The impressive landmarks in Thailand attract tourists from all around the world. But apart from its cultural legacy, Thai food is something you should not miss at any cost.
Thai cuisine and culture show a great influence on other countries from Southeast Asia. In addition to its rich heritage, Thailand is known for its friendly people, always carrying a smile on their faces and offering delicious Thai dishes.
Thais show great respect towards each other, showing the traditions of their ancestors. You would love their hospitality and generosity, reflecting their cultural and moral values.
What’s Special About Thai Food?
Thai food is famous throughout the world for its diversity and strong flavors. Traditional Thai food is usually prepared with a lot of spices and aromatic ingredients.
Noodles, soups, and steamed rice are some popular staples. These foods in Thailand are often served as side dishes with the main course.
When it comes to beverages, you will find a mix of both healthy and heavily sugared drinks in Thailand’s food culture. Water is the preferred drink for most locals served with other healthy Thai food items.
You will also find many coconut water vendors in the whole country, particularly around the coastal regions. People in Thailand drink fresh coconut water straight from the coconuts. They simply slice the top of the coconut and insert a straw to have a cooling and refreshing natural drink.
Most Famous Traditional Thai Food
Pad Thai (Thai Fried Noodles)
Pad Thai is one of the most familiar Thai-style fried noodles in Thai cuisine. It is also the national food of Thailand. Pad Thai is a great option to kickstart your tasty and cheap Thai food exploration.
The authentic Thai food recipe includes stir-fried rice noodles with tofu, eggs, tamarind sauce, shrimp, fish sauce, and roots and herbs. This famous Thai dish is served with roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, and lemon slices for enhanced flavors/
It is usually made with chicken, pork, or fresh shrimp, but you can also have vegetarian options like mushrooms and tofu.
Traditional Food In Thailand – Salads
Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
Som Tam is one of the best Thai dishes. This famous food in Thailand originated from Isan, the Northeastern region of Thailand.
The word Som Tam in Thai means “Pound The Sour.” Green papaya is the main ingredient of this healthy Thai food. This popular and refreshing dish has a combination of sour, spicy, sweet, and salty flavors.
Som Tam comes in varieties but the traditional one contains dried shrimp, green papaya, some vegetables, peanuts, sugar, lime juice, tamarind, and chilies. All these fresh ingredients are hand-mixed with a pestle and mortar.
Toasted peanuts, dried shrimps, and raw beans add a nutty and roasted texture to this Thailand famous food. The green papaya salad is made fresh and crispy.
Laab Or Larb (Spicy Beef Salad)
Laab is one of the most famous Thai dishes, usually made from raw beef. Raw beef laab is a traditional Thai food to experience the true colors of Thailand. Typically, minced beef is mixed with different spices and chilies to make this delicious dish.
This beef salad is seasoned with animal digestive juices, like bile, fresh herbs, and natural spices. Meat and spices can differ in different regions of Thailand but coriander, mint, and chilies are necessary ingredients in this Thai dish.
In addition to beef laab, you can also have chicken, buffalo, duck, fish, or pork larb. You can easily find this famous Thai food in Northern Thailand.
Khao Kluk Kapi (Rice Salad)
Khao Kluk Kapi is a popular food in Thailand with traditional textures and flavors. This dish is more like a salad dish of rice and vegetables with a unique saltiness from shrimp paste, mild sweetness from fruits, and spiciness from chilies.
The salad consists of rice, sautéed with shrimp paste, and served with various other Thai dishes and toppings. Some Thai side dishes, served in almost every local restaurant, are sliced onions, cucumbers, shallots, sour green mangoes, egg omelets, fried shrimp, pork, and many more.
Thai Cuisine – Eggs, Soups, And Noodles
Kai Jeow (Thai Omelette)
Kai Jeow is a protein-rich Thai omelet. It is one of the simplest yet most delicious dishes that is perfect for a fulfilling Thai breakfast.
This classic Thai omelet is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. You can enjoy it with sweet chili sauce and a bowl of steamed rice.
