As a mecca for street food, Thailand is considered one of the world’s food capitals. Their cuisine is just so charming and full of flavours. You must visit the country to taste the Thai dishes that can easily satisfy even the most demanding food critics.
Suppose you have a great passion for good food and plan to head for Thailand soon. We will help you answer “Which dish should I start with?” through this list of 15+ best dishes to eat in Thailand.
Thai Food Culture
The staple of Thai cuisine includes a good number of curries, salads, and noodles. In general, dishes in Thailand have a rich base of fish sauce and coconut milk.
The meat ranges from pork, chicken, and beef to different seafood. The most noticeable presence of herbs is kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil. They all simply make Thai cuisine one of the best worldwide.
Thai cuisine consists of 7 small subsidiaries. Six out of seven are categorised by geographic division:
- Northern (Lanna)
- Northeastern (Isan)
- Central Plain
- Thai royal cuisine.
Each subsidiary tends to connect to the different neighbour countries of Thailand. For instance:
- Laos and Burmese cuisine, which is now Myanmar, influence Northern Thai dishes. They are the least spicy and focus more on dried than fresh spices.
- On the other hand, Southern dishes are the spiciest. They are connected to the food in countries such as India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Seafood is common in the region.
- Central Thailand’s dishes are considered the sweetest. The use of coconut milk and palm sugar is emphasised in the cooking progress.
- Royal Thai cuisine is similar to Central Thai dishes, but they have to follow specific rules and higher standards. They are hard to find due to the complex preparation and precision required.
- Though located in Central Thailand, Bangkok's cuisine is constantly influenced by the cuisines of other Asian or even Western countries. This is due to its status as the country’s capital city.
- Moreover, some others are even inspired by Chinese immigrants whose diets involve the regular use of rice noodles and egg noodles.
Together, these cross-between cultures play a vital role in making Thailand an alluring travel destination for food lovers worldwide.
Its diversity makes Thailand a mecca for true foodies. Photo by Jerome Jome - unsplash.com
What About The Prices?
Is the food in Thailand cheap? Most dishes have a reasonable price. You don’t have to worry about breaking the bank. Even the food vendors on the sides of a street or within a local market can amaze you with their mouth-watering dishes.
A basic Thai meal costs 90 to 150 baht, around 2 to 6 USD. Where you eat will also matter. To be clearer, you only have to pay around 30 baht for a Pad Thai dish from street vendors, but it can rise to 50 baht if eaten in a tourist area. Overall, Thailand is a very affordable country in every aspect, including accommodations and transportation.
Thailand arguably has one of the most flavorful dishes in the world. These starter dishes will do the trick to lead you into a beautiful Thai cuisine discovery journey.
1. Som Tam (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
Som Tam - Thailand’s most famous salad. Photo by sirasit gullasu - unsplash.com
Som Tam is arguably one of the top three Thai dishes, along with Pad Thai and Tom Yum Goong. It is often considered the most well-known salad dish in Thailand. Som Tam has its roots in Isaan (now Laos and Northeastern Thailand).
The original concept of the food was from Laos. However, the use of green papaya in salad dishes is common in other South East Asia countries like Vietnam and Cambodia.
The main ingredients include shredded unripe papaya, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrot, cucumbers and runner beans. It is topped with chillies, fish sauce, lime juice, roasted peanuts and dried shrimp as optional additions.
Som Tam delivers a delightful combination of sour, spicy, savoury and sweet flavours. Believe us, the taste of the dish is on another level. You may also try an alternative version where people replace papaya with mango.
2. Sai Oua (Northern Thai Style Sausage)
Like other dishes in the Northern region, the food is also a cross between Thailand and Myanmar cuisine. You can find it at local markets or street vendors in Chiang Mai, the largest city in Northern Thailand and the country’s second-largest city.
Minced pork, spices and herbs are used to make this spicy sausage. You should grill it to add a smoky flavour and to enhance the fragrance of herbs inside the sausage, which are lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. It is indeed an excellent snack for beers.
