Thailand is one of the world’s top foodie destinations. Explore the must-try food in Thailand to experience the flavors for yourself.
Thailand is a foodie paradise. This vast country in the heart of Southeast Asia combines influences from northwest Asia, such as Vietnam and China, with those more southeast such as India.
Combining rich aromas with spicy flavors, food in Thailand has become famous around the globe. Thai food covers a huge range of dishes, from curry to noodles, soups, and treats. The wide variety of dishes combined with the accessibility of ingredients has led to Thailand being considered one of the best countries in the world for foodies.
This guide to the food in Thailand that every visitor must try will take you through the classic Thai dishes and let you know which region of Thailand to travel to in order to find the best versions.
What Is Food In Thailand Like?
It’s pretty common to find Thai food in most western countries. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a major city worldwide without at least one Thai restaurant. But what is Thai food like in Thailand?
Food in Thailand can vary quite a bit by region. Thailand shares its borders with Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and Myanmar (Burma), and all of these countries (and more) have influenced the cuisine throughout the country. While most of the country celebrates Buddhism, Thailand also has a fairly large Muslim population, around 10%. It’s not surprising that curry dishes fit strongly into the Thailand cuisine throughout the country.
There are four major culinary regions within Thailand. The northeast or “Isna” region is known for its grilled meats, sticky rice, fermented salads, and massive portions of herbs and vegetables. This cuisine can be found throughout Thailand and is considered to be among the most popular food in Thailand.
The northern region of Thailand boasts “Lanna” cuisine. You’ll find this type of food on most menus in cities such as Chiang Mai. Lanna cuisine tends to lean heavily on scrumptious Khao Soi (curried noodles). The dishes use quite a bit of yellow and red coconut curry served along with either crunchy or soft noodles, typically paired with meat such as chicken leg. Fruits such as Jackfruit are more popular in the north. And it’s not uncommon to see signs warning locals not to open Durian on public transit.
Thailand’s southern region is where you’ll find the most under-the-radar Thai culinary experience. Food in Southern Thailand is characterized by its sharpness and spice. Curries are strong and flavorful, and chilies are abundant, as is sour tamarind.
Bordered by the Andaman Sea in the west and the Gulf of Thailand in the east, it’s no surprise that seafood is a heavy focus here. Hot and sour fish soup (Kaen som pla) is a staple in the region along with Massaman, a stewed curry with potato and vegetables.
Central Thailand is where you’ll find the most quintessential Thai food. This is the country’s most populous region, where dishes such as Phat Thai and Tom Yam Kung (hot and sour shrimp soup) originate from. Central Thailand is also the birthplace of my favorite green curry (Kaeng Kiao Wan). Central Thailand is also where Thailand’s largest producers of Jasmine rice are located.
10 Thai Foods You Must Try
If you’re looking to explore Thailand as a foodie, there is just some food in Thailand that you can’t miss. They are either at the core of local life, or they are the dishes that are prized for special occasions. Food in Thailand is still extremely inexpensive compared to many areas of the world. These must-try authentic Thai dishes will leave you with your belly as full as your wallet.
Massaman Curry is believed to have originated in southern Thailand. Although its name is associated with an ancient Thai word for “Muslim,” meaning that the original dish might have been introduced by Malaysians.
Massaman curry has become a staple within the country. This rich and hearty dish typically features tender chunks of meat, such as chicken or beef, simmered in a savory coconut milk broth along with potatoes, onions, and roasted peanuts.
The curry is flavored with a blend of spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg, which give it a unique and complex taste. It is often served with steamed rice and garnished with fresh cilantro, making it the perfect meal for a cold winter day.
Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Tom Yum Goong is among the most popular foods in Thailand. This spicy shrimp soup is characterized by its bold and fiery flavors. The soup originated in Central Thailand but has become among the most popular dishes throughout the country.
Tom Yum Goong soup uses a spicy and sour broth base, which is typically made by simmering lemongrass, shallots,, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal with a variety of chili peppers. The broth is then layered with delicious shrimp and a medley of fresh vegetables, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions.
The soup is finished with a squeeze of lime juice, adding a bright and tangy note to the dish. Depending on your taste, some people like adding a bit of coconut cream to the dish to give it a creamier texture. Tom Yum Goong is one of my favorite Thai foods. It is the perfect meal to enjoy on a hot summer day or anytime you’re looking for a burst of flavor.
Pad See Eiw (Thick Noodle Dish)
Contrary to popular belief, Pad Thai, one of the dishes most associated with Thai food, isn’t the most popular dish in Thailand. In fact, except for tourist regions, you may not even find it on the menu. The staple throughout the country is actually a similar dish served with thick noodles called Pad See Eiw (also sometimes called Pad See Ew or Phat Si Io).
Pad See Eiw is made by stir-frying wide rice noodles with soy sauce, garlic, and eggs. The noodles are typically served with vegetables such as Chinese broccoli and a protein such as tofu, chicken, or beef. It is a delicious and satisfying dish that is often enjoyed as part of a larger meal that includes soups such as Tom Yum Goong.
