Thai Cuisine: 15 Best Dishes to Savor in Thailand

There are so many reasons for you to visit Thailand, from its magnificent beaches to the legendary celebrations under the full moon, etc., and especially its cuisine. Whatever the reason for your visit, the diversity of Thai dishes will make you want to extend your stay. Considered one of the best gastronomy in the world, Thai cuisine is not only colorful but also flavorful. It stands out with spicy and spicy flavors created by natural ingredients such as curry, lemongrass, coriander, chili, or even basil.

In the following article, let’s discover the best Thai dishes for you to savor in Thailand.

1. Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup) – The most Famous Thai Dish

Tom Yum Goong is one of the most renowned and beloved dishes in Thailand. Its vibrant flavors and aromatic ingredients are representative of Thai cuisine. This is a kind of hot and sour soup that typically features shrimp as the main protein. The soup base is created by combining a variety of ingredients, including Thai peppers, lemongrass, galangal (a ginger-like root), kaffir lime leaves, and fish sauce. The soup is known for its spicy kick, which comes from the Thai peppers. The level of spiciness can vary depending on personal preference or the region where it is prepared. Additionally, the soup is infused with the tangy and citrus notes of lime juice, which adds a refreshing element to the dish.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong

To enhance the flavor profile, a variety of herbs are often added to Tom Yum Goong. These can include cilantro, Thai basil, and sometimes even mint, which make the soup fresh and fragrant. The combination of the spicy, sour, and fragrant elements in Tom Yum Goong creates a harmonious blend of flavors that is both enticing and satisfying. It is typically enjoyed as a standalone soup, often served alongside steamed rice, and is a popular choice among locals and visitors alike.

2. Tom Kha

Tom Kha is another delicious and popular Thai soup that holds a significant place in Thai cuisine. It is known for its creamy and aromatic qualities, which are derived from key ingredients like coconut milk and galangal. Tom Kha soup typically starts with a coconut milk base, which gives it a rich and creamy texture. Galangal is a key ingredient that adds a unique and aromatic taste to the soup. Other essential ingredients include kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, which infuse the soup with citrusy and refreshing notes. In addition to the base ingredients, Tom Kha soup often includes baby peppers, cilantro, fish sauce, and lime juice. These elements come together to create a harmonious blend of flavors in the soup.

Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha is commonly prepared with chicken (Tom Kha Gai), but there are also variations with other proteins such as shrimp (Tom Kha Goong) or mushrooms (Tom Kha Hed) for vegetarians or vegans. The choice of protein adds its unique taste and texture to the soup. Tom Kha offers a balance of flavors that is both comforting and refreshing. It is often enjoyed as a standalone dish or served with steamed rice, adding to the overall dining experience in Thailand.

3. Som Tam – Papaya Salad

Papaya salad, known as Som Tam originated from the Isaan region in northeastern Thailand. It has become one of the iconic and spiciest dishes in Thai cuisine, offering a delightful combination of flavors and textures. Som Tam is typically made of shredded green papaya. Other key ingredients include fish sauce, tomatoes, lime or lemon juice, peanuts, and small but potent Thai chili peppers. The dressing for Som Tam is a mixture of fish sauce, lime or lemon juice, and sometimes palm sugar or other sweeteners to balance out the spiciness and acidity.

Som Tam (papaya salad) - Popular cuisine in Thailand

Som Tam (papaya salad) – Popular cuisine in Thailand

Som Tam is often prepared in a large mortar and pestle, in which all the ingredients are pounded together. This helps to release the flavors and blend the ingredients effectively, resulting in a vibrant and well-mixed salad. Som Tam can be quite spicy due to the use of Thai chili peppers. These small peppers pack a powerful punch and can make the dish fiery hot.

There are many versions of Som Tam, and the one with dried shrimp is the most popular variation. Dried shrimp adds a savory and umami flavor to the salad, complementing the other ingredients. Other versions may include additional ingredients such as fermented fish sauce, crab, or salted eggs, further enhancing the complexity of flavors.

