Looking for the most delicious Thai food? Many visitors and food fans would tell you that Thai cuisine is one of the best in the world. Thailand is one of the greatest nations to visit for cuisine, which is why Bangkok is routinely ranked as one of the world’s most visited cities.
When an article on the World’s 50 Best Cuisine was released in 2017, Thailand has the most traditional Thai foods on the list, with seven. CNN Travel questioned 35,000 people worldwide, and the foods that made the list were tom yum goong, pad thai, som tam, massaman curry, gaeng keow wan, khao pad, and mu nam tok.
Furthermore, two Thai sweets, khao niao mamuang (mango sticky rice) and tub tim grob, were named to CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Desserts!
We’ve gone to the Land of Smiles several times as a result of living in Asia, and the one thing that always gets us thrilled to go is Thai food. You’ll understand why once you’ve tried the cuisine.
Thai cooking is one of the 10 best activities in Thailand that you must try.
If you’re considering a trip to Thailand for the first time, our Thai cuisine guide will show you 45 of the tastiest and most fascinating foods to sample.
What exactly is traditional Thai food?
Many people think of Thai food as fragrant and spicy, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Thai food should have a good mix of salty, sour, sweet, savory, and spicy flavors. Som tam is the epitome of this.
Thai food has been heavily affected by Thailand’s neighbors, most notably India, Malaysia, and Indonesia, over the years. Western influences have also found their way into the food.
Surprisingly, one of the most significant ingredients in Thai cuisine, chile pepper, is not indigenous to Thailand. It originated in the Americas and was brought to Thailand by the Portuguese and Spaniards.
Thai cuisine is a wide word that encompasses seven sub-varieties. The first six are region-specific – Northern (Lanna), Northeastern (Isan), Southern, Eastern, Central Plain, and Bangkok – while the seventh is specific to Thai royal cuisine.
Due to Thailand’s proximity to other nations, regional differences in Thai cuisine tend to correspond to the cuisines of its neighbors. Northern Thai food, for example, has dishes in common with Shan State in Myanmar and northern Laos, whilst southern Thai food has a lot in common with Indian, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisines.
This fusion of cultural and culinary elements contributes to the allure of Thai cuisine.
Different areas of Thailand and particular chefs may favor one of the four senses over the others. That is why a tray of condiments, such as sugar, fish or soy sauce, vinegar, and dry or fresh chiles, is frequently placed on the table in Thailand. As a result, the diner can change the balance to his or her preference. So, if you’re handed a meal that’s not exactly to your liking, such as one that’s not hot enough, see whether the restaurant has a condiment tray.
A typical Thai supper consists of a variety of foods that are shared with family and friends. In a restaurant, a range of meals such as soups, stir-fried dishes, salads, grilled or fried fish or meat, and curries are commonly ordered. The items are offered in a group rather than as separate courses. Food is consumed with a fork and spoon, and each item is savored one at a time with rice.
To temper the heat of the chiles, a variety of spicy and moderate meals with vegetables should be served. This method of eating offers a tantalizing range of flavors and textures, as well as a social setting because the meal is shared. Set menus are common in western restaurants to give variety, but you may have fun inventing your own. You should be able to get assistance from a skilled server.
History and Origins
Thai cuisine was developed by individuals who moved from southern Chinese regions to modern-day Thailand hundreds of years ago. There were numerous Szechwan influences on Thai cuisine in the past, but many other influences have influenced Thai cuisine throughout the ages. Buddhist monks provided an Indian flavor to Thai culinary in the past, and southern Muslim states affected Thai cuisine in the south.
After contact with Portuguese missionaries and Dutch commerce, Thai cuisine was impacted by European cuisine much later. There were also some Japanese influences throughout this time period. Thai cuisine has evolved into its own entity, with a distinct blend of the five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy.
The Most Delicious Thai Food
A list of 12 meals might be overwhelming, but I’ve categorized my Thai cuisine guide by category.
SALADS, SOUPS, AND APPETIZERS
1. Tom Yum Goong
Although Pad Thai is the most well-known Thai meal, many Thai food enthusiasts will tell you that tom yum is their favorite. You’ll understand why after you have this complicated yet well-balanced hot and sour soup.
