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Thai Food: 12 Must-Try Traditional Dishes of Thailand

Thai Food: 12 Must-Try Traditional Dishes of Thailand

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.

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 most popular Thai dishes:

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

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.

An authentic Pad Thai recipe has a distinct fish or prawn smell. The smell may be unappetising, but once you get to taste it, it becomes addictive! 

Our favourite Pad Thai recipe.

Tom Yum Goong

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.

Our favourite Tom Yum Goong recipe.

Som Tum or Som Tam

Som Tum

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.

Our favourite Som Tum recipe. 

Tom Kha Kai

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.

Our favourite Tom Kha Kai recipe.

Gaeng Keow Wan Gai

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.

Our favourite Gaeng Keow Wan Gai recipe.

Khao Pad

Khao Pad

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. 

Our favourite Khao Pad recipe.

Choo Chee Curry

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.

Our favorite Choo Chee Curry recipe.

Thai Goong Ten: Dancing Shrimp

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.

Our favorite Dancing Shrimp recipe.

Pad Kra Pao

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.”

Our favourite Pad Kra Pao recipe.

Thai Cashew Chicken

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.

Our favorite Thai cashew chicken recipe.

Khao Soi

Khao Soi

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. 

Our favourite Khao Soi recipe.

Pad See Eiw

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. 

Our favourite Pad See Eiw recipe. 

Khao Niew Ma Muang

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.

Our favourite Khao Niew Ma Muang recipe.

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