It’s impossible to describe Thai food in one word. For one, Thai cuisine combines the most delicious parts of several cultures, including Indian, Chinese, Malay, and Indonesian.
The ingredients are staggeringly diverse, too. We’re talking herbs like lemongrass and galangal, spices like chili pepper, cumin, and coriander, fruits like coconut, mango, and tamarind, and of course, the quintessential fish sauce!
Finally, the absolute star of Thai food is the fresh, locally grown ingredients. We’re talking grilled fish that’s been caught that morning, coconuts that were plucked straight from the tree, and veggies that were just pulled from the ground.
From fragrant curries to aromatic fruit salads, you’ll also love how accessible and affordable Thai food is in Thailand. You can get an amazing meal for just a few dollars (or even less!), and it’s easy to find vegetarian and vegan options, too.
We’ve spent a lot of time traveling around and trying as many different Thai dishes as possible. Here’s our ultimate list of the best Thai dishes to try during your next trip to Thailand so you can start your own culinary adventure!
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The 15 Best Thai Dishes You Have to Try
1. Tom Yum Soup
Tom yum is a fragrant, hot, and sour soup that’s beloved all over Thailand. It’s made with fresh herbs like lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and chili peppers, and it’s usually cooked with shrimp, pork, or chicken.
There are two main types of tom yum soup: clear broth and coconut milk-based broth. The clear broth is light but intensely flavorful, and it’s the perfect antidote to a rainy day. However, we also love how the creamy coconut milk makes the soup richer and tempers the heat of the chili peppers.
No matter which type of tom yum you try, make sure to add a generous portion of fresh Thai basil and lime juice before you dig in. They really make the dish pop and bring out all the different flavors!
The flavors of tom yum are so popular that you can even find a fried rice version of the dish. Tom yum fried rice (or khao pad tom yum) has all the spicy, sour, and savory flavors of the soup but in a convenient one-dish meal complete with ingredients like Chinese broccoli, shrimp, and eggs.
2. Pad Kra Pao
The name of this dish literally means “stir-fried with basil.” If we didn’t know that pad thai was the country’s national dish, we would have guessed it was pad kra pao. Everyone orders it all the time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between!
The meat is chopped into small pieces and stir-fried in a smoking hot wok with heaps of fresh holy basil, chili peppers, garlic, and just a tiny bit of sugar to give it a nice char and beautiful caramelization.
The holy basil is what makes this such a distinctive dish. It’s nothing like the more common sweet basil that’s used in Italian cooking. Instead, holy basil has a strong anise flavor that’s a bit like licorice with a peppery finish.
As for the meat, chicken is most commonly found in this dish, but you can also find pad kra pao with pork, shrimp, squid, and even tofu.
Be sure to eat it like a local and enjoy pad kra pao over a bed of steamed rice topped with a crispy fried egg with a slightly runny yolk. That creamy, golden yolk is absolutely heavenly when mixed into the pad kra pao!
3. Som Tam
Som tam is a spicy green papaya salad that originates from the northeastern region of Thailand called Isan.
It’s made with shredded green papaya, long beans, tomatoes, garlic, chili peppers, and fish sauce, and it’s traditionally pounded in a large mortar and pestle until everything is perfectly combined. That’s actually the reason for the name: som tam means “pounded sour,” referring to the way the salad is made.
The flavors in som tam are explosive, and the dish has a perfect balance of sweetness, sourness, and spiciness. It’s also incredibly refreshing, thanks to the pops of freshness from the green papaya and tomatoes.
You can eat som tam as is or enjoy it with sticky rice and grilled chicken. Either way, it’s one of the most popular Thai dishes and an absolute must-try when you’re in Thailand!
4. Tom Kha Gai
Tom kha gai is a Thai coconut soup that’s well-known for its heady blend of flavors. The soup is made with chicken, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and fresh chili peppers simmered in a coconut milk-based broth.
It’s usually quite mild in terms of heat, but the flavors are incredibly complex and perfectly balanced. The chicken is always cooked to perfection, and the soup has a beautiful creaminess thanks to the coconut milk.
If you’re looking for a soup that’s hearty, filling, and packed with flavor, tom kha gai is a great option. It’s often served with steamed rice on the side, but it’s just as delicious on its own.
You can also find equally tasty vegan versions of tom kha gai made with mushrooms, tofu, or even tempeh instead of chicken.
