Eat Your Way Around Thailand – 10 Best Foods To Try

By | July 22, 2011 at 10:40 pm | 36 comments | Foodie Travel, Jade, Thailand | Tags: , ,

By Jade Johnston

Best Thai Food To Try

One of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is eating. It’s true. Trying new dishes and buying unfamiliar foods from markets is one of the most hands on way to explore a new place. You can even relive some of the travel experience at home by trying new ethnic foods from far away countries.

From this point of view – Thailand has it all. Exotic sights and flavours make Thailand an excellent foodie destination. Street food is cheap and often just as good of quality as restaurant food, almost everything is made with simple and fresh ingredients, and it is even easy to find vegetarian options (if you can let the ubiquitous fish sauce slide).

So without further adieu, here is my top 10 foods to try in Thailand (or at your local Thai restaurant).

1) Pad Thai

Pad Thai - Creative Commons by avlxyz

Pad thai is one of Thailand’s national dishes and can be found at any Thai restaurant, or from any number of street vendors in Thailand. It is a filling combination of rice noodles, vegetables, meat or tofu, egg, sauces and spices. The fresh ingredients are combined together and then stir fried in a large wok – usually one portion at a time. The result is an incredibly fresh meal which is easily altered to suit vegetarians.

When perusing the night markets in Bangkok, the local pad thai vendor is always a great place to take a break and feast on the sights and smells of Thailand.

2) Mango Sticky Rice

Mango Sticky Rice - Creative Commons by stu_spivack

One of my personal absolute favourites – the dessert, mango sticky rice! This dish left such an impression upon me that I seek it out at every Thai restaurant back home. Sticky rice is a short grained rice that sticks together when cooked. It is great for making into bite sized balls and then dipping into your favourite sauce. But it is even better when cooked with sweet coconut milk, topped with fresh ripe mango, and drizzled with even more sweetened coconut milk.

After my first encounter with mango sticky rice at a market in Bangkok, it became my personal everyday mission to find more of it.

3) Papaya Salad

Papaya Salad - Creative Commons by ken2754@Yokohama

Papaya salad is one of the quickest street foods to make from scratch, and you don’t get any more fresher than this! The salad combines the four main tastes of Thai food – salty fish sauce, sweet palm sugar, hot chili, and sour lime. Upon ordering papaya salad, the cook will combineĀ  shredded unripened papaya, tomatoes, chili, palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice into a large mortar. The cook will then lightly crush the ingredient together with a pestle, releasing all the flavours.

Since each salad is made fresh and in front of the customer’s eyes, this is one of the easiest Thai dishes to fully customize to your specifications.

4) Fresh Spring Rolls

Fresh Spring Rolls - Creative Commons by VirtualErn

Thailand was my first encounter with fresh spring rolls. In the west, the most common variety of spring rolls are the deep fried variety. Fresh spring rolls consist of finely chopped raw vegetables, combined with fresh shredded herbs, and occasionally shrimp (it is possibly to get tofu instead), wrapped together in a sheet of rice paper and served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

I first tried these in a market in Bangkok ( I tried most things for the first time in Bangkok, as it was the first Thai city I visited) and since that first experience would often seek them out as a healthy and light breakfast. These spring rolls are also very easy to make at home. I often serve them as an alternative to salad or take them along to picnics. You can find rice paper in most supermarkets in the Asian foods aisle.

5) Panang Curry

Panang Curry - Creative Commons by jeffgunn

Panang curry is a Thai adaptation of a similar curry from Malaysia. This curry combines the flavours of lemon grass, galangal, cumin, and coriander with of course, chili. The only liquid added to this curry is coconut milk, which produces and very rich and filling curry. It is most commonly prepared with beef, but an easy vegetarian option is to ask for tofu instead.

6) Red or Green Curry

Red Thai Curry - Creative Commons by stevendepolo

Red and green curry are the two main curry options in Thailand. Green curry is typically sweeter than the more spicy red curry. Green curry is typically made with aubergine, pea aubergine, coconut milk, and keffir lime leaves which are combined with the green curry paste. Red curry is typically made with lemon grass, galangal, Thai aubergine, and bamboo shoots. Both curries are made with fish sauce, which may make them unsuitable for strict vegetarians. From my experience in Thailand, trying to communicate “no fish sauce” is an almost impossible task, as the idea of not using fish sauce is bewildering to most Thais. But for those vegetarians who are not too strict, both curries can be easily made with tofu instead of meat.

