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When asked to think of the best cuisines in the world, not many countries go through my head before thinking of Thailand.
Thai cuisine is one of the most popular, versatile and all-around-delicious cuisines on the planet (just check out the 50 best foods in the world).
You may think you know what I’m talking about since you have a local Thai restaurant near where you live but I can assure you, the best Thai food cannot be found anywhere but the country itself, where Thai food culture is on full display.
Authentic Thai food should make you cry tears of joy, cause your taste buds to dance and occasionally set your mouth on fire.
Colourful imagery aside, what I’m trying to say is that Thai food is both delicious and sometimes very spicy. Don’t be put off by the spice levels. You can always ask for milder versions. Plus, you’ll get used to spicy food over the duration of your trip.
So, if Thailand is on your list of countries to visit in the near future, let’s go through some of their most iconic and tasty dishes.
From must try food in Bangkok to traditional Thai street food and even a couple of backpacker favourites, this list is going to leave you travel hungry as well as just food hungry.
Top 10 Dishes to Try in Thailand
#1: Pad Thai (Thai Style Fried Noodles)
What’s the first dish you think of when you hear the phrase, “traditional Thai food”?
Probably pad thai, right?
If you’re unfamiliar with this iconic dish, it’s essentially a simple plate of noodles on steroids.
The noodles (thick or thin, you choose) are thrown into a ripping hot wok, along with fish sauce, sugar, chili powder and crushed peanuts as accompanying flavours and a helping of bean sprouts, onion and egg as additional ingredients. If you’re a real carnivore, you can usually have it with seafood or chicken also.
Ask pretty much any backpacker and they’re likely to tell you that the best pad thai can be found at local street food vendors and not in restaurants. I have to agree.
Street food is a go-to choice for backpackers and there’s something extra special about Thai street food in particular.
#2: Khao Pad (Fried Rice)
Sometimes simple is better and this awesome Thai dish embodies that statement perfectly.
Khao pad really is just a bowl of fried rice with egg, onion, seasoning and a few extra ingredients of your choosing.
A favourite of both locals and tourists alike, khao pad can also be found at most street food carts.
#3: Gaeng Keow Wan Kai (Green Chicken Curry)
This is my favourite Thai curry and it’s just one of the tastiest curries on the planet, period.
Called “green curry” because of its bright green colour caused by the sheer amount of green curry paste that is added to it, gaeng keow wan kai also contains helpings of vegetables, chillies and chicken (sometimes it’s beef but chicken is the better choice). It’s usually served with a portion of Thai sticky rice on the side (which is amazing too).
Word of warning: Before travelling to Thailand and experiencing this dish for real, I always thought of green curry as the milder of the Thai curries.
While there are hotter dishes, I have been caught off-guard more than once with this chilli-filled bowl of fire (although delicious fire at that).
The flavours alone caused me to keep eating, despite not being able to feel my lips but, I did have to ask for milder versions in the future.
So, if you’re not the best with spicy food (like me), keep this in mind when ordering.
#4: Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Now let’s crank the spicy metre up to a whole new level!
The aroma and flavour of this spicy shrimp soup perfectly embody what Thai food culture is all about.
Made with traditional Thai herbs, lemongrass and – of course – shrimps, tom yum goong is the perfect broth for warming the heart and soothing the soul.
If you’re not a seafood person, maybe move on.
If you are a seafood person, but not the toughest when it comes to spice, remember to ask for a milder version if possible!
#5: Gaeng Daeng (Red Curry)
Enter green curry’s loud-mouthed, hot-headed, fiery older sibling; red curry!
Coconut milk provides the thick and creamy base for this mouth-watering Thai classic but you can choose to add almost anything you want to it, including chicken, seafood and vegetables.
The whole thing is then topped with kaffir lime leaves which just adds an extra taste-bud-tingling taste to this already aromatic experience.
#6: Yam Nua (Spicy Beef Salad)
The zesty, fiery blend of beef strips, onion, cilantro, spearmint, lime and dried chilli make for quite the unique salad.
And boy, does it provide your taste buds with enough satisfying sensations to last a lifetime!
#7: Kai Med Ma Muang (Chicken with Cashew Nuts)
The simple and seemingly strange combination of chicken and cashew nuts actually combines to form a uniquely harmonious dish.
Topped with vegetables along with sweet and spicy flavours (again, you can ask for a milder version), it makes for quite the addictive plate of authentic Thai food.
You’ll be going “nuts” when you see it on a menu (sorry, I had to)!
#8: Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
This dish can be a safe haven for vegetarians when travelling to Thailand, a country dominated by meat (especially seafood).
Som tum is also the perfect side dish for almost any meal and is a staple in Thai street food culture.
It contains shredded papaya, along with green beans, garlic and chillies, although there are many different variations of the dish.
#9: Spring Rolls
I just couldn’t leave these off the list.
A favourite among locals and visitors to Thailand, spring rolls can be found at almost every street food vendor in the country.
They’re cheap, delicious and take very little time to prepare. The perfect snack to fill you up while you explore the “land of smiles” as Thailand is often called.
#10: Mango Sticky Rice
I felt I needed to include at least one dessert on this list!
If you think that serving fruit and rice on the same plate is a strange combination, you’re not alone! But, it’s actually delicious and it’s also very common in a lot of Asian cuisines.
Sliced mango served with a portion of sticky rice, topped with sweet coconut cream. The flavours burst out of this dish with every bite!
Bonus: Banana Pancakes
I added this as a bonus since I wouldn’t call it traditional Thai food or even a part of traditional Thai food culture but what it is, is a culinary delight for backpackers.
Seriously, get one of these bad boys, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you will feel like your whole life is complete!
I could die a happy man after scoffing down one (or maybe two) of these!
Okay, I’m going to have to stop there before I go into a hunger-fuelled trance and book an entire trip to Thailand!
Thailand is one of the best travel destinations in the world, not just for it’s amazing food, but also because of its culture, its people and the endless list of things to see and do. It’s also a very budget-friendly destination, making it popular with travellers from all over the world.