FIVE BEST DISHES TO EAT IN THAILAND
By Ian Robert Knight
Anyone who knows me, knows I love Thai food. Of course, I am not alone in this, as Thai food is considered to be one of the most popular foods in the world. And the cuisine can be very cheap and still be very tasty. But to truly enjoy great Thai food, you need to visit the country and experience it close up.
Flavours vary a little bit, depending on where you are in the country. But the one thing that defines Thai food is how it balances 5 flavours: sour, sweet, bitter, spicy and salty. Food in Northern Thailand tastes different than it does in the South. But it’s all good, and you really need to try it all!
It’s actually a challenge to pick just five dishes for my list. There are countless great dishes worth exploring, but regardless of where I eat in the country, I know if I order any of these five foods, I will leave happy. So here is my list of the five best dishes to eat in Thailand.
Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
Som Tam is a wonderful example of how Thai dishes uses many different flavours. This is a salad that’s made using unripened papaya (hence the green part of the name), that is one of Northeastern Thailand’s greatest dishes. It combines the papaya, lime juice (sour), fish sauce (salty), palm sugar (sweet), fresh chilies (spicy), garlic, peanuts, tomatoes and dried tiny shrimps.
The young papaya is shredded first, then pounded with a mortar and pestle, and the rest of the ingredients are added one at a time. There are many variations of this salad as well. Some people like it with soft shell crab, or chicken. I like mine with boiled salted egg. For beginners, this salad may be more spicy hot than you’d expect. But it’s a flavour you won’t forget. It’s quintessential Thai food.
When most people think of Thai food, this may be one of the first dishes that comes to mind. Although, you could argue that the dish isn’t strictly Thai, it’s still the official National Dish of Thailand. Made with stir-fried rice noodles (a clue to its origin), along with fried eggs, tofu, sprouts, shrimp and fish sauce. Add some red chilies, and it becomes Thai.
Phad Thai was originally promoted by the Thai government in the 1930’s and 40’s as a way to work around a rice shortage. Rice noodles are a cheap and plentiful way to stretch out rice supplies. Now, it’s a main staple of street food in Thailand. It’s hard to walk down any urban soi in Bangkok, without finding someone making it. And it’s equally hard to resist stopping for a dish of it.
Thailand has many well-known curries. The sweet green curry is probably the mildest of the three coloured curries (yellow, green, red). Although it’s not quite sweet, or sweeter than the others. The name ‘sweet green’ derives from the Thai description of the colour – it’s sweet green.
Like most curries, this is made with coconut milk. It also contains green chilli paste, fish sauce, and palm sugar. Small Thai eggplants, kaffir lime leaves, and sometimes potatoes or other white vegetables are added. Chicken or pork is usually included as the protein. It’s almost always served with jasmine rice, since it’s meant to be poured over rice, not eaten as a soup.
This curry dish is thought to originate in southern Thailand, and is usually prepared as a Halal dish. The name is derived from a muslim word, or portion of. It’s been served in Thailand for centuries, and is often referred to as the “king of curries”.
Made with coconut milk (again), red chilli paste, and a collection of spices that you won’t find in other Thai dishes. There’s hints of cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, bay leaves, cumin and nutmeg. Those spices give a nod to the dish’s origin in the Malay peninsula. It’s usually served with beef, but sometimes you can find it with chicken or lamb. It always has potatoes or sweet potatoes in it, along with peanuts.
CNN Travel proclaimed it the #1 dish in the world, according to worldwide poll. It’s certainly my favourite Thai curry.
This dish is usually found in northern locations like Chiang Mai, as well as Laos and Myanmar. It’s not always easy to find in other parts of the country, but it’s worth seeking out.
This dish is made with a thinner version of a yellow curry, along with egg noodles. It comes with pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime and chilies. It’s normally served with a boiled chicken drumstick and crispy fried noodles on top. But sometimes you can find it made with beef or pork.
It’s a mild, and very, very tasty dish. It’s definitely my favourite Thai dish, and one you’ll enjoy if you visit Chiang Mai with me.
How to Eat in Thailand
Just some quick notes on how to eat in Thailand. Most dishes are made to be bite-size. So you won’t usually see a knife on any dining table. Dishes are always eaten by spoon, and forks are used to help put things ON the spoon. Chopsticks are only used with noodle dishes.
Meals are usually served ‘family style’, meaning dishes are meant to be shared, and they arrive in any order as they become ready. The concept of some dishes being served first, like an appetizer, just doesn’t work in Thailand. The food comes when it comes. But when it does, you’re in for a treat!
If you’re keen to give your tastebuds the vacation they deserve, then Thailand should be on your list. Our Adventures in Thailand take us all over the country, allowing you to try everything listed here, and more. Join us in Thailand, for the adventure of a lifetime. The next journey is coming up soon.