3. Yum Nua (Spicy Beef Salad)
Another salad dish on the list. Marinated tender beef is served with vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and some fresh herbs like mint leaves, cilantro and Thai Basil. The only staple ingredients are beef and fresh herbs, you can eat it with any kinds of vegetables you like.
They are all mixed with a spicy and sour dressing made of fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, and chillies. You are recommended to eat it with rice noodles, sticky rice, or hot white rice. You wouldn’t want to miss such a wonderful combination of fragrance and colours just in one dish!
4. Tod Mun Pla (Fried Fish Cake)
The dish makes a perfect appetiser. To make the food, fresh fish is blended and mixed with Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves. It is served with a sweet and spicy sauce that comprises fish sauce, vinegar, chillies, and roasted peanuts.
Tod Mun Pla is usually served with a cucumber salad to offer a more refreshing taste. The brown cake’s chewy texture makes the dish genuinely classic Thai street food. Tod Mun Pla is a must-try every time you spot it at a Thai night market.
5. Yam Pla Duk Fu (Crispy Fried Catfish)
It is basically a salad dish made mainly with deep-fried golden and crispy catfish. However, any variants of fish that are available can be used as an alternative. To bring a contrasting freshness to the dish, green mango is added. It is served with a dressing of fish sauce and lime juice.
Traditionally, it is considered “Kap klaem” in Thai, which means drinking food (to be eaten along with alcohol). It can also be a side dish for a meal with white rice, and you will mostly find it on a shared Thai table. Regardless of how you eat it, this light and delicious dish will immediately make you fall in love with it!
6. Poh Pia Tod (Thai Spring Rolls)
Poh Pia Tod is widely loved for its crispy texture. Photo by chee siong teh - stock.adobe.com
It’s a simple combination of vegetables and protein. To make a roll, you will need ground meat, shredded carrots, sliced cabbage, bean sprouts, mushroom and rice noodles, all wrapped inside a piece of rice paper. The spring roll will be deep-fried until it becomes crispy.
Bite into that crispy texture and eat it when hot. You can taste the delicious and perfectly seasoned ingredients inside each roll. You can eat it plain, or in case you have a dipping sauce, it tastes even better! Poh Pia Tod is another great choice for your appetiser.
7. Gai Hor Bai Toey (Fried Pandan Chicken)
This dish is probably one of the most loved chicken dishes in Thailand. It is made of fried, well-marinated fillet chicken wrapped in pandan leaves. You will be surprised by how “juicy” the chicken is. This is because it is often steamed before going to a deep-fried pan.
There are two sauces for you to choose from. One is made with soy sauce, and the other is a sweet and sour hot sauce made with fish sauce. Both versions are topped with sesame seeds to enhance the dish's overall flavour. Dipping the chicken into the sauce will create a wholesome blend of aroma and spice.
Typically, you may have heard that Thai food is generally spicy. Yes, it is not wrong after all. There's no doubt that these hot soup dishes will satisfy all spicy food lovers.
8. Tom Yum Goong (Spicy and Sour Shrimp Soup)
Tom Yum soup is the most well-known Thai soup. Photo by Wanchai - stock.adobe.com
When first hearing of Thai food, you will definitely think of Tom Yum (or Tom Yam) soup, don’t you? It is so appreciated both inside and outside the country that even Thai people consider it to be their national dish.
The literal meaning of the food’s name is a combination of “Tom”, which means boiling and “Yum” - mixed. As “Goong” - prawns are often served with the soup, now you can easily tell what the dish would be like.
This aromatic dish is hot, not only for the way it is served but also for its popularity in the world’s map of the finest cuisine. Tom Yum Goong is in fact one of the most famous soups globally, and it was named in CNN Travel’s list of the world’s 20 best soups.
The flavour of the dish is spicy and sour. Eating it, you can easily taste the fragrance of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, two of the most commonly used ingredients in Thai cuisine.
Tom Yum is usually served with tomatoes, mushrooms and fresh shrimp, though alternative versions can use chicken, fish or squid. Other ingredients include chillies, lime juice, and a lot of fish sauce. Coconut milk is added if you prefer a creamy texture. It is best served with hot white rice.
