Thailand is known for so many things, from stunning beaches to hectic, scooter-saturated cities. But of course, Thailand is most well-known around the world for its exquisite cuisine packed full of spice, rice and noodles.
Thai food consists of various complex flavours and textures, and is eponymous of Southeast Asian cuisine in general. Typical Thai dishes are considered to be the spiciest in the world (yes, even ahead of South Asia!), but you would be mistaken in thinking that the cuisine is homogeneous.
In fact, Thai food can vary greatly across the country, with different regional traditions seeping in to the creation of the nation’s favorite dishes.
Table of Contents
Most Popular Thai Foods
So what is typical Thai food? We take a look at the most popular traditional Thai dishes that you should certainly try on your next trip, or even try cooking at home. We’ve also included our favorite Thai recipes if you want to give them a go.
So without further ado, here are the absolute most popular Thai dishes:
Pad Thai is probably the popular food among Thai dishes. If you want to introduce yourself to Thai food, Pad Thai is a good starter.
The literal translation of Pad Thai is “Thai-style stir-fried noodles.” It is made of rice noodles with a mixture of sweet-savoury-sour-spicy sauce and crushed peanuts.
Tom Yum Goong
Tom Yum Goong means ‘hot and sour soup with shrimp’, and it is the most famous Thai soup both inside and even outside of Thailand. This Thai dish is versatile as it can fit with any meal.
It has a bold, refreshing blend of aroma from lemongrass, chilli, galangal root, lime leaves, shallots, lime juice, and fish sauce. The fragrant scent from these ingredients makes the soup more authentic.
Tom Yum Goong is usually made from prawns. However, it can also be served with chicken (Tom Yum Gai), fish (Tom Yum Pla), or mixed seafood (Tom Yum Taleh) and mushroom.
Som Tum or Som Tam
Som Tum is a Thai dish that originated from the Northeastern part of Thailand. It is a spicy green papaya salad that combines well with the spice of red chilli pepper, fish sauce, lime or tamarind, and palm sugar.
The dish also includes garlic, green beans, and cherry tomatoes. Regional variations of this dish also incorporate other ingredients like peanuts, dry shrimp, salted crabs, and rice noodles.
While the main ingredient of this dish is papaya, others would also opt to use other alternatives, such as mangoes, cucumber or other vegetables. If you ever visit Bangkok, Som Tam can also be sold on every street corner in Bangkok.
Tom Kha Kai
Tom Kha Kai is a mild version of the Tom Yum Goong. This dish is also very popular among Thai dishes.
The ingredients of this recipe usually include chicken, galangal, coconut milk, shallots, and lemongrass. While Tom Yum has watery soup, Tom Kha has a richer and creamier soup with coconut milk.
The coconut milk gives it a soft and mild flavour than Tom Yum’s spicy blow. When served, Tom Kha Kai is topped with lime leaves which gives the dish a sweet-smelling concoction.
Gaeng Keow Wan Gai
Gaeng Keow Wan Gai translates to Thai Green Chicken Curry. This dish is the most popular curry in Thailand.
Green curry is typically made from herb and spice blend curry paste cooked with coconut milk. It is very easy to prepare and uses ingredients that are also easy to find.
The dish has a good blend of sweet and spicy, while others also add more pepper for extra spice. Gaeng Keow Wan Gai is an excellent dish on top of steaming rice or kanomjeen noodles.
Khao Pad is Thai Style Fried Rice that is a favourite by all the locals in Thailand. In Thai, Khao means ‘rice’ while pad means ‘stir-fried’.
Khao Pad typically includes any meat of your preference. The idea is this: since you devour it, you dress it!
You can literally add any meat of your preference, such as shrimp, chicken, pork, crab, or beef, together with egg, onion, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes, and seasoning. It is cooked with jasmine rice and garnished with a wedge of lime or slices of cucumber.
Choo Chee Curry
Choo Chee Curry is a simple dish to prepare, made with coconut milk, Thai red curry and fish. There are different varieties of this dish depending on the type of fish used. Mackerel is quite popular, but many different types of soft, fresh fish can be used.
Choo Chee curry is similar to Panang Curry and Roasted Curry in both taste as well as texture.
Thai Goong Ten: Dancing Shrimp
Ok so not technically a favorite per se, but dancing shrimp is one of those authentically Thai delicacies that it’s absolutely worth including on the list.
Thai Goong Ten or Dancing Shrimp are quite literally live shrimp that are doused in a spicy sour sauce. Given its name because the shrimp look like they’re dancing as they try to jump out of the bowl.
Pad Kra Pao
Pad Kra Pao is a quick and easy Thai dish that everyone loves. When people don’t know what to order, ordering Pad Kra Pao is always a good choice.
As mentioned earlier, “Pad” means stir-fry while “Kra Pao” means holy basil, one of the main ingredients. Typically, the dish is made using minced pork or chicken with Thai basil and lots of chillies.