5. Thai Noodle Dishes
Thai noodle dishes – where do we even begin? There are so many different types of noodles in Thailand, from rice noodles and egg noodles to glass noodles and cellophane noodles. And each type of noodle can be used in a different dish, from soups and salads to stir-fries and curries.
We can’t talk about Thai noodle dishes (or even Thai food) without mentioning pad thai, the country’s national dish! This world-famous stir-fry is made with rice noodles, chicken or tofu, eggs, tamarind sauce, and peanuts.
Another Thai noodle dish that’s worth trying is khao soi, a Northern Thai specialty. It’s an addictive coconut curry soup that’s served with chicken or beef and a mound of crispy fried egg noodles.
Yum woon sen is a Thai noodle dish made with glass noodles, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, and vegetables. Compared to other Thai noodle dishes, yum woon sen is made light and refreshing with its dressing made with ingredients like dried shrimp, tangy lime juice, fish sauce, Thai chilies, garlic, and cilantro.
Another contender for the “best stir-fried noodles” title is pad kee mao or drunken noodles. The theory behind the “drunken” part of the name is that it’s best eaten with an ice-cold beer or when you have a hangover!
Last but not least, we have to mention pad see ew, a stir-fried noodle dish made with wide rice noodles, chicken, broccoli, and a dark soy sauce.
6. Khao Pad Sapparod
Khao pad sapparod, or pineapple fried rice, is unlike any fried rice dish we’ve ever tasted. It starts off just like any other fried rice recipe: with Thai jasmine rice that’s cooked in a piping hot wok with aromatics like garlic and shallots, plus vegetables and protein like diced chicken or shrimp.
But what makes this dish special is the addition of fresh pineapple chunks. It’s mixed right into the fried rice, so it gets a smoky char from the wok and adds a lovely sweetness to the dish. Giving khao pad sapparod its yellow color is a slight turmeric seasoning, which also adds a delicious aroma.
This dish is usually served with a lime wedge on the side, which you can use to adjust the flavor to your liking. In some places, you can also get it garnished with chopped scallions, cilantro, and roasted peanuts.
If you can, try ordering it in a restaurant that serves khao pad sapparod inside a hollowed-out pineapple. Not only does it make for a pretty presentation, but it also tastes even better because the pineapple juices are infused into the rice.
7. Yam Pla Dook Foo
Yam pla dook foo is one of those Thai dishes that is so uniquely Thai. It’s a salad made with fried catfish, green mango, cashews, dried chilies, and a sweet and sour dressing.
The catfish is first deep-fried until it’s nice and crispy, and then it’s combined with the other ingredients. The green mango adds a lovely tartness to the dish.
The sweet and sour dressing is usually made with a combination of tamarind paste, palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. You can order this dish as a light appetizer, but it works as a beer snack, too!
8. Hoy Tod
Hoy tod is a Thai street food dish that’s basically a fried oyster omelet. It sounds strange, but it’s actually really good!
Plump and super fresh oysters are thrown into a savory egg batter with bean sprouts (or whatever vegetables are in season), and then it’s all fried up until it’s crispy with brown edges.
The resulting omelet is definitely on the greasy side, so while it may not be the healthiest dish out there, it’s one of the most popular Thai dishes, and you have to try it at least once when you visit Thailand. It’s often served with a sweet chili sauce or Sriracha on the side, which you can use to add some heat.
Aside from oysters, you can also find versions of hoy tod made with ingredients like mussels. So, if you’re not a fan of oysters, there’s sure to be something else that you’ll like.
9. Thai Curries
Thanks to its rich and fragrant curry pastes, Thailand is home to some of the best curries in the world. There are literally hundreds of different curry recipes out there, but some of the most popular ones include massaman curry, panang curry, green curry, red curry, and yellow curry.
They’re all unique and represent different regions of Thailand, so try to add them all to your must-try Thai dishes list! For example, massaman curry is a southern Thai specialty that’s often made with chicken, potatoes, and peanuts in a massaman curry paste-infused coconut milk-based sauce. It’s hearty and filling and perfect with steamed rice.
On the other hand, panang curry is a central Thai dish that’s usually made with chicken or beef and has a drier consistency since there’s less coconut milk used. Panang curry is also one of the milder curries, so it’s a good choice if you’re not a fan of spice.