Kai jeow frequently contains scallions, shrimp, crap, or red onions. Sometimes, it is also served plain with a spicy sauce and a side of steamed rice.
Kuay Teow Neua (Thai Beef Noodle Soup)
Kuay Teow Neua is Thai Beef Noodle Soup. This delicious beef soup is one of the famous Thai dishes you can find in all cities.
The soup is made with egg noodles or rice noodles. Some vendors also add small meatballs or wontons to this healthy Thai food. The beef is slowly cooked in the broth until it gets tender and soft. The soup has a rich meaty flavor, something you get from a broth cooked for days.
Before serving, the soup is topped with lime juice, dried chili peppers, fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar. The vinegar and sugar deliver an appetizing smell and a sweet and sour flavor. It can be eaten for lunch, dinner, or as a fulfilling late-night snack.
Pad See Ew (Thai Rice Noodles)
This is another rice noodle dish in Thai cuisine, but it is different from Pad Thai. Pad See Ew uses thicker or wider rice noodles than the other Thai dishes.
The noodles are first stir-fried, and then a thick sauce of soy sauce, egg, tofu, meat, and some chopped vegetables are added. You can select from many meat options like chicken, pork, beef, or seafood. The vegetarian options of this dish consist of broccoli and cabbage.
Pad See Ew is a satisfying yet very light noodle dish. It is the best Thai food for people who cannot handle a lot of spices.
Ba Mee Kiew (Egg Noodles With Wontons)
Ba Mee Kiew is egg noodles and wontons with delicious slices of red pork meat. Wontons are common Cantonese dumplings with a spicy meat filling.
There are two versions of wonton noodles in Thai cuisine – Dry wonton noodles, and Wonton noodle soup. In the wonton noodle soup, the ingredients are served in a clear broth, while in the dry wonton noodles, the soup is served separately in a bowl.
The noodles are cooked so well that they don’t get soggy even if kept for a longer time. You can easily find this delicious Thai food from the local food carts or big fancy restaurants.
Khao Soi (Coconut Curry Noodle Soup)
Khao Soi is a famous food in Thailand influenced by Muslim Chin Haw people from Myanmar. It is a flavorful Thai soup with a coconut curry base. Traditionally, it is served with chicken or beef, but you can also find it with pork or vegetable soup.
The curry is made with egg noodles or rice noodles in two different forms. One is simply cooked in broth like other soups. The other one includes fried chicken or beef served on top of the soup.
Khao Soi is served with red onions, lemons, and cabbage pickles. It cannot be easily found outside Thailand, so it should be on your “must-eat Thai food” list.
Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Tom yum goong is a true blessing for spice and seafood lovers. It is a popular seafood soup in Thai cuisine. This traditional Thai food is famous at both national and international levels.
The key ingredient of this soup is shrimp. Other ingredients include bird-eye chilis, galangal, shallots, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, and lime sauce. The soup has a taste of sweetness, spiciness, salt, and sourness from the blend of different ingredients.
Tom Kha Gai (Chicken In Coconut Soup)
Tom Kha Gai is another traditional soup in Thai cuisine. The key ingredients of this soup are coconut milk and chicken. It is a creamy soup with a little bit of sourness of lemon juice. In addition to mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and fish sauce give a unique aroma and texture to the food.
Tom Kha Gae is very similar to Tom Yum, but with fewer spices. If you are not good with spicy food, this Thai dish will give you the same flavor as Tom Yum but with a lower kick of spices.
Coconut milk gives a thick creamy texture and a slightly sweet flavor to this Thai food. Like other Thai dishes, Tom Kha Gai also has many vegetarian substitutes for chicken like tofu or mushrooms.
Curries In Thai Cuisine
Hor Mok Pla (Thai Fish Curry Custard)
Curries in Thai Cuisine are usually made fresh with pounded spices. These spices are hand-pounded into a paste, using a mortar and pestle. The amount of effort put into these is incredible.
Hor Mok Pla is an authentic Thai food. The word Pla in Thai means fish and Hor Mok refers to the cooking process of steamed dumplings.
