Fragrant, exotic and always with balanced flavors. Oh boy!, don’t you just love Thai food? I could recommend probably more than a hundred Thai dishes, but instead of eating you would spend all your time reading. So, I put together a list of the top 11 Thai Food that everyone must try.
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Let’s start this list with the most iconic of all Thai dishes. Stir fried rice noodles with either pork, chicken, shrimp or tofu. Add a bit of tamarind paste, a dash of fish sauce, a sprinkle of sugar and maybe a chili or two. Fry it all up with egg, bean sprouts, chives, ground peanuts and you’re done. Street vendors will prepare it for you in under a minute and often under $2.
Fun fact: In the late 1930’s the Thai government organized a competition to define a new Thai national dish. Pad Thai won the competition and earned itself a prominent place in Thai cuisine.
2. Pad Khaprao (Fried Basil)
Holy Basil (Khaprao) is the star of this stir fry. It’s different from the sweet basil that is used in the West. The texture is firm and more stable under high cooking temperatures. In fact, it needs cooking to release its anise-licorice-like fragrance and flavor. Khaprao can be stir fried with beef, pork or chicken. Garlic, chili and light soy sauce complete the dish. Served over steamed rice.
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3. Kai Met Mamuang (Chicken Cashew)
The Chinese Sichuan “Kung Pao Chicken” inspired yet another classic Thai stir fry. Tender chicken, dried chili peppers, onion, carrots and of course roasted cashew nuts give this dish a unique contrasting texture and flavor. Served over steamed rice.
4. Tom Yam (Spicy and Sour Soup)
This remarkable soup is probably the all time favorite Thai food. Broth infused with galangal is enriched with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and lime juice to sour it up. The Thai like to add generous amounts of dried and fresh chili to satisfy their unrelenting heat crave. Ask to have it prepared “mei phet” if you’re not into spicy. The soup is usually served with large prawns, but it also goes well with chicken.
5. Khao Pad (Thai Fried Rice)
What do you eat when you’re poor in Thailand and all you is have a handful of rice and some leftover veggies? Well, you scavenge for an egg, throw it all in a sizzling hot wok and stir. I imagine that this is how “Khao Pad” was born. Whether it’s chicken, beef, pork, seafood or tofu, the simple Thai food works even better with added protein.
Khao Pad is usually served with cucumber and a slice of lime. Drizzle some phrik nam phla (chili in fish sauce) on top and you’re good to go. If you’re not poor and you can afford an extra fried egg on top, you’re a lucky man indeed.
6. Kaeng (Curry)
The famous Thai curry is known in Thailand as “Kaeng”. Different curries exist and contrary to common belief, not all of them are spicy. The base is always a curry paste consisting of shallots, garlic, galangal, cilantro, lemongrass and shrimp paste.
Depending on the type of curry various other ingredients can be added for taste. Chilies are thrown in for heat and color. Furthermore, fresh herbs are added only at the last minute to preserve taste and fragrance.
6a. Kaeng Daeng (Red Curry)
The red color in this curry is derived from red chilies. Added protein can be any kind of meat or fish, but most common are pork, chicken, beef or duck. Vegetarian alternatives include tofu and/or pumpkin while Thai eggplant and bamboo shoots are the common vegetables in this curry. Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves are used for extra fragrance.
6b. Kaeng Khiao Wan (Green curry)
Green curry is very similar to red curry. The green color is derived from green chilies and extra lemongrass is defines the characteristic green curry taste. First of all, the currypaste is fried to release its aroma’s after which coconut milk is added. Main protein used for green curry are chicken or fish balls, while Thai eggplant and pea eggplant are the designated vegetables. Extra fragrance in this dish comes from kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil.
6c. More Curries
Phanaeng Curry: Rather thick curry with peanuts as the distinctive ingredient. Most popular with pork.
Massaman Curry: Dry spices like nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise, mace and cloves give this curry a completely different taste compared to others. Further ingredients to this usually mild curry are potatoes, peanuts and beef or chicken. Fun fact: Massaman curry was voted nr. 1 in the “world’s most delicious foods list in 2011.
7. Som Tam – Green Papaya Salad
Probably the most favored Thai food by locals, mainly because of the tangy flavors. They claim that the tartness of green unripe papaya is very refreshing on a hot day. Ironically, Thai also like to add heat to the salad by throwing in lot’s of chilies.
Anyway, next to shredded green unripe papaya and chilies this salad consists of carrot, long bean, tomatoe, garlic, sugar, tamarind, fish sauce, lime juice, peanuts and dried shrimp. Release the flavors by mixing and gently pounding all the ingredients in a wooden mortar and pestle. The result is a tangy, salty, spicy salad that’s immensely popular with the locals.
8. Kuai Tiao (Noodle Soup)
Noodle soup is a staple all over South East Asia and Thailand is no exception. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, any time is good for noodle soup. Countless variations exist. Of course the broth is important, which could be either chicken, pork or beef based.
Use rice noodles, wheat noodles, it doesn’t matter, whichever you like. Subsequently, top it with bits of meat, veggies, dumplings, fish balls and any condiments of your liking. Adding sugar, chilies, fish sauce, lime, vinegar and fried onions at will to make it your personal dish. Eat it with chopsticks and a Chinese spoon, slurping is allowed.
9. Pak Boong (Morning Glory)
Pak Boong a.k.a. “Morning Glory” might be the most popular vegetable dish in Thailand. Stems and leaves of the water-spinach plant are stir fried with lot’s of garlic, fish sauce, oyster sauce, yellow bean paste (tao chiao) and moderate chili. It’s always spectacular to watch the chef prepare Pak Boong, because the right taste requires that cooking flames come into the wok.
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10. Tom Kha Kai (Coconut Chicken Soup)
Another soup and it’s a winner! Similar to Tom Yam, because of the galangal and lemongrass infused broth, yet sweet and creamy due to generously added coconut milk. This soup is eaten with tender chicken and sometimes mushrooms. Moderate use of chili gives the dish an extra kick.
11. Khao Niao Mamuang (Mango/Sticky Rice)
Above all, we need a sweet finish, right?! So, how about the Thai classic, mango and sticky rice? The name already reveals the ingredients of this popular dessert. Sticky rice, topped with sweet coconut milk and paired with slices of fresh ripe mango. Tastes even better with toasted sesame seeds on top. And you said you had no room left!
Is your favorite Thai food in the list? Or is there another dish that you like even more? Let us know in the comments below. Maybe we can extend the top 11.
If you’re a fan of noodle soup like me, then read about the Vietnamese version in my article “The truth about Phò“.