This sour and spicy soup, also known as tom yam, gets its name from two words: tom, which refers to the boiling process, and yam, which means “mixed.” It’s frequently prepared with prawns (goong or kung), thus the popular tom yum goong variant (or kung). This is the meal that tops CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Foods, out of a total of seven.
Tom yum goong is often cooked with a stock of boiling shrimp heads and a soup base of nam prik pao or roasted chili paste. The soup is rich in prawn flavor and noted for its traditionally fiery and sour undertones, as well as a variety of aromatic spices and herbs that have been infused into the broth.
Lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves are important components in every tom yum, although lime juice, fish sauce, cilantro, tomatoes, and crushed red chili peppers are also commonly included. Tom yum is so popular that it is commonly regarded as a Thai national cuisine.
2. Tom Kha Gai
Tom kha gai, like tom yum, is a favorite among Thai food aficionados. It’s a spicy and sour soup cooked with coconut milk, galangal (kha), kaffir lime leaves, chicken (gai), lemongrass, mushroom, and other herbs and spices.
When you compare the components in tom yum and tom kha gai, you’ll see that they’re very similar, with the exception of tom kha gai’s addition of coconut milk. This results in a thicker, curry-like soup.
Tom kha gai is eaten in Thailand more like a curry than a soup. It’s usually served with rice, with the creamy soup spooned over the top.
3. Por Pia
Por pia is the Thai equivalent of popiah, a popular Fujianese/Teochew-style spring roll. It is originated from China, but it has made its way into the cuisines of many Asian nations, including Thailand. If you’re from the Philippines or Indonesia, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say lumpia.
Por pia sod and por pia tod are the two most common forms of por pia in Thai cuisine. The first is a fresh spring roll, while the second is a deep-fried variant. Both are loaded with mung bean noodles, bean sprouts, mushroom, tofu, cucumber, and shrimp, and are constructed with a thin, paper-like crepe.
On our fantastic cuisine tour in Phuket, I enjoyed the amazing por pia sod seen below. A dark sweet and salty sauce is usually served alongside fresh spring rolls.
4. Nam Prik
Nam prik (or phrik) is a fiery chili sauce family. They’re produced using a range of ingredients such as dried chilis, shallots, garlic, lime juice, and fish or shrimp paste. They’re often mashed using a mortar and pestle and served as a condiment with main courses or as a dip with fresh vegetables, poultry, and meats.
There are nearly a hundred nam prik recipes. They can be liquidy or paste-like in consistency, depending on the ingredients, preparation, and area. So far, we’ve only tried nam prik in northern Thailand, where nam prik ong and nam prik noom are two of the most popular versions.
5. Som Tam
Som tam, like tom yum goong and pad thai, is a Thai culinary favorite and one of the country’s greatest meals. It refers to a green papaya salad that originated in Laos and has since become a popular meal in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Som tam is created of shredded unripe papaya, as well as chili pepper, fish sauce, dried shrimp, palm sugar, and brined rice paddy crabs. Though it’s seasoned to have a balance of five flavors — sour, spicy, salty, savory, and sweet – it’s dominated by sourness and heat.
There are several versions of som tam, some very hot, others sweet, but the traditional Isan version must be cooked with fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste.
6. Suki Thai
Thai suki is a regional variant of hot pot. It’s a communal meal in which guests dip various types of meat, shellfish, dumplings, or vegetables into a pot of soup in the middle of the table. Before eating, the dish is dipped into a fiery “sukiyaki sauce.”
Despite its name, the meal is more akin to shabu shabu or Chinese hot pot than it is to sukiyaki. According to my research, the meal was named after a modified form of Chinese hot pot served in a Bangkok restaurant in the 1950s. It was given the name “sukiyaki” after a popular Japanese pop song at the time.
The meal was a huge hit, and the name stayed, so it’s now known as Thai suki at restaurants all throughout the country.