9. Gaeng Keow Wan Gai (Thai Chicken Green Curry)
This fragrant and creamy dish has its origin in Central Thailand. It is famous for being the spiciest Thai curry version.
Coconut milk is used as a sweetener for this sweet and spicy curry. The signature green colour comes from fresh green bird’s eye chilli peppers, and the meat used in the dish is often chicken breast slices. Seafood and beef can also be used as substitutes.
Finally, the remaining vegetables that perfectly balance the dish are diced eggplants and potatoes. Fresh herbs such as coriander, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil are added to enhance the dish's flavour.
You can have it with Thai Jasmine white rice, noodles or bread. If you are a big fan of hot and spicy food, Thai green curry will not let you down.
10. Gaeng Massaman (Massaman Curry)
Massaman curry - an influence of Muslim culture on Thai cuisine. Photo by kudosstudio - stock.adobe.com
The dish originated from the Muslim community that dwells in Southern Thailand. The food's ingredients are quite exotic compared to other Thai dishes.
Those include cardamom cloves, cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg. In addition, there are staple names from Thai cuisines, such as lemongrass and coconut milk.
Other common ingredients used in Thai dishes include potatoes, tamarind paste and fish sauce. Since the dish is of Muslim root, the protein is traditionally chicken.
However, other protein sources (except pork) are also commonly used. Like other Thai curries, you can eat them with a small bowl of steamed white rice.
We bet you may have already heard of Pad Thai, but surely it is not the only main dish from Thai cuisine that deserves a raise.
11. Pad Thai (Thai Style Stir-fried Noodles)
Pad Thai is simply Thailand's most renowned dish. Photo by Alyssa Kowalski - unsplash.com
First of all, you do not want to miss Pad Thai. It is basically stir-fried noodles. However, the dish is not that plain. You will fall in love with Thai cuisine’s most well-known dish right at the get-go.
The main ingredients are rice noodles (either thin or wide), fresh shrimp, dried shrimp, eggs, fried tofu and vegetables such as bean sprouts and spring onions.
They are all stir-fried in a hot pan before a heaven-made sauce of tamarind juice and fish sauce is added. Roasted peanuts will be placed on the top of the dish to add a little crunchy fun.
The flavour is sweet and sour, thanks to that magical tamarind sauce. You can make the dish spicier by adding some chillies. Most importantly, a squeeze of fresh lime juice will give the dish a perfect combination of flavours.
It is said that this delicious dish originated from Chinese immigrants who entered Thailand in the past. Nowadays, it is on the menu of all Thai restaurants, from local street vendors to high-end restaurants. You can have a Pad Thai dish on every street corner. Surprisingly, such a wonderful and tasty dish costs a low price.
Apart from prawns, some variations use chicken, pork or beef as alternatives. Note that even the vegetarian option is often available with the omission of shrimp and substitution tofu.
12. Khao Pad (Thai Style Fried Rice)
Even the locals love their Thai-style fried rice. Photo by dashu83 - stock.adobe.com
Khao Pad is a popular dish from Central Thailand. In Thai, “Khao” means rice and “Pad” means stir-fried. This relatively simple dish can be found on the menu of almost any Thai restaurant.
You will need fragrant Jasmine rice, egg, garlic and prawns to cook this dish. Other protein sources like crab, pork or chicken can also be used. To add the umami flavour, Thai people use soy, fish, and oyster sauce. Simply stir-fry all of them in a hot pan to the point when everything is well mixed, and you can sense the irresistible taste of the food.
The locals love the dish just like the Americans love hamburgers and the British love sandwiches. It is best to have it for your lunch as the dish can be a meal on its own.
An extremely renowned version of Khao Pad is Khao Pad Sapparod, which is Thai fried rice served in a pineapple. Khao Pad American is another version that is inspired by American culture. It is usually served with BBQ sauce and a fried egg.