4. Pad Thai – A Signature of Thai Cuisine

Pad Thai is one of the most famous and beloved dishes in Thailand. It is a stir-fried noodle dish that typically features rice noodles as its base. The dish is believed to have been popularized in the late 1930s by Prime Minister Plaek Pibulsonggram, who sought to promote a sense of national identity and unity through food. The government’s campaign to promote Pad Thai as a national dish helped propel its popularity both within Thailand and internationally.

The dish typically includes ingredients such as fresh shrimp, eggs, bean sprouts, tofu, and various spices and sauces. The sauce used in Pad Thai is a combination of tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice, which provides the dish with its characteristic sweet, sour, and savory taste.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Pad Thai is known for its quick and straightforward preparation, making it a popular street food option in Thailand. It can be cooked in just a few minutes in a wok or frying pan, making it a convenient and satisfying choice for locals and tourists alike. While the basic components of Pad Thai remain consistent, there can be some variations in the ingredients used based on personal preferences or regional differences. Some variations may include the addition of crushed peanuts, dried shrimp, or chili flakes for added flavor and texture.

5. Laab

Laab is a popular salad originating from the northeastern region of Thailand called Isaan. It is known for its vibrant flavors and refreshing combination of ingredients, making it a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Laab is a meat or mushroom salad that is typically made with minced or finely chopped protein such as chicken, pork, or mushrooms. The meat or mushrooms are cooked and then mixed with an array of ingredients to create a flavorful and aromatic dish.

Laab (minced meat salad)

Laab (minced meat salad)

One of the key ingredients in Laab is mint, which adds a refreshing and herbaceous flavor to the salad. Other common ingredients include shallots, lime juice, fish sauce, ground toasted rice (which adds a nutty texture), and a variety of fresh herbs and spices. The dressing for Laab is usually a combination of lime juice, fish sauce, and sometimes chili flakes or fresh chilies for added heat.

Laab is often enjoyed with sticky rice and fresh vegetables, such as lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, or long beans, which provide a contrast in textures and add a crisp element to the dish.

>>> Discover Isaan and other destinations in Northern Thailand while sampling delicious Thai cuisine with our 7-Day Northern Thailand Tour.

6. Panang Curry – The Most Famous Thai Curry Dishes

Thai cuisine is popular among curry lovers, and Panang Curry is one of the most well-known and loved ones. It is known for its rich and flavorful profile, with a hint of nuttiness from the use of peanuts.

Panang Curry typically features a red curry paste that contains a combination of ingredients such as dried red peppers, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, cumin, garlic, shallots, and other aromatic spices. The combination of these ingredients creates a complex and aromatic curry paste that forms the base of the dish. Coconut milk is a key component in Panang Curry, providing a creamy and luscious texture to the curry. The curry paste is typically cooked in coconut milk, allowing the flavors to meld together and creating a rich and velvety sauce.

Panang Curry

Panang Curry

Panang Curry can be prepared with various options. Common choices include meat such as chicken, beef, or pork, as well as fish or seafood. For vegetarians or vegans, tofu or a variety of vegetables can be used as a protein substitute, making it a versatile and inclusive dish. Peanuts are often sprinkled on top of the curry or incorporated into the sauce for an extra layer of texture and taste.

The level of spiciness in Panang Curry can vary depending on the amount of chili used in the curry paste. It is typically milder compared to some other Thai curries, making it a suitable choice for those who prefer a more moderate level of heat. Panang Curry is typically served with steamed rice, allowing you to soak up the flavorful sauce. The combination of creamy coconut milk, aromatic spices, nutty peanuts, and tender protein creates a delightful harmony of flavors that is loved by many.

7. Khao Pad – Fried Rice

Khao Pad is indeed a staple dish in Thailand and is widely available throughout the country. It is a versatile and customizable dish that can be made with various ingredients, making it suitable for different tastes and preferences. The basic components of Khao Pad include cooked rice, eggs, garlic, onion, and a protein of choice such as chicken, shrimp, crab meat, or beef. Vegetables like carrots, peas, and bell peppers are often added for color and texture. The dish can also be seasoned with soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, or other condiments to enhance the flavors.