Many Thai street vendors make Pad Kra Pao with lots of chillies. However, you can request it to be “pet nit moi”, which means “only a little spicy.”
Thai Cashew Chicken
Cashew nuts are a common ingredient in Thai cuisine. It can be used to prepare a wide range of different curries, rice and noodle dishes.
This Thai cashew chicken is a scrumptious recipe that is popular throughout Thailand and super easy to make.
Ruam Mit is an unusual Thai dessert since it has no official list of ingredients. It is typically prepared by combining various Thai desserts, with the most common ones including fried cookie krong-krang and thapthim krop.
It is generally served in a bowl, occasionally topped with shredded ice.
Khao Soi is a northern-style curry noodle soup that is also very popular in Thailand. It is also said to be a Burmese-inspired curry noodle soup.
It consists of thick noodles, rich coconut milk, and yellow curry gravy. Typically, this dish is also made with chicken. Still, you can also use other meat options like beef, pork, or vegetarian options.
Other ingredients would also include deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, and ground chillies fried from oil. When travelling in the northern part of Thailand, it is good to try Khao Soi, especially in Chiang Mai, the Khao Soi mecca.
Thai Snake Whiskey is a traditional drink in Thailand that is made by infusing a whole venomous snake in a bottle of whiskey. The snake is believed to impart its ‘essence’ into the whiskey, giving it supposed health benefits and increased potency.
Teh Tarik is a hot milk tea beverage prepared using a strong brew of black tea blended with condensed milk. Other ingredients can be added for additional flavor which include cardamom, cloves and ginger.
Eaten throughout Southeast Asia, Durian is a prickly tropical fruit known for its pungent odor. However, it is commonly eaten raw as well as used to add flavor to many other dishes, including Malay candy, ice kacang, dodol, lempuk, rose biscuits, ice cream, milkshakes, mooncakes, Yule logs and cappuccino. It is also commonly eaten with rice.
Pad See Eiw
Pad See Eiw is another Thai stir-fried noodles that are also popular along the streets of Thailand. Like Pad Thai, Pad See Ew is also loved by many people in Thailand.
The difference between the two is basically their flavour. Pad Thai is sweeter and nuttier, whereas Pad See Eiw is salty and sour at the same time.
Pad See Eiw contains wide rice noodles that are stir-fried in soy sauce with chicken, pork, or beef, and Chinese broccoli or cabbage. This is a perfect choice for people who don’t like the spiciness of Pad Thai.
Shrimp Chips (Prawn Crackers)
Shrimp chips are a popular snack or side dish in many Asian countries. They are typically made from a combination of shrimp paste, tapioca starch, and water, which is then shaped into thin, round chips and deep-fried until crispy.
The chips are usually served as a light and crunchy snack or appetizer and can be eaten on their own or with a dipping sauce.
Nom Yen (Pink Milk)
Nom Yen, or Pink Milk, is a famous pink-coloured drink found throughout Thailand. The drink resembles your regular strawberry milkshake. However, Nom Yen is flavored with sala syrup and there are many other variations all over the world.
Khao Niew Ma Muang
Khao Niew Ma Muang is a classic Thai dessert that many people love, from locals to tourists. It is a simple yet highly delicious dessert served on every street corner in Thailand and Thai restaurants worldwide.
Khao Niew Ma Muang means ‘mango sticky rice’. This dessert only requires a few ingredients, making it an easy recipe to follow at home.
The key to a yummy mango sticky rice is sweet mangoes. Other ingredients include glutinous rice and good-quality coconut milk.
Ants Egg Soup
Ant egg soup is a traditional North-Eastern Thai and Laotian delicacy prepared using ant eggs combined with snakehead fish, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, tamarind bean, lime juice, basil leaves, tomatoes and fish stock. The ant eggs used consist of both the eggs and pupae of weaver ants (commonly called red ants in Thailand).
Moo Ping is a dish of grilled pork that has been marinated in a sweet and savory sauce made with soy sauce, sugar and coriander. The meat is then placed on skewers and grilled over hot coal. Moo Ping is usually served with white rice.
Lad na is a Lao-Chinese noodle dish popular in Thailand, that is prepared using wide rice noodles. The dish also includes meat (either chicken, beef, pork or tofu) and several vegetables, such as Chinese kailan and straw mushrooms. However, broccoli is often used as a substitute for kailan.
Seasonings such as sweet soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and black pepper are also added to enhance the flavor of the dish.
Thai Beef Waterfall Salad (Nam Tok Neua)
Namtok Neua is a dish consisting of meat and vegetables served in a fish sauce with palm sugar, spring onions, lime juice, parley and mint. The meat is marinated, grilled then sliced thinly and then tossed in herbs, seasonings and a dressing.