Hor Mok Pla is like a Thai fish cake but the fish has more like a custard texture. The steamed fish souffle is made with curry paste, coconut milk, and kaffir lime. This traditional Thai food is served wrapped in banana leaves.
Panang Curry (Red Thai Curry)
Many curries in Thailand are named after their appearance, like green, yellow, and red curries. Similarly, Panang Curry is also known as Red Thai Curry in Thai cuisine. It is a thick creamy curry with peanuts.
Panang curry is also considered one of the sweetest Thai curries as it has double coconut cream and peanuts. The presence of peanuts makes the curry thick and unique from other Thai dishes. The roasted peanuts also deliver a mellow and nutty texture to the curry.
Panang curry is served with fresh shrimp and some vegetarian options. Other meat can be used as well. It contains chilies, coconut, coriander, and lemongrass.
The curry also has a little bit lighter taste than other Thai cuisines. It is the main attraction for most tourists, so you will also love this milder curry.
Massaman Curry (The Curry Of The Muslims)
This Thai food got its name from the word Mosalman, meaning “Muslim.” In 2011, it was ranked number one among the “World’s 50 most delicious foods.”
Massaman curry is considered one of the best spicy curries in Thai cuisine. It also shows the Muslim influence on Thai food. As it has Muslim roots, it is usually cooked with chicken, but you can also find other meat options like duck, mutton, beef, or pork.
The curry is not like traditional spicy Thai curry. The main ingredients are potatoes, chicken, coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, and chilies which are mixed with other spices. It also has a mildly tangy and sweet taste from tamarind and coconut milk.
Kaeng Khiao Wan (Green Curry)
Kaeng Khiao Wan originates from central Thailand. It is a green curry from Thai cuisine with the most intense and pungent flavor.
The curry has a base of coriander, kaffir lime leaves, zest, and green chili which gives it a beautiful green color. The combination of these greens with coconut milk and ginger gives a fresh green color with an irresistible taste.
It is a spicy curry in Thai cuisine with a slight sweetness from coconut milk. The curry is usually served with steamed rice.
Kaeng Som (Thai Sour Curry)
Kaeng Som or Gaeng Somo is a spicy and sour Thai curry with vegetables. It is more like Thai chicken soup. Unlike most Thai curries, this one doesn’t have coconut milk to balance the spices.
The curry is known for its sweet and sour taste from palm sugar and tamarind. You can find hundreds of variations of Kaeng Som throughout Thailand. It might include chicken, shrimp, or fish with shallots and red chilis.
This popular Thai food is usually served with steamed rice. You can easily find it in local restaurants or street food carts in Bangkok.
Best Thai Food – Meat Options
Pad Kra Pao (Meat Stew With Stir Fried Basil)
Pad Kra Pao is a meat main course of Thai food. It is a meat stew served with fried holy basil, fried egg, and a bowl of rice. The delicious aroma of basil fried with soy sauce is the specialty of this famous food in Thailand.
Pad Kra Pao comes in different varieties including pork, chicken, fried eggs, carrots, and onions. But minced chicken and pork are the most common and popular ones. The vegetarian version of Pad Kra Pao might include stir-fried tofu instead of meat.
It is also a famous Thai street food snack. You can have this Thailand food for lunch and dinner. As you can see, there’s no bad time for yummy goodness.
Khao Mok Gai (Thai Chicken Biryani)
Khao Mok Gai is a rice biryani in Thai cuisine. Biryani in Thailand is very spicy and served with sweet chili sauce.
The rice in khao mok gai is cooked slowly with other ingredients so that the spices are soaked well into the rice. Similarly, chicken fats are mixed well with rice. Thai biryani is served with cucumber vinegar sauce or sliced cucumbers.
It is a local street Thai food you can easily find on every other corner of Thailand. Although biryani is served for lunch or dinner in other countries, you can enjoy it for breakfast in Thailand.
Gai Tod (Fried Chicken)
Gai Tod is a deep-fried chicken in Thai cuisine. It may not be an authentic Thai food, but it is very famous among natives. I mean, who can resist a succulent piece of crispy chicken?
