I’m not going to lie–before going to Thailand, I had tried maybe 2 different types of Thai dishes in my lifetime. Even those two dishes, the standard pad thai (ผัดไทย phat thai) and green curry (แกงเขียวหวาน kaeng khiao wan) I’ve had less than 10 times in my life.
If asked to name even 5 Thai dishes, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.
Now after only a few days in Thailand, I’ve eaten some of the best food of my life and drunk some of the best drinks. A mixture of sweet, spicy, and sour, Thai food has something for everyone (unless you’re allergic to nuts–then run far away as they’re hidden in almost everything).
Here are 10 Try-worthy Tastes of Thailand
1) Green Curry (แกงเขียวหวาน kaeng khiao wan)
One of the more famous Thai dishes, green curry can be found on almost any Thai menu around the world. My normal go-to dish, I had only ever tried it outside of Thailand so I knew it was something I had to try authentically.
Even though green usually means spicy, don’t let this dish fool you. Yes the sauce is mainly made of green chili peppers and eggplants, but with coconut milk being another one of the main ingredients, this dish has a perfect balance of sweet and spicy unlike anything else I’ve tasted. I can see why locals and tourists alike can’t get enough of this dish!
2) Pineapple Fried Rice (ข้าวผัดสับปะรด khao phat sapparot)
Pineapple fried rice has long been one of Johnny’s staple foods. So needless to say, we ordered it at least 3 times during our 3 day trip–and on one occasion twice during one meal, because at USD $3 per order, why the hell not.
Like any other Asian country, Thai people eat rice daily. However, unlike that of most other Asian countries, Thailand uses mainly jasmine rice as opposed to long-grain rice or sticky rice.
Fried with a variety of vegetables, seafood, spam, nuts, raisins and of course delicious Thai pineapple (more on this later)–each restaurant had a slightly different, yet tasty variation.
3) Massaman Curry (แกงมัสมั่น kaeng matsaman)
Massaman meaning Muslim in Thai, is a curry of just that–Muslim origin.
The sauce is a mixture of curry paste, coconut milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, anise, and tamarind. It is traditionally made with meats other than pork (due to being Muslim) as well as peanuts, onions and potatoes that have soaked up all the sweet coconut milk.
Ranked #1 on World’s 50 most delicious foods(2011) by CCNGo, it was another dish I knew I had to try. With such an unusual blend of ingredients, it had a sweet-sour-savory-spicy flavor. And at first it doesn’t seem very spicy, but it can catch up to you. I would definitely order it again–but next time with a side of rice to give my mouth a break from the spice.
4) Crispy Catfish Green Mango Salad (ยำปลาดุกฟู yum pla-dook fu)
Another favorite dish amongst many, this unique Thai food is based off a combination of many flavors and textures. The shredded catfish is fried into crispy bits and then topped with slices of green mangoes and peanuts. Green mangoes are known for being tart and tangy with a hint of sweetness– which somehow all works together with the salty fish taste.
I had ordered this for lunch and it was way to0 filling–but I’d love to try it again as a dinner item. I think after spending the day out, this dish would be rather refreshing.
5) Fried Banana (กล้วยแขก kluai kaek)
One of my favorite eats from the trip, fried bananas are the perfect end to any meal. Found in numerous restaurants and street stands, they are also easy to find. Made from burro bananas, the taste is sweet yet tangy, and when covered with honey or ice cream–delicious.
Since eating these, I’ve been on a bit of a banana kick. But don’t let these little guys fool you; just because you’re eating “fruit” doesn’t mean they’re any better for your waistline.
6) Poorman’s Pancakes (ขนมถังแตก khanom tang taek) -or- any street food
Street food is a big part of life in almost any Asian country, but in Thailand it’s literally everywhere. You can’t walk a block without seeing someone selling food. In fact, there are even many different forms of street vendors, so many that it deserves a separate blog post of it’s own. Basically, what I’m saying is that you can’t go to Asia without trying some street food.