Some people also like to add chili flakes or other seasonings to their Pad See Eiw to give it a little extra. Overall, it is a delicious and satisfying dish that is sure to become a favorite for anyone who loves noodles and Thai cuisine.
Som Tam (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
Thailand is known for its high heat and humidity. So packing meals with light, refreshing meals offers a nice way to get a break from the heat. Som Tam, also known as green papaya salad, offers that light, clean flavor that makes fits this need to a tee.
This refreshing and scrumptious salad is popular throughout Thailand. The salad is made by shredding green papaya and mixing it with a tangy dressing made from lime juice, fish sauce, and chili peppers. The result is a vibrant and flavorful dish that is perfect for hot summer days.
Crunchy papaya compliments the tangy dressing, creating a mouthwatering combination of flavors and textures. In addition to being tasty, Som Tam is also healthy and packed with vitamins and nutrients.
Gaeng Keow Wan (Green Curry)
I traveled throughout Thailand with my children, and the dish that they fell in love with the most was Gaeng Kow Wan, a curry made with a blend of green chili peppers, coconut milk, and fragrant herbs and spices. The resulting dish is richly satisfying.
Green Curry, which we learned to make from scratch with popular home chef Vannee in Chiang Mai, originates from Central Thailand. It’s typically served spicy, along with tender pieces of chicken and vegetables. Since we returned, this Green Curry recipe has regularly rotated in our meal plan.
Gaeng Keow Wan is incredibly versatile and is made with chicken, beef, pork, and tofu as a vegetarian version. Combined with a selection of vegetables and flavored with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and green chili peppers, the Green Curry comes together as a simple dish with complex flavors and loads of depth.
Pad Kra Prao
If you’re looking for a local favorite, you don’t have to look much further than Pad Kra Prao. This dish, made with minced pork or chicken and stir-fried with basil and various seasonings, is what many local Thais order during a night out on the town.
Pad Kra Prao is usually served with steamed Jasmine rice and a fried egg. It’s known for its bold, spicy kick. This is a very common street food, but its popularity has led it to be sold in many restaurants throughout the country as well.
Char Kway Teow
Arguably one of the most popular dishes in Thailand, Char Kway Teow can be found sold by street vendors and restaurants throughout the country.
This Thai noodle dish is usually made with wide rice noodles similar to Pad See Eiw, although sometimes it’s made with egg noodles. The dish is usually made with chicken, pork, or beef. It’s rarely ever vegetarian. And Guay Teow is typically topped off with wontons or meatballs (sometimes both!) and sprinkled with sugar, dried chili peppers, lime juice, and fish sauce.
Guay Teow is served all day, so you don’t have to feel self-conscious about polishing off a bowl first thing in the morning.
Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in Coconut Soup)
Tom kha gai is related to tom yum soup. It’s a less spicy option for those who may prefer Thai food without the heat. Don’t think that Tom Kha Gai isn’t packed with flavor, though. This dish has all the complexity you’ll expect from food in Thailand.
Besides the spiciness, Tom Kha Gai also sets itself apart from other Thai food in that it is usually served with hefty amounts of coconut milk. This gives the dish a rich, creamy texture and a sweetness that is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s typically made with meats such as chicken and pork, but there are many vegetarian versions available as well.
Pad Krapow (Fried Basil)
Made with a base of stir-fried basil, a boatload of chilies, and minced pork or chicken, Pad Krapao is one of the best Thai foods for those who love spicy food. The hefty, peppery accents provided by the Thai Basil combined with the ample use of minced chili means that this dish is typically served light-your-face-on-fire hot.
If you’re not into a lot of heat, you can always ask the chef to tone down the chili (say “pet nit noi” which means “just a little spicy”), but they may give you a strange look.
Pad Krapow is a popular street vendor food that’s typically served mixed with white Jasmine rice and a fried egg served over-soft. The creamy yolk drools through the rest of the dish making for a delightfully filling and flavorful meal.
Kao Niew Ma Muang (Mango and Sticky Rice)
I’ll be completely honest, Kao Niew Ma Muang was not my favorite dessert in Thailand. But when it comes to sweet treats in the country, locals eat this sweet rice dish with fervor.
Kao Niew Ma Muang, also known as Mango Sticky Rice, is a combination of glutinous rice, coconut milk, and mango. It is typically served as a sweet snack or dessert and is a popular Thai treat for special occasions and celebrations.
The dessert offers a delicious and refreshing option that is perfect for the hot and humid climate in Thailand. The combination of sweet mango and creamy coconut milk is particularly appealing, and the glutinous rice adds a chewy and satisfying texture.
Another reason for its popularity is that it is relatively easy to make and is widely available in Thailand. It can be found at street stalls, markets, and restaurants throughout the country, and it is often served as a dessert at Thai festivals and celebrations.
Discover The Best Food in Thailand For Yourself
We have you covered if you’re looking for the best food in RThailand. These must-try plates and meals will delight your flavor senses as you explore one of the most incredible foodie destinations in the world.
If we missed a dish, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below, and I’ll be sure to check it out on my next visit to Rochester.