7) Tom Yum Soup

Tom Yum Soup - Creative Commons by avlxyz

Tom yum soup is definitely yum indeed. It combines hot and sour flavours, with fragrant herbs and fresh vegetables. Stalks of lemon grass, galangal, keffir lime leaves, and chili are typical flavours to encounter. The soup is typically made with fish or chicken, but as with all other Thai food, it is usually not difficult to have tofu substituted instead. The lack of coconut milk in this dish makes it a much lighter alternative to other Thai dishes.

8 ) Singha

Singha Beer - Creative Commons by Kullez

The Singha is a mystical lion, found in ancient Hindu and Thai stories, and the symbol used for Thailand’s most popular lager. Singha is produced exclusively in Thailand, and it is also Thailand’s main exported beer as well. It has recently been challenged by Beer Chang, who is proving to be a worthy rival. No holiday to Thailand is complete without a sampling of these two beers.

9) Deep fried crickets

Deep Fried Crickets - Creative Commons by mckaysavage

Definitely not for the faint of heart – or stomach. Or if crickets don’t suit your particular palette, how about deep fried ant eggs? Or grasshoppers, or silk worm? All of these can be found in Thai markets, or food vendors. Nothing can get the stomach rumbling (or churning) when the mobile cricket cart passes by. Apparently, the insects are actually rather bland when deep fried, which is why your insect purchase will include a variety of dipping sauces.

Thankfully, I was able to hide behind the vegetarian excuse, and therefore had a very good reason to avoid trying these local delicacies.

10) Laap

Laap - Creative Commons by mariachily

Laap is actually the national dish of Laos, but I am including it here because many Thai restaurants in the Western world also offer Laap as an option (another spelling variation is “Larb”)

Laap is a meat salad and it is traditionally eaten raw. Laap is typically made with either beef, fish, duck, pork, or chicken and is flavoured with lime juice, mint, coriander, and chili. It is served with lettuce on the side, and the lettuce is used to wrap up the laap for eating.

Due to health considerations, chicken laap is now almost always served cooked, and all varieties of laap can be cooked upon request. It is also possible to make laap at home using tvp or tofu as a substitute.

Bonn Appetite!

About the Author

Jade Johnston

Jade is a freelance travel writer from Manitoba Canada. She loves travel and meeting new people has lived in 6 countries and travelled to more than 30. She prefers to travel slowly - taking overland transit or working/ volunteering in the countries she visits. Her motto is that she might never return to this place again, so she has to try to soak up as much as possible. To learn more about the OurOyster project, Google + : Jade Johnston's Google You can also shoot her an email at jade@ouroyster.com

36 Comments

  1. 7 Links - The World Is... :: The World Is… (2 years ago)

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  2. Caz Makepeace (2 years ago)

    Oh how I love Papaya salad. Oh how I love all of these foods.
    Thanks for making me miss Thailand even more than ever!!!

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      I know what you mean! I miss mango sticky rice so so much!

  3. Bill (2 years ago)

    Used to be the only reason I didn’t eat bugs was that I was not a contestant on Survivor. Then I found out they contain large amounts of histamine, bad news for somebody with as many allergies as I have.

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      HAHA! I love that you have two reasons to not eat bugs! I only have one reason…. it’s icky.

  4. Bodlagz (2 years ago)

    I would like to add “namtok with sticky rice”, beef or pork are the preferred meats.
    Taste wise I would liken it to Laap but without the tangy edge, It’s one of those dishes you can’t stop eating, you pay for it in the morning though, with the dreaded “ring of fire”.

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      Hmmm I don’t think I have tried namtok…. next time I am in Asia I will look out for it!

  5. AlexBerger (2 years ago)

    That looks delicious!

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      I know what you mean Alex! I am so craving mango sticky rice right now!