Khao Pad

Khao Pad

The ingredients are typically stir-fried together in a hot wok or frying pan. Khao Pad is a versatile dish that allows for variations and personalization. It can be adapted to suit different dietary preferences, such as vegetarian or vegan, by omitting animal protein and adding more vegetables or tofu instead. The dish can also be adjusted in terms of spiciness by adding chili peppers or chili sauce for those who prefer a bit of heat.

8. Khao Pad Sapparod (Fried Rice with Pineapple)

Thai fried rice with shrimp and pineapple, also known as “Khao Pad Sapparot,” is a delightful and flavorful dish that combines the sweetness of pineapple with the savory flavors of shrimp and seasonings. To make this dish, Thai jasmine rice is commonly used for its fragrant aroma and fluffy texture when cooked. Fresh shrimp, along with chunks of pineapple, are the main ingredients that add a delightful combination of flavors to the dish.

The cooking process involves stir-frying the ingredients in a hot wok or frying pan. The shrimp is typically cooked first, followed by the addition of pineapple chunks and rice. The seasonings are then added to the pan, and everything is stir-fried together until well-combined and heated through.

Khao Pad Sapparod

Khao Pad Sapparod

Thai fried rice with shrimp and pineapple is known for its vibrant colors and appealing presentation. It is often garnished with sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, or green onions to add freshness and visual appeal to the dish. The combination of sweet pineapple, succulent shrimp, and flavorful seasonings creates a harmonious blend of sweet, savory, and tangy flavors in every bite. The dish is typically enjoyed as a main course and can be served on its own or alongside other Thai dishes.

9. Gaeng Keow Wan (Thai Green Curry)

Green curry, known as “Gaeng Keow Wan” in Thai, is a vibrant and flavorful curry that originates from central Thailand. It is renowned for its spicy kick and the perfect balance of sweetness from coconut milk. Green curry gets its distinct green color from a combination of fresh green chili peppers, herbs, and spices that are ground into a paste. The paste typically includes ingredients such as green chili peppers, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallots, and coriander roots, among others. This aromatic paste forms the base of the curry and contributes to its intense and fragrant flavors.

Coconut milk plays a crucial role in green curry, providing a creamy and rich texture while also helping to balance the spiciness. The combination of the fiery green curry paste and the sweetness of the coconut milk creates a harmonious and satisfying flavor profile. In addition to the curry paste and coconut milk, green curry often includes a variety of ingredients such as sliced chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp, as well as vegetables like eggplant, bamboo shoots, and Thai basil. The choice of protein and vegetables can be customized according to personal preference.

Gaeng Keow Kwan

Gaeng Keow Kwan – Thai Green Curry

Green curry is typically served with steamed rice, which helps to mellow the spiciness and provides a neutral base to accompany the flavors of the curry. The combination of the aromatic curry, tender protein, and vegetables, along with the fluffy rice, creates a delightful and fulfilling meal. For spicy food enthusiasts, green curry offers a delightful treat with its bold and fiery flavors. The combination of the fragrant curry paste, the creaminess of coconut milk, and the variety of ingredients make it an exciting and delicious dish to savor.

10. Khao Soi

Khao Soi is a delicious and unique dish that is particularly popular in Northern Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. This Burmese-inspired coconut curry noodle soup has gained widespread popularity for its rich flavors and comforting qualities. Khao Soi typically consists of a creamy coconut curry broth that is infused with fragrant spices such as turmeric, coriander, and ginger. The soup is usually made with chicken, beef, or pork, or can be prepared in a vegetarian version, making it suitable for different dietary preferences.

Khao Soi

Khao Soi

The combination of the creamy coconut curry broth, tender meat or vegetables, and the contrast of soft and crispy noodles creates a delightful balance of textures and flavors in Khao Soi. It offers a unique and comforting taste experience that is beloved by locals and visitors alike.