Just like any other crispy fried chicken, Thai-style fried chicken is also marinated before frying. Chicken wings and drumsticks are marinated with aromatic Thai spices and rice flour. That’s what makes it stand out and special.
Fried chicken in Thailand is usually served with spicy dipping sauce and sticky rice for a complete dining experience. From street stalls to fancy restaurants, you can find this fried chicken everywhere anytime.
Yam Pla Dook Foo (Fried Catfish And Mango Salad)
Yam Pla Dook Foo is a fluffy fried catfish with green mango salad. It is a traditional Thai food, served with alcohol, especially on the shared Thai tables.
Catfish is cut into small pieces and then fried to create a fluffy and well-cooked fish salad. The crispy fish tastes perfect with sweet and sour green mango salad.
The combination of spicy and tangy mango salad with crispy and moist fish has a heavenly taste. Thailand food is usually served as an appetizer or a snack with alcohol. Thai people also enjoy it for a hearty lunch or dinner with a bowl of rice.
Khao Kha Moo (Rice With Pork Leg)
Thais love the combo of rice and pork, and this traditional Thai food is another rice and pork dish. Khao Kha Moo is made from rice, pork legs, and boiled eggs.
The pork leg or trotter is slowly cooked with broth and spices in a sealed vessel. Once the leg meat is soft and tender, boiled eggs are added to the same broth. The egg absorbs the flavor and color of the broth.
The pork in Khao Kha Moo has an aromatic and sweet flavor and aroma. It is a very famous Thai street food, which locals enjoy for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Vegetarian Options In Thai Cuisine
Khao Pad (Thai Fried Rice)
So far, you might have noticed that Thai dishes largely consist of noodles and rice. Khao Pad is also a rice dish from Thai cuisine. Khao Pad means fried rice, so this dish is just fried Thai Jasmine rice with many other ingredients.
It is one of the very simple and easy Thai foods. If you want to make this dish, look around your kitchen and grab anything you like, vegetables, pepper, garlic, onion, soy sauce, and spices. Mix everything with the rice and oil and fry it in a wok over high flame.
Khao Pad Sapparod is an unusual version of Khao Pad. In this traditional Thai food, the rice is served in a pineapple which adds a tangy flavor to it. The dish is usually served with cucumber slices, coriander, or broccoli.
Pak Boong (Morning Glory)
Pak boong (morning glory) is a spinach-like vegetable. It is a very common and healthy Thai food. The delicate leaves of this vegetable have a little bit of bitterness to them.
Pak Boong is typically stir-fried in hot oil and then seasoned with oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic, chilies, soybean paste, and many spices. A vegetarian variation of this Thai food is also available by eliminating oyster sauce.
The crunchy leaves of morning glory are enough alone to satisfy your palate. The dish has a spicy and sour taste with a hint of saltiness.
Thai Spring Rolls
Thai Spring Rolls are perfect for fried food lovers. It is a very popular snack from Thai street food and an appetizer from big Thai restaurants.
The vendors make these crunchy and juicy spring rolls every day to ensure freshness. This amazing Thai food can have a vegetarian filling or minced pork or chicken.
The hot spring rolls coming right out of the hot oil are a perfect snack to munch on a cold or rainy day. Most vendors and restaurants serve these spring rolls with hot sauce or sweet chili sauce dips.
Thailand Cuisine – Best Sweet Dishes And Desserts
Khao Niao Mamuang (Mango Sticky Rice)
Khao Niao Mamuang is also called mango sticky rice. Just the name of this Thai food attracts tourists to the food carts serving this delicious goodness.
It is commonly available during the peak season of mangoes, which are in April and May. The dish simply consists of sticky rice with slices of mango. The sticky rice is prepared by steaming glutinous rice and mixing it with sweetened coconut milk.
The warm rice is sprinkled with sesame seeds or mung beans, and another scoop of coconut cream. It is a simple and surprisingly filling Thai food.
