Thailand is a culinary paradise. The spectrum of spices in Thai food is vast, and the hot climate allows for the freshest and juiciest tropical fruits. In contrast to the western world, eating out is mostly cheap as well. That means you can sample food for each meal of the day and never feel bad about it. Besides, you’re not going to find a western-style supermarket easily, so you have every reason to dip into the local cuisine.
What Thai Food Is Best?
Of course, this guide is highly opinionated, but these are some of the best foods you’ll find in Thailand. And since you’ll be eating out a lot, we’ve got you covered for every meal of the day!
In Thailand, the distinction of breakfast and dinner dishes isn’t that clear. Usually, what is available at night is also available for breakfast. There’re a few dishes mostly reserved for the morning, though.
- Thai omelet (Khai Jiao): A Thai equivalent to toast and eggs would be Thai omelet on rice. While plain rice makes for a rather bland breakfast, the eggs are usually nice and spicy, and it’s crisp. Easy to get used to as a farang!
- Jok or Khao Tom: This one was a surprise for me! It doesn’t sound too delicious. Jok Moo is a rice porridge served with meatballs and ginger. You can also add ingredients like a soft boiled egg (soft means runny) or chili flakes. The consistency is pretty much like oatmeal. Very similar to Jok is Khao Tom, except it is more like rice soup. This one I like better, because of the consistency and its flavorful broth. But both are breakfast classics in Thailand.
- Sticky rice: This I can have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And as a midnight snack. Sticky rice, slightly sweet and cooked with coconut milk is available in black or white and dyed in every color of the rainbow. A famous Thai dessert is mango with sticky rice, which you can also have for breakfast. Also delicious is sticky rice with custard, although the consistency of egg custard isn’t for everyone. You can also have it plain, or a savory version with dried salmon and other flavors.
- Deep-fried pastries (Pa Thong Ko): Oh my, talk about an unhealthy breakfast! These little pastries are small Thai doughnuts, so what you get is little blobs of dripping, deep-fried sweet dough. They’re crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Need I say more?
I’d give steamed buns an honorary mention because they’re delicious and popular for breakfast, but they’re Chinese, so they didn’t make the list.
Lunch and dinner
- Papaya Salad (Som Tum): This can be a devious one! Sometimes it’s spicy, and sometimes it makes you cry. It can be insanely good in spite. In fact, Som Tum can be the most well-composed, yet simple Thai food out there. A must try – maybe without the chillis!
- Tom Kha Gai (and Tom Kha Goong) Soup: This is a deliciously creamy soup, with either chicken ( Tom Kha Gai) or Shrimp (Tom Kha Goong), It’s made with coconut milk, lime and ginger and a heap full of other aromatic spices. This one is great for lunch because it’s pretty light.
- Thai Curry: Thai curry varies quite a lot from its Indian version and contains heaps of fresh herbs and indistinct, yet delicious spices! It can vary from green to red, and from mild to tongue-blistering spicy.
- Chicken with Cashew Nuts (Kai Med Ma Muang): The best food in the world, if you ask me. There’re many versions, with veggies, without veggies, with different condiments depending on where you are. But it’s always yum!
- Thai Satay: Initially you’d think Satay is Satay, wherever in the world you are. But the marinade in Thailand is just slightly different, much more intense and tangy. And they are often just perfectly tender!
Well, this list wouldn’t be complete without Pad Thai, would it? It’s so much of a classic that I assumed it as a given, so no need to give a special mention.
Snacks and Desserts
Now, no matter if you’re a sweet tooth or not, you’ll want to try these. While fatty and sugary, the fact that they often contain pretty natural ingredients just makes them so much better than every other dessert in the world!
- Khao Lam (Bamboo Sticky Rice): It’s a strange experience arriving here and finding so many foods in natural wrappers, like banana leaves and bamboo sticks. Can you eat them? No, you rather not. It still adds an interesting and sometimes mouth-watering flavor to the Thai food, though. This dessert consists of sticky rice stuffed with bamboo sticks and then slowly roasted. Yum!
- Pumpkin filled with custard (Sangkaya): I’m not usually very fond of the Thai custard, but this is the creamiest thing you’ll ever eat in your life. The custard and pumpkin just melt away in your mouth.
- Pancakes: If you think pancakes are western food, re-evaluate. The classic Thai version contains coconut or condensed milk. Thai pancakes are often small discs of fluffy, golden-brown dough topped with melted butter and some syrup or honey.
- Fried bananas (Gluay Kaek): Crunchy, sweet, fruity goodness. I think the name says it already.
- Coconut ice cream: Perfectly creamy and sweet, and served in a coconut shell. It often comes with a side of sticky rice, Thai jellies or roasted peanuts, but can also be complemented with sprinkles or pumpkin.
It was tempting to mention mango with sticky rice, again. The abundance of Thai desserts is crazy! Besides these, there are also some quite sugary and brightly colored creations. The problem is, I didn’t know and will probably never know what I ate there and what was in them, so they didn’t make the list.
What are your favorite Thai dishes?
Alright, that was only a fraction of the rich and diverse Thai cuisine. There are so many other dishes that deserve to be on this list, but we can’t have them all. Next time you’re in Thailand, be sure to try these. What is your favorite Thai food? Let us know in the comments!