7. Yam Kai Mang Da Talay
This is one of the more odd dishes I’ve tasted in Thailand, and it’s not something you’d find on a restaurant menu very often. It’s called yam kai mang da talay, which translates as hot horseshoe crab roe salad.
Horseshoe crabs, unlike genuine crabs, do not contain edible flesh. Its eggs, which are the spherical green items depicted below, are the only thing you can eat. The salad is made out of shredded green mango, celery, chile, coriander, horseshoe crab roe, and onion. If you’re a daring eater, you might want to try this.
The salad is tasty as a whole, but the horsehoe crab roe lacks flavor aside from some brininess. They also have an unusual texture, resembling lumpy, rubbery Play-Doh balls.
The hue of Thai curries may be used to identify them. Green, red, yellow, and orange are the four primary hues. The green curry is the hottest, followed by the red, the yellow, which is a Thai rendition of an Indian curry, and the plain orange curry, which is the mildest. There are two more curries that are quite popular, in addition to the basic color curries: Panang and Massaman. They’re from Thailand’s south, with Malay and perhaps Persian elements. Unlike conventional Thai curries, they feature a considerably richer sauce.
8. Gaeng Keow Wan
Green curry is referred to as gaeng keow wan. It’s a sort of curry popular in the country’s central area, and it’s known for its greenish tint.
Gaeng keow wan is cooked using green curry paste, palm sugar, coconut milk, and vegetables and herbs such Thai eggplant, kaffir lime leaves, and sweet basil, in addition to the primary protein (typically chicken). Depending on how much coconut milk is used, the curry’s consistency might change.
Green bird’s eye chilis, garlic, shallots, galangal, fish sauce, kaffir lime peel, lemongrass, and coriander are pounded together in a mortar and pestle to make the green curry paste. The green chilies are responsible for the curry’s distinctive hue.
The amount of spice varies, but gaeng keow wan is commonly characterized as a sweet and spicy curry. In fact, the word wan in its name means “sweet,” but not in the way you may imagine. The curry’s creamy mild green tint is characterized in Thai as a “sweet green,” hence the wan in its name.
9. Gaeng Daeng
Red curry is referred to as gaeng daeng. It has a reddish orange coloring, as the name indicates, generated from dried red spur chilis mashed in a mortar and pestle to make the foundation red curry paste.
10. Kaeng Kari
Yellow curry is known as kaeng kari, and it is the mildest of the three basic forms of Thai curry.
Kaeng kari, as far as I can tell, is a milder variant of gaeng daeng that has been softened with turmeric and includes less chile. Garlic, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, lemongrass, ginger, and bay leaf are among the other components.
Kaeng kari is most commonly served with chicken (kaeng kari kai) or beef, although it may also be prepared with duck, fish, or shrimp. It’s commonly served with steamed rice or round rice noodles called as khanom jeen with potatoes and veggies.
11. Gaeng Panang
Gaeng panang, often known as panang curry, is a red curry variation that includes ground peanuts. It’s thicker and more seasoned than gaeng daeng, making it less hot and sweeter.
Panang curry paste is created using a variety of spices, including dried red chile, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, coriander, and cumin, in addition to peanuts. The components are mashed into a pulp and then cooked in a pot with thick coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce, and various proteins such as chicken, beef, or shrimp.
12. Massaman Curry
The final curry dish on this list is massaman curry, but it is far from the least. It’s one of two Thai curries that made CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Foods, alongside gaeng keow wan. It’s also the most intriguing, in my view.
Massaman curry is a Muslim-inspired meal created with spices including cardamom, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace that aren’t commonly seen in Thai curries. To make the massaman curry paste, they are blended with native spices such dried chile, lemongrass, galangal, and coriander.
Because of its Muslim origins, massaman curry is typically cooked with chicken, although it can also be made with beef, duck, mutton, or goat. It is almost never cooked using pork.
To make, the massaman curry paste is sautéed with coconut cream before adding the remaining ingredients, which include chicken, onions, potatoes, fish sauce, coconut milk, tamarind paste, and peanuts. It’s commonly served with steaming white rice, just as gaeng daeng or gaeng panang.