Kluai Buat Chi (Banana In Coconut Milk)
Kluai Buat Chi is a traditional Thai food made with coconut milk and banana. Bananas have been a favorite fruit of Thailand which is why it is used in many Thai dishes.
Kluai buat chi can be of two types one is salty and the other one is sweet. However, the sweet one is more famous among locals. Ripen bananas are cooked in coconut milk and coconut cream to make this velvety sweet dish.
It is a light and healthy dessert popular among Thai kids and adults. The dessert is usually prepared for family gatherings and to give monks to religious festivals and other events.
Cho Muang (Thai Flower Dumplings)
Chom Muang or cho muang is an ancient royal dish in Thai cuisine. It is also known as an indigo flower dumpling because of its flower-like shape and indigo color.
This traditional Thai food gets its beautiful color from the butterfly peas. The dumplings are carved in a flower shape and then steamed. After steaming, they are glazed with coconut milk to give a sweet creamy taste to them.
The original recipe of cho muang contains a sweet filling but some variations also have a savory filling. The savory fillings can include meat, pork, fish, shrimp, or chicken. The dumplings are served with coriander, chili, and lettuce.
Cho Muang cannot be easily found in a typical Thai market. To enjoy these exquisite dumplings you should visit special dessert houses in Thailand.
If you are looking for something both delicious and visually aesthetic, be sure to go hunt down some cho muang.
Khanom Chan (Thai Layered Coconut Sweet Dessert)
Khanom Chan in Thai means “Layered Dessert”. It is an ancient Thai dessert made with rice flour, tapioca flour, and coconut milk. This staple Thai food has a minimum of nine layers.
This delicious coconut dessert is a little bit oily with a sweet and fragrant flavor. The coconut milk gives the dessert a sticky and creamy texture. It is one of the nine auspicious Thai desserts.
The number nine is considered to have prosperity in Thailand. Therefore, the dessert is often served at sacred ceremonies or career promotions. People in Thailand believe that this dessert brings progress and happiness so it is also a must-have dessert for weddings.
Cha Mongkut (Coconut Milk Dessert)
Cha Mongkut is another one of the nine auspicious Thai desserts. This famous sweet dish is known for its auspicious significance in the country’s history. Therefore, it is used for the celebration of job promotions and wedding ceremonies as a blessing of dignity and achievements.
The dish is made of rice flour and a mixture of green bean flour, coconut milk, and sugar. In the authentic Thai food recipe, the dough is cut into small bite-size pieces and then wrapped in a banana leaf.
Cha Mongkut has a floral scent from the fresh Kesidang, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, and Damask rose flowers. The dessert is also sprinkled with chopped roasted peanuts.
Khanom Buang (Thai Crepes)
Khanom Buaeang is a delicious golden brown crepe dessert in Thai cuisine. It has a soft texture and juicy filling. It is a traditional Thai snack also called Thai crepe or crispy pancake.
The crepes look like tacos filled with meringue and garnished with sweet or salty toppings. The common toppings include chopped scallions, shredded coconut, and fried egg yolk. It is also a popular street food in Thailand.
Discovering Traditional Thai Food
Since 1980, Thai cuisine has been gaining popularity with increased tourism in Thailand. Thai dishes are known globally for their unusual flavors and intense aromas.
Thai food shows a great deal of impact from Muslim, Chinese, Indian, and European cuisine. You can also find some regional differences in Thai foods from North, Northeast, Central, and Southern Thailand.
Northern Thailand prefers sticky rice with milder curries. Rice is usually eaten with hands in North Thailand. However, Northeast Thailand’s food is very spicy and served with sticky glutinous rice. Northeast Thailand cuisine is largely based on meat stews and curries.
The central region prefers a fragrant variety of Thai dishes. It mainly includes the royal cuisine that originated in the royal palace. Fragrant Jasmine rice is also served with these royal Thai dishes.
Southern cuisine is the most popular Thai food in Thailand and around the world. Coconut milk and coconut cream are added to most dishes. Sometimes, coconut is replaced with clarified butter to give a heavy texture to food.
You are in for a crazy culinary experience when you dive into the flavorful world of Thai food.