A brief guide to some of the best-loved Thai dishes and what makes them so special.
Over the last couple of decades, Thai dishes have become particularly popular the world over. It’s partly to do with all the visitors to the country who become seduced by the dishes they’ve tried while here. But many people who’ve never set foot in Thailand also fall in love with the cuisine, thanks to many Thai restaurants having opened up just about everywhere in the world. Even so, not everyone knows how good Thai food tastes, or even the names of the most popular dishes. So here’s a handy collection of some of the all-time top 10 Thai favourites that you can try while here on holiday. These dishes are all incredibly popular, not just amongst visitors to the country but also amongst the Thais themselves. They’re mostly traditional recipes, handed down through generations, and with so many cooks making them, you’ll find there are many variations. Without further ado, here are Thailand’s top dishes.
Gaeng Kiaw Wan (Green Curry)
The striking colour makes this dish instantly recognizable. The taste’s as pungent as the colour itself, and you may have to be careful when ordering it, as it can be very spicy. Green curry is a soup that’s very filling, and is usually a meal in itself. One of its main ingredients is aubergines, but don’t complain if you don’t see them – these are Thai aubergines that are small and round, and not the western-style ones. There are other vegetables too that you can often find, such as chopped green beans. The dish is made with a plentiful amount of coconut milk and a dessert spoon or two of green curry paste. You can eat the dish vegetarian or choose to have with chicken, pork or prawns.
Khao Pad (Fried Rice)
This dish is engagingly simple, and consists of white rice that’s wok-fried with egg, onion, and herbs. The mix is usually completed by chicken, pork or shrimps but you’ll also find it as a vegetarian option. Squeeze lime juice over the rice and enjoy with cucumber. At home, Thais will often use leftover scraps to complete the dish. It’s not fiery, so to give it more heat, just add chilli. If you’re in a restaurant you’ll find plenty of chilli on your table in a ceramic or glass pot.
Kway Teow Pad Thai (Pad Thai)
If you like noodles then you’ll be enticed by this noodle dish which is sold around the country. The noodles are made from rice, and then there are various vegetables added, along with chopped firm tofu, peanuts, and egg. The dish is flavoured with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots and palm sugar. To round off the dish, raw bean sprouts are usually placed on the side.
Kai Pad Med Ma Muang (Chicken with Cashew Nuts)
A stir-fry dish you’ll find everywhere and which can be made for you, fresh, within minutes. It is usually on the mild side, though there are some chillies. You’ll also find carrot, mushrooms and pepper, with soy sauce used in the mix. What makes it so well-known is the addition of cashews, usually roasted, and a little honey that give the dish its unbeatable flavour. The list of ingredients gives no sense it’s anything special, but this is one more case of something being more than the sum of its parts. Just wait till you try it!
Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
To many westerners, it might sound a strange idea to combine fruit, peanuts and shrimp together and call it a salad. Does it even work? The answer is, yes, it really does, and for those who dislike the dish, it’s usually because it’s too fiery for them. The dish is a northern one that has become popular all over Thailand, as well as outside it. The salad is completed with garlic, green beans, and of course, chillies, along with the other ingredients.
Tom Yum (Spicy Soup)
Most Thais and westerners are united in loving this spicy soup, usually made with shrimp, that combines lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and fresh Thai chillies with lime juice, to make a broth that’s both healthy and mouth-watering. For some, however, it’s too sour or too spicy, so some caution is needed if you’re trying it for the first time.
Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Soup)
Yet another dish that’s made with lots of coconut milk, but tasting totally different from any we’ve mentioned so far. It’s a cousin of Tom Yum, but is a lot milder and hence is a favourite with holidaymakers. You’ll still find some chillies in the concoction, along with galangal, lemongrass and slices of chicken. Once you’ve tasted the dish, you’ll want to eat again. It’s filling but without any heaviness, and can be eaten along with rice. A true top 10 thai dish.
Pad Krapow Moo Saap (Fried Basil and Pork)
Minced pork on rice hardly sounds like an amazing dish, but if you’ve been out and about tasting Thai food, you’ll know better than to make a knee-jerk judgement before you’ve tried it. A favourite with Thais, rather than holidaymakers, this is a wok meal that’s made to order. Minced pork is stir-fried along with torn-up basil leaves (which give it its unique taste) and green beans and soy sauce. An option is to have a fried egg on top, which adds to the taste. Since this can be a very fiery dish, be careful when ordering!
Yam Nuea Yang (Spicy Beef Salad)
This dish can be quite hot and combines fieriness with the delicacy of strips of fried beef. The ingredients that help make this a best-loved dish are carefully chosen to bring out the unique taste. You’ll find lime, mint and onion used alongside coriander and the ubiquitous chillies. It’ll definitely appeal if you like things spicy.
Brief as this round-up may be, it’ll certainly help you get started with Thai cuisine. These are the most popular top 10 thai dishes ever, and you’ll see that they’re not all spicy. I’ll wager that you’ll find at least one that delights you, even if you’re a die-hard fan of western food. Thailand is a country of culinary regions, so if you’re travelling you’ll find dishes that are specific to each area you’re stopping at – try what’s on offer and you’ll soon find your own favourites.