With some forms of street food being for the more daring than others, we chose what we would try carefully. We constantly saw people walking around with what looked like crepes, and like that we had made our choice.
Watching the old man skillfully prepare what Thai’s call “poorman pancakes” we anticipated putting our order in. We decided to try to haggle the price down (as you do with anything in Thailand) but the old man shot us down–with all the people walking around with crepes, he clearly didn’t need our business.
We caved in and paid the steep price anyways…a couple standing by told us we wouldn’t regret it, and we sure didn’t. A few minutes later we were devouring some of the best “mango and honey” and “banana and Nutella” crepes in Asia.
7) Thai Shrimp Cakes (ทอดมันกุ้ง tod mun goong)
As I’m about to mention next, any seafood is good in Thailand because it’s fresh. However, these shrimp cakes made my list for reasons in addition to the actual shrimp.
Although Johnny really enjoyed the cakes themselves, for me it was the sauce–the famous Thai chili sauce. Known also as sriracha sauce, this version was very sweet in addition to the chili. I think I could eat this sauce on just about anything and it would still be delicious.
8) Any Seafood (อาหารทะเล ahan thale)
Around 4pm restaurants start to pop up in the most unexpected places. Parking lots, alleyways and more, serving some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat. Out catching fish all day, the fishermen then deliver the goods to restaurants just in time for dinner hours.
With displays of fresh seafood on ice, you can grab what you’d like and throw it on the scale. The price is typically per 100 grams and once you’ve found the perfect dinner, you tell them how you’d like it cooked and they bring it out to you as soon as it’s ready.
The freshest crab I’ve ever eaten with a delicious garlic-chili butter sauce? Yes please!
9) Thai Fruits (ผลไม้ phon la mai)
One of the best parts of traveling to a tropical country is trying all of the tropical fruits!
Thailand has so many types of fruits I couldn’t even begin to list them (but you can see a list of popular Thai fruits here). No seriously, they have over 20 species of banana and over a dozen varieties of mango alone! So for being a fruit lover–this was heaven.
Besides mangoes, one of the best fruits I just have to mention is Thai pineapple. I’m not usually a fan of pineapple–the stringy texture and acidic nature of the fruit usually just leaves my mouth burning. But Thai pineapple was different. When picked right, it wasn’t stringy and it wasn’t acidic. It was some of the sweetest fruit I’ve had.
So when in Thailand, do stop and grab some fruit off the street vendors or from a grocery store; at only USD $1 for an already cut-up pineapple, your taste buds will thank you.
10) Thai Fanta Green Water and Red Water (แฟนต้าน้ำเขียว fanta nam quiew and แฟนต้าน้ำแดง fanta nam dang)
I’ll admit it–since traveling around Asia, I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur for a few select food-related items. In Japan it was Kit Kats and in Hong Kong it’s beef ho fun, but it seems everywhere I go in Asia I’ve additionally been sampling various flavors of Fanta. One of my favorite drinks from back home has a whole new taste and range of flavors abroad… and in Thailand it’s no exception.
Thailand still had the normal orange and grape Fanta, but in addition they also had blueberry, “green water” and “red water” (they don’t have actual flavor names–it’s just what they’re called locally).
The “green water”, despite having pictures of pineapples, oranges and bananas on the cans, is more similar to cream soda with a hint of fruitiness. The “red water” I later learned was made from the sala fruit, and tastes like a berry cream soda. Both were so delicious we imported a few bottles to Hong Kong with us.
I could see this version of the drink being banned in the US–with excessive sugar amounts and artificial food coloring, these things have diabetes written all over them. Even still, we found ourselves drinking them for their exotic flavor. Proclaimed as a favorite drink of the King of Thailand, everywhere we went shrines would have open bottles of Fanta “red water”. If Buddha likes them, they can’t be that bad, right?