  6. Ben RTWT (2 years ago)

    Great photos, takes me back!! Check out my photo of some *proper* Laos laap ;) served with black rice (photo towards bottom of page). Forget the lettuce, you make a ball of rice and scoop up the meat in your fingers. Messy fun :)

    http://roundtheworldtraveler.com/place/luang-prabang/

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      I loved it with the lettuce! Made me feel like I was eating a bit healthier when there is a bit of green stuff thrown in the mix! Also, I suck at cooking rice, so lettuce is much easier for me! lol!

  7. Andrea (2 years ago)

    Mmmmmmm…. my mouth is watering for everything…except the crickets!

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      Haha I know! I like to consider myself fairly adventurous… but I would never eat insects. :)

  8. Nomadic Samuel (2 years ago)

    I’m awfully hungry after reading this post :) I’ve tried them all.

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      Everytime someone comments on this post and I get the notification – I start craving Thai food! My own post is out to get me! lol

  9. KatieOnTheMap (2 years ago)

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’m flying to Bangkok in less than a month and I will definitely be searching out some of the crazier foods. I’ll try anything once!

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      If you try the deep fried crickets, I really hope you will come back here and tell me about it!!!

  10. Tracey - Life Changing Year (2 years ago)

    Help! Help! We are in Bangkok and are just not seeing this great food!!! We are incapable of ordering, no one has English, there’s no pictures to point at! We are destined to eat chicken on sticks or pizza hut for the next week!! Little bags of something creamy at cart vendors with something like eyeballs floating around in them are not filling us with confidence! They arent even hot! How long do those bags sit there??? What are we doing wrong guys?

    • OurOyster (2 years ago)

      Dont be afraid! Its ok! I never got sick off the street food in Asia (although I did stick to vegetarian). If you are not sure what things are, maybe head to the more “touristy” areas. The street vendors should have translations there. or go somewhere where you see other travellers and ask them for recommendations or order what they are having. Once you get more confident with what the food is, you will be ready to explore the unknown of Thai food!

  11. Budget Travel (2 years ago)

    WOW, I am getting hungry now

  12. Travel with Bender (Erin) (1 year ago)

    Just got to Bangkok, adding all these things to my must do/eat here…. Well except the crickets haha.

    • OurOyster (1 year ago)

      ahha I refused to try the crickets as well…. im a pretty picky eater at the best of times

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  14. Laurence (1 year ago)

    Working through most of these at the moment, although haven’t quite gotten round to the Laap or crickets yet ;)

  15. Heidi Wagoner (1 year ago)

    Okay, Thanks! Now my mouth is watering with a strong desire for Thai Food. Pad Thai is my all time favorite! When I spent time backpacking through SE Asia , about 18 years ago, I ate non stop and somehow lost 14 pounds. Oh, do I miss that food. I couldn’t try bugs and had trouble with the parts of animals hanging in markets, but if it was just the prepared food I was good to go.

    • OurOyster (1 year ago)

      Thai food is amazing. So fresh and healthy its certainly hard to beat. I don’t know how far I would go in regards to bugs but Dan was adventurous enough to try ox tongue and was pleasantly surprised…yuck

  16. Roisin (1 year ago)

    I’ve only tried Pad Thai and love it! but I can’t wait to try all the others (apart from the crickets) when I go to Thailand :)

    • OurOyster (1 year ago)

      Crickets aren’t high on my list either

  17. Sam@GreenGlobalTravel (10 months ago)

    I love how you combine people’s love of travel and food. Also, fresh spring rolls are really easy and fun to make at home.

    • OurOyster (10 months ago)

      That is so true Sam! I often make them in the summer. And people always assume they are harder to make than they look, so they are good to bring along to pot lucks :P

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  19. Lawrence Michaels (9 months ago)

    I was worried that the list was going to be all boring tourist food and then you dropped the insects and laarb. I can’t say that I’m a fan of deep fried insects, but I do eat laarb gai pretty often. I’m not really a fan of Singha either, but I have made many meals out of Leo.

  20. Cam Khao (9 months ago)

    You obviously don’t live in Thailand, as you would have known that 4 of those 10 dishes are not Thai food, they originated elsewhere.

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  22. Brown (2 months ago)

    The food in this post i like Papaya Salad and Deep fried crickets. i always cook it by myself, because i my mother teacher me .

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