If you have the opportunity to travel to northern Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, trying Khao Soi is highly recommended. The dish represents the culinary diversity and influences of the region and offers a delightful journey for your taste buds. Khao Soi is widely available in local restaurants, street food stalls, and markets in Northern Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai. It is often considered a signature dish of the region and is a must-try when exploring the local cuisine.

11. Phat Krapao

Phat Krapao is a beloved and flavorful dish in Thai cuisine. Its combination of fragrant Thai basil, spicy chilies, and savory oyster sauce creates a delightful taste. Traditionally, Phat Krapao is prepared with minced or sliced pork, although it can also be made with other proteins such as chicken, beef, or seafood. The dish is stir-fried in a hot wok or frying pan, allowing the ingredients to cook quickly while maintaining their vibrant flavors. Chilies are an integral part of Phat Krapao, providing the dish with its signature heat. The level of spiciness can be adjusted to personal preference, ranging from mild to fiery hot.

Pad Krapao

Phat Krapao

The dish is typically seasoned with a combination of sauces, including soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. These sauces contribute to the savory and umami elements of the dish, enhancing its overall taste profile. Phat Krapao is often served with steamed rice, allowing the flavors of the stir-fry to be enjoyed alongside the fluffy rice. It’s also common to find a fried egg served on top of the dish, adding an extra layer of richness and texture.

12. Massaman (Thai Red Curry) – Must-Try Thai Food

Massaman curry is a wonderful choice for those who enjoy the flavors of Thai curry but prefer milder spice levels. It is known for its rich and aromatic flavors, making it a favorite among both locals and visitors to Thailand. Originating from the southern region of Thailand, Massaman Curry is influenced by Persian and Indian cuisines, which are reflected in its unique blend of spices. The curry paste used in Massaman curry typically includes ingredients such as dried chili peppers, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, garlic, coriander seeds, cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom. The combination of these spices creates a complex and fragrant flavor profile.

Massaman Red Curry - Must try Thai food

Massaman Red Curry

The main ingredients in Massaman curry usually include tender meat, such as beef or chicken, although it can also be made with fish, shrimp, or tofu for vegetarians. The meat is cooked in a flavorful mixture of coconut milk, Massaman curry paste, and other seasonings. Another key ingredient in Massaman curry is roasted peanuts, which provide a nutty and creamy texture to the dish. The peanuts add a delightful richness and complement the flavors of the curry.

The mild spiciness of Massaman curry sets it apart from other Thai curries, making it a great choice for those who prefer milder flavors. Massaman curry is often enjoyed with fragrant jasmine rice, which helps to balance the flavors and absorb the delicious curry sauce. The combination of tender meat, creamy coconut milk, fragrant spices, and the comforting addition of potatoes and peanuts creates a truly satisfying and flavorful dish. The recognition of Massaman Curry as one of the 50 best dishes in the world by CNN in 2021 is a testament to its popularity and the unique blend of flavors it offers.

13. Khao Yam (Southern Thailand Rice Salad with Prawns)

Khao Yam also known as Thai Rice Salad is a traditional dish from the southern region of Thailand and is known for its vibrant flavors and refreshing qualities. Khao Yam is a rice-based salad that combines cooked rice with a variety of aromatic herbs and ingredients. The rice used is typically a mixture of white and purple rice, which adds visual appeal to the dish. The rice is cooked and cooled before being mixed with the other ingredients.

Khao Yam

Khao Yam

The flavor profile of Khao Yam is enhanced by the addition of grated coconut, which provides a subtle sweetness and a rich texture. Chopped dry shrimp is another key ingredient that adds a savory and umami element to the salad. To elevate the flavors, a variety of fresh herbs and spices are used in Khao Yam. This can include kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, and other aromatic herbs commonly found in Thai cuisine. Once the rice, grated coconut, dry shrimp, and herbs are combined, the salad is dressed with a sweetened fish sauce. The fish sauce adds a savory and slightly sweet element that brings all the flavors together.

