually pork, chicken or beef, seasoned with a mixture of lime juice, fish sauce, fried polished rice and herbs. In addition to the various meat options, there is also a duck version. The degree of spiciness can be adjusted to taste.

Khao Pad Sapparod

Translated, this dish means "Pineapple Fried Rice" and it is as exotic as it sounds. Although fried rice is common throughout Asia, Khao Pad Sapparod with its pineapple twist captures the tropical essence of Thailand in the best way possible.

Ingredients:

  • Jasmine rice
  • Fresh pineapple
  • Shrimp and chicken
  • Roasted cashews
  • Raisins
  • Fish sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Curry powder

Imagine flavorful jasmine rice stir-fried with chunks of juicy pineapple, succulent shrimp and chicken, sprinkled with roasted cashews and raisins. This dish is often served in a plate of half a whole pineapple. It is a delightful combination of sweet, salty and slightly tart. Vegetarian lovers - rejoice! There is a vegetarian version with the addition of various vegetables such as bell peppers and carrots.

Gaeng Keow Wan Gai

This is an authentic Thai curry with a green hue and intense flavor, aptly named Green Chicken Curry. Although the exact origin of this dish is disputed, it is believed to have been influenced by Indian curry and adapted over the centuries to local ingredients and flavors.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Green curry paste
  • Coconut milk
  • Thai eggplant
  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Basil leaves
  • Fish sauce
  • Palm sugar

This is a bright green broth, creamy from coconut milk, with tender pieces of chicken and Thai eggplant. While chicken meat is the most popular option, beef, pork, shrimp, and even tofu are not uncommon, and vegetables can be added for extra flavor. The degree of spiciness can also be altered depending on preference.

Gai Pad Med Ma Muang

Gai Pad Med Ma Muang

If you are partial to cashews, then Gai Pad Med Ma Muang or Chicken with Cashew Nuts is your ticket to Thai culinary heaven. Despite the influence of Chinese cuisine, this dish has been thoroughly refined in Thai style using local ingredients and flavors.

The dish includes:

  • Chicken
  • Cashew nuts
  • Bell peppers
  • Onions
  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Dried chili

Oven-roasted chicken, crunchy cashew nuts, sweet bell peppers and onions are sauteed in a tangy sauce. It's a whole combination of textures and flavors. In some versions, you can add mushrooms or corn for extra crunch.

Gaeng Panang Gai

Panang Curry with Chicken is a Thai curry that has the perfect combination of spiciness and creamy coconut richness. Its name "Panang" comes from the island of Penang in North Malaysia, indicating a possible shared heritage.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Panang curry paste
  • Coconut milk
  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Fish sauce
  • Palm sugar

Thicker than its green and red relatives, Gaeng Panang is a rich, slightly sweet and spicy curry garnished with succulent pieces of chicken. Beef or pork can be used in place of chicken, with each option bringing its own unique character to the dish.

Pad See Ew

One of Thailand's favorite noodle dishes, Pad See Ew translates to "fried with soy sauce", a name that directly reflects the specialty of this dish. Originating from Chinese immigrants, Pad See Ew was later adapted by locals and incorporated Thai flavors.

Ingredients:

  • Flat rice noodles
  • Protein (chicken, beef or tofu)
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Regular soy sauce
  • Garlic
  • Eggs

Thick, flat rice noodles are stir-fried with meat - usually chicken or beef, Chinese broccoli and a salty-sweet sauce, resulting in a hearty and flavorful dish. Despite the popularity of beef and chicken, tofu gives this delicacy a delicious vegetarian twist.

Khao Niao Mamuang

To end on a sweet note, let's get to know Khao Niao Mamuang. Affectionately called Mango Sticky Rice, this dessert is a sweet treat that perfectly incorporates Thai culinary excellence. As a country teeming with mangoes, it's no wonder that Thailand is the birthplace of this iconic dessert that has garnered universal acclaim.

Ingredients:

  • Sticky rice
  • Ripe mango
  • Coconut milk
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Toasted mung beans or sesame seeds (for garnish)

Khao Niao Mamuang combines sweet sticky rice with ripe, juicy mango pieces drizzled with a creamy coconut sauce. Oddly enough, the coconut sauce is made slightly salty - this brings out its flavor and pairs very well with the sweet mango. Although the basic recipe remains pretty much the same, some variations can be added, for example, coconut ice cream for more fun.

Banana Roti

Roti may have originated in India, but Banana Roti is a distinctly Thai dessert. Imported by Indian and Muslim traders, roti was adopted and developed in Thailand, leading to sweet innovations such as banana roti.

Soft, flaky tortillas are filled with slices of ripe banana, deep-fried, and then drizzled with sweet condensed milk, chocolate topping, or Nutella. Apart from bananas, you can add all sorts of toppings to roti - chocolate, eggs, cheese. Personally, I like the version with egg and banana inside and chocolate syrup on the outside.

Here we come to the end of our journey through the iconic dishes of Thai cuisine. Each dish tells a different story, from the bustling street markets of Bangkok to the serene beaches of Phuket. Are you ready to embark on your own culinary journey and try one of these delicious dishes?

Questions and answers

Which Thai dish is considered the most iconic?

Although they are all special, Pad Thai is often seen as the poster child of Thai cuisine. Probably competing with it in some countries is Tom Yum soup.

How has Thai cuisine been influenced by neighboring countries?

Dishes such as Khao Soi originate from Myanmar, while others have been influenced by China, India and Malaysia, demonstrating the cultural melting pot that is Thailand.

I am a vegetarian. What dishes can be eaten without meat?

Most Thai dishes, including pad thai, gaeng daeng and khao pad, can be made vegetarian by replacing meat with tofu and using soy sauce instead of fish sauce.

Which dish is good for those who don't like it too spicy?

Khao Niao Mamuang is a sweet dish and a win-win option. As for salty dishes, Khao Pad is a milder dish than most others.

What makes Thai cuisine so delicious?

It is the masterful balance of different flavors, fresh ingredients, and the combination of herbs and spices that give Thai cuisine its distinctive taste.