Thailand is often referred to as the Land of Smiles due to the hospitality of its local residents, stunning scenery, and affordable travel costs. But there’s another reason the LoS might make you grin: the incredible food.
When you travel to Thailand, you’ll find that food plays a starring role in just about any occasion. But unlike ordering in an American restaurant, you won’t see appetizers or have one main dish of your own. Instead, all dishes are typically shared so that everyone can get a taste. Therefore, every meal provides an opportunity to share food, stories, laughter, and enjoyment.
But what kinds of foods rise to the top in Thailand? Thai dishes usually combine four different tastes — sweet, salty, sour, and spicy — and these combined make an amazingly satisfying experience. You’ll be able to sample dishes with meat or fish and lots of fresh vegetables, along with soups, noodles, and rice. If you’re struggling with figuring out the must-eats, we think you should consider “Thai”-ing these delectable dishes.
Som Tam: Green Papaya Salad
This traditional staple combines raw tomatoes, carrots, green beans, garlic, chiles, peanuts, fish sauce, peanuts, and palm sugar with shredded papaya to create a spicy yet refreshing salad. It might sound a bit too “out there” for some diners, but it’s the kind of recipe you can’t stop eating. Fortunately, this street food is readily available for whenever you get a craving.
Tom Yum Goong: Spicy Shrimp Soup
A fragrant, herbaceous broth with a real kick, this soup features lemongrass, limes, chilis, fish sauce, mushrooms, and fresh prawns. There are variations of this soup with other proteins, but the shrimp version is undoubtedly one of the most popular. However, this dish is not for the faint of heart! The spice level is sky-high, but it’s balanced with a distinct sour flavor. If you’re not a lover of spice, make sure to order it mild; more than likely, it’ll still be hot enough to wake you right up after a long day of sightseeing.
Pad Thai: Traditional Fried Noodles
Of all the Thai dishes in this post, this is probably the most well-known around the world. This quintessential entree includes stir-fried noodles, onions, eggs, bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, fish sauce, sugar, chili powder, tamarind pulp (which gives it its distinct sweet-and-sour flavor), and your choice of protein (usually chicken or shrimp). This is the optimal choice for travelers who are scared of too much spice. You can find this tried-and-true favorite just about anywhere — and you can’t afford to miss out on it.
This is one of the world’s most delicious foods (seriously, it’s been consistently ranked that way) for good reason. Although there are several types of curries you should try during your stay in Thailand, this moderately spicy option is sure to please even the most discerning of palates. Spices like cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom, cumin, nutmegs, and bay leaves are combined with cilantro, chili peppers, lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots, coconut cream, coconut milk potatoes, onions, tamarind paste, peanuts, and meat. It might seem like an “everything but the kitchen sink” sort of meal, but this nutty and hearty stew — often eaten with rice — is utterly satiating.
Pad Kra Pao: Fried Basil and Pork
A very popular and flavorful food option, this dish features holy basil, which is totally different from the basil you might be familiar with (it really is considered to be sacred by those who practice Hinduism!). Usually, it’s stir-fried with pork, but chicken options are readily available too. These two ingredients go into a hot wok with chili, green beans, soy sauce, and sugar before being served over white rice. You’ll also have the option of having a fried egg on top. This one’s pretty fiery, so you may want to ask the cook to go easy on the spice.
Khao Niao Mamuang: Mango Sticky Rice
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’re in luck. This simple dish features sticky rice — a glutinous variety of grain that surprisingly contains no gluten at all — ripe mangoes, and coconut cream or milk. The sweet and salty flavors work together in a way that makes this an ideal dessert or even a snack. It can easily be consumed with help from a fork or spoon, but some will simply use their hands. Note that April and May, Thailand’s summer months, are prime time for mango-eating!
Roti Gulay: Banana Pancakes
Got a hankering for another dessert? Those who have tried this backpacker’s go-to snack can never get enough. This fried dough is filled with bananas (though you can find variations without) and is then topped with sugar and condensed milk or vanilla sauce. You can also order it topped with chocolate, hazelnut, or other fruit flavorings. It’s a heavenly on-the-go snack that might beat out the fried fair foods you’re used to.
If you decide to take a trip to Thailand in the near future, you’ll have an amazing feast waiting for you. With the unique balance of flavors and the sheer variety of the cuisine, you’ll soon see why this country truly is the Land of Smiles — and why you’ll never have to go hungry during your stay.