Khao Yam is often enjoyed as a light and refreshing meal on its own, or it can be served as a side dish alongside other Thai dishes. It’s a popular choice during hot summer months or as part of festive occasions and celebrations.

14. Banana Roti

Thai banana roti, also known as Thai banana pancake, is a delightful street food snack that has gained popularity in Thailand. It offers a sweet and indulgent treat that is loved by locals and tourists alike. The base of Thai banana roti is a thin pancake-like dough, which is made from a mixture of all-purpose flour, water, and sometimes a touch of sugar and salt. The dough is stretched and flattened on a hot griddle or frying pan, similar to how a pancake is cooked.

Thai Banana Roti

Thai Banana Roti

After the banana roti is cooked, it is commonly topped with a drizzle of condensed milk and a sprinkle of sugar. The condensed milk adds a creamy sweetness, while the sugar adds a touch of additional sweetness and a bit of texture to the crispy roti. Some variations of Thai banana roti may include additional toppings or fillings. For example, strawberries can be added along with the banana slices, adding a fresh and fruity element to the dish. Thai banana roti is often enjoyed as a street food snack, particularly in night markets and food stalls. It’s typically served hot and can be eaten on its own or alongside a cup of Thai iced tea or coffee.

15. Khao Niao Mamuang – The Best Dessert of Thai Cuisine

Khao Niao Mamuang, also known as Mango Sticky Rice, is a beloved Thai dessert that is both sweet and refreshing. It’s a combination of sticky rice, ripe mangoes, and coconut milk that creates a harmonious blend of flavors and textures.

The base of this dessert is sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice or sweet rice, which has a sticky and chewy texture when cooked. The rice is soaked, steamed until tender, and then sweetened with a mixture of coconut milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt. The result is a fragrant and slightly sweet rice that serves as the foundation of the dish. Ripe mangoes are the star of the show in Khao Niao Mamuang. They are sliced or cubed and served alongside the sweetened sticky rice. To complete the dish, a generous drizzle of coconut milk is poured over the sticky rice and mango.

Khao Niao Mamuang - the Best Desert of Thai Cuisine

Khao Niao Mamuang

While the classic version of Khao Niao Mamuang features mangoes, you may also find variations with other fruits such as papaya or durian. Each variation offers its own unique twist and flavor profile, catering to different taste preferences. Khao Niao Mamuang is commonly enjoyed as a dessert, particularly during the mango season in Thailand, which typically falls between March and July. It’s a popular treat among locals and tourists alike, and you can find it readily available at street food stalls, markets, and Thai restaurants.

A Few Notes for Savoring The Best Thai Cuisine

1. Thai cuisine is often sweet, so if you don’t want sugar in your dish, made sure to tell the waiter.

2. There are so many popular Thai dishes to enjoy that can make you confused, remember to try the bests first: Thai soups, like spicy shrimp soup and Thai curries, make sure to at least try these dishes.

3. From the northern and southern islands to the central plain, each region has its delicacies, so the Thai dishes that are popular in Phuket will not be the same as those served in Chiang Mai.

4. The food of Northern Thailand seems to stand out from the rest of the country thanks to the mountain vegetables, unusual ingredients, and flavors. It is also influenced by Chinese, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnamese cuisine.

5. Thai cuisine in the south is strong and intense, with lots of spices and herbs. It is best when cooked with seafood and coconut milk as the main ingredients.

We hope this article has given you some ideas & inspiration to come and try Thai cuisine. Join our 13 days culture & culinary tour to sample these delicious Thailand dishes while traveling throughout the country. Don’t hesitate to contact us to inquire about your own tailored trip to Thailand today.

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Phuong Khanh

Hello, my name is Khanh, I'm a travel blogger at IDC Travel. After my adventures and what I've learned on my trips and from my research, I will help you with planning your trip to Vietnam & Southeast Asia and make your journey remarkable.

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