Thai food: colourful, inexpensive, full of flavour, often spicy and always available – you just can’t beat it. There are five flavours which make up every Thai meal – hot (spicy), sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Thai people are very passionate about their food, and love nothing more than sitting down to a huge meal with family or friends. Usually, several dishes will be ordered at one time for people to share. Most visitors quickly become hooked on trying the hundreds of Thai dishes, which can be anything from extremely spicy vegetable salads, rich curries or incredibly sweet deserts.
Although each dish is different there are certain ingredients that are essential for Thai cuisine. Almost all dishes contain nam pla, a pungent and strong tasting fish sauce as well as shrimp paste, a combination of ground shrimp and salt. Most Thai dishes contain a range of chilies and spices as well as curry pastes, soy sauce, dried shrimp, Thai pepper, and roasted chili paste.
Vegetarian food can be found if you know what to ask for. If you tell a waitress you are vegetarian (mung-sawirat), they will usually be able to suggest vegetarian dishes. Fish and seafood is easy to find.
Here are some of the most popular Thai dishes which should not be missed.
Breakfast is very different to what is served in western countries and can take a little getting used to. There are two main breakfast dishes, Jok, a kind of rice porridge with pieces of meat, ginger and herbs and Khao Tom, a Thai style rice soup.
In Thailand, main meals can be eaten at any time of the day and are often enjoyed 3, 4 or even 5 times a day.
Khao Pad literally means friend rice and is very popular. It is usually made with chicken, beef, shrimp or pork.
Pad Thai is pan fried rice noodles with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, chopped peanuts, and egg mixed with chicken, seafood, or tofu. Look out for carts selling this incredibly cheaply on Khaosan Road.
Tom yam is rather spicy and sour soup with meat. With shrimp it is called Tom yam goong or Tom yam kung with seafood. Eat this dish with rice to reduce the spiciness.
Tom kha gai is hot sweet soup with chicken and coconut milk.
Rad na is wide rice noodles in a thick gravy-like sauce with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, or seafood.
Khao pad naem is found in the Northeast and is fried rice with fermented sausage.
Pad see ew is noodles stir-fried with thick soi sauce, fish sauce and pork or chicken.
Gai Pad Khing is chicken stir-fried with sliced ginger.
Red curry or gaeng phet meaning ‘hot curry’, is made with large amounts of dried red chillies.
Green curry or gaeng khiew-waan, meaning green curry, is made with fresh green chillies and Thai basil, chicken or fish balls. This dish is spicy, rich and creamy.
Massaman curry is an Indian style curry which is not quite as spicy as the Thai alternatives, containing roasted dried spices, chicken and potato.
Pad pak ruam – stir fried vegetables, great a vegetarian option or side dish.
Som tam is a fresh, spicy grated papaya salad, where the flavours are pounded with a mortar and pestle to combine them. Som tam poo is made with salted black crab, Som tam Thai has peanuts, dried shrimp and palm sugar and Som tam plara is from north eastern part of Thailand with salted gourami fish, white eggplants, fish sauce and long bean.
Larb are very spicy sour salads containing meat, onions, chillies, roasted rice powder and garnished with mint.
Yam is the name for any type of sour salad, such as those made with glass noodles.
There are a large selection of deserts available, all sweet and many involving banana or another fruit and coconut cream.
Kao niao ma muang is the world famous sticky rice and ripe mango.
Kao niao Durian is sticky rice and durian in coconut milk.
Gluay buad chee is banana in coconut milk.
Make sure you try Cha Yen – Thai Iced Tea and Kah-Feh Yen – Thai Iced Coffee. Very sweet and creamy, they can be a good way to cool down.
Although beer is widely available, most Thais choose to drink whiskey, sharing a bottle between the group and adding water and ice.