13. Guay Tiew Reua (Thai Boat Noodle Soup)
Interestingly, any bowl of noodle soup except curry can be called Guay Teow. To be more specific, it uses a flavorful meat broth, which is usually cooked with chicken or beef. It is an outstanding representative of the Bangkok subsidiary of Thai cuisine.
The noodles used can either be rice noodles or egg noodles. The meat varies from chicken, pork, beef or seafood to meatballs or even wontons.
The name of this dish literally means boat noodles. “Guay Tiew” means noodles, whereas “Reua” refers to boats. It was originally served by vendors on small boats along Bangkok's rivers in the mid-20th century.
This is a common practice in other countries in the Mekong Delta, such as Vietnam. The next time you are in Bangkok, make sure to have a bowl of it from vendors on the sides of the streets or at food courts.
14. Khao Soi (Curried Noodle Soup)
Egg noodles and curry are such a good combination. Photo by Vatcharachai - stock.adobe.com
It is egg noodles served with creamy yellow curry soup. Another dish from Chiang Mai, Khao Soi (or Soy), is an iconic dish from Northern Thailand.
You definitely should not miss it when visiting Chiang Mai. Once again, it is inspired by Burmese cuisine, which is now Myanmar, a country that shares the borderlines with Thailand in the North.
A bowl of Khao Soi includes two kinds of noodles: crispy fried noodles on top and still soft egg noodles with curry soup as the main portion. Coconut milk is added for a creamy soup base.
A small dish of pickled vegetables is also provided for each bowl of noodles. You can choose from a wide range of meat, such as pork, beef or chicken. For vegetarians, some recipes use tofu or faux meat.
Finishing your Thai cuisine discovery with some delicate desserts will be best. Thai people have a big love for coconut because most of their sweet dishes mainly include coconut milk.
15. Khao Niew Ma Muang (Mango Sticky Rice)
Mango Sticky Rice - Thailand’s most delicious dessert dish. Photo by dasuwan - stock.adobe.com
This signature sweet dessert dish is loved by everyone on their first try. The food includes slices of ripe mango and sticky rice cooked with coconut milk. The tropical fruits combination does make it one of the world’s best desserts.
The glutinous rice is cooked with coconut milk until it gets soft and starchy, and the milk is well-absorbed into it. Other variations include the use of black sticky rice or green sticky rice that was cooked with pandan leaves.
Thai mango sticky rice is among the world’s best desserts. Your Thai food exploration is only fulfilled once you have tried this super delicious dish. You can find them in duty-free shops at the airport and bring them home as a gift for your beloved ones.
16. Tub Tim Krob
Tub Tim Krob also features in the list of the best Thai dessert dishes. Photo by uckyo - stock.adobe.com
The dish’s name literally means “crispy rubies” in Thai. This dessert dish is stacked with eye-catching colourful rubies. They are made with water chestnuts coated in tapioca flour and some kinds of syrups, then cooked until it looks transparent. To make it more delicious, add some fresh fruits, such as ripe slices of jackfruit or young coconut meat.
It’s a great way to beat the heat, thanks to the fresh crushed ice and cool pandan-scented coconut milk included. In short, Tub Tim Krob is a sweet, refreshing and mouth-watering dessert dish.
17. Thai Coconut Ice Cream
The food map of Thai cuisine is not completed without coconut ice cream. Photo by Iudexvivorum via Wikimedia Commons
This is one flavour of ice cream that is popular all over the world, especially in tropical countries like Thailand. The sweet dish gives a fresh and sweet taste that is rich in coconut milk.
The original recipe includes coconut milk, coconut water, and palm sugar. Therefore, it is a go-to choice for vegans when visiting the country.
You would find it easily at every corner in Thailand, whether at a food court or a high-end restaurant. If you buy the dish from Thai street vendors, you will often have those ice cream scoops served inside soft bread. Believe us. It is just a magical combination!
The way food is appreciated in Thailand is unique and fascinating. The locals show their love for their cuisine through the way they cook, and every dish you order will be served with a friendly smile.
Widely known as the “Land of Smiles”, Thailand will make you happy when you taste the food there. Book your flight to taste the 17 best dishes to eat in Thailand.