10. Poh Pia Tod
Poh pia tod is a fried spring roll that’s popular in both Thailand and Laos. It’s loaded with a variety of fillings, like shredded cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and glass noodles, and then it’s wrapped in a thin pastry skin and deep-fried until crispy. You can also get it with meat fillings, like chicken, pork, or shrimp, or with vegetarian-friendly fillings.
Poh pia tod is usually cut into bite-sized pieces and served with a sweet chili sauce or a dipping sauce made with fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, and garlic. You can find this dish at pretty much any Thai restaurant or street stall. It makes for a fantastic snack! If you’re really hungry, you can even order a few and make a meal out of them.
Thailand also has fresh spring rolls if you’re looking for something a little more healthy. These are similar to poh pia tod, but they’re not fried, and the wrapper is made with rice paper. You can have them with all sorts of fillings, such as shrimp and vegetables like carrots, cucumber, and mint. Don’t forget the peanut sauce with your order!
11. Thai Coconut Ice Cream
Move over, vanilla and chocolate. There’s a new flavor in town, and it’s called Thai coconut ice cream. And it’s easily one of the best Thai dishes to try!
This rich and creamy treat is made with real coconut milk, giving it a unique flavor that’s both sweet and nutty. And since it’s coconut-based, it’s also dairy-free and vegan-friendly.
We recommend going to a place where they serve authentic coconut ice cream in an actual coconut. It’s a pretty cool experience, and it makes for great Instagram photos!
We’ve also had it with different toppings, like shredded and toasted coconut and nuts. This naturally creamy ice cream is a wonderful base for a range of different flavors and textures.
12. Khao Neeo Mamuang
Another iconic Thai dessert is khao neeo mamuang, which is mango sticky rice. It’s a pretty simple dish, but it’s so freaking good there’s a reason this is one of the most famous Thai dishes. The rice is cooked in sweetened coconut milk and a dash of salt until it’s nice and sticky, and then it’s served with ripe and juicy mangoes.
The sweetness of the mangoes pairs perfectly with the sugar and coconut milk-infused rice, making for a decadent dessert. You’ll find this quintessential Thai dessert from street food vendors and on restaurant menus all over Thailand, so there’s no reason not to give it a try.
Tip: Order it with coconut ice cream on the side. It’s an amazing combination!
13. Gai Tod
Gai tod is Thailand’s version of fried chicken, and like everything in this country, they take it up a notch with spices, herbs, and a crispy coating.
The spice mix usually features fresh garlic, ground white pepper, oyster sauce, fish sauce, chopped cilantro stems, coriander seeds, and red chili powder. This blend gives the chicken a slight kick of heat plus a subtle herbal note.
When all those flavors have soaked into the chicken, it’s dunked into a light batter and then deep-fried until it becomes a crispy golden shell that basically shatters when you bite it! Gai tod is usually served with a sweet chili dipping sauce on the side, and you can eat it as an appetizer or a main dish.
14. Banana Roti
Say hello to yet another addictive Thai dessert! Banana roti (aka banana pancake) is a popular street food snack that’s made by frying up a thin wheat flour-based dough and then adding slices of sweet banana to the center.
Watching them cook is half the fun. They plop the dough down onto a hot griddle, roll it out until it’s super thin, add the bananas, and then carefully fold it up into a little packet.
The roti is then fried on the buttered griddle until the dough is cooked and the outside is lightly browned. Finally, it’s chopped up into bite-sized square pieces and served with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk and, sometimes, chopped peanuts.
While sweetened condensed milk is the traditional topping, we’ve also had it with chocolate sauce, which was pretty phenomenal. The combination of sweet banana, rich chocolate, and crispy roti is next-level delicious.
Prepare for long lines at most banana roti stalls, especially in Thailand’s most-popular backpacker destinations.
15. Moo Ping
Moo ping is grilled pork on a skewer, and it’s one of our all-time favorite Thai dishes. The marinade has a long list of ingredients, including soy sauce, coconut milk, black and white peppercorns, chopped cilantro stems, plus garlic and a little palm sugar. The pieces of pork are then grilled until they’re slightly charred on the outside but still juicy and tender on the inside.
Moo ping is often served with a dipping sauce on the side, like sweet chili sauce or spiced vinegar. If you’re not sure where to find moo ping, just follow your nose, and you’ll eventually encounter the smell of grilled pork wafting through the air.
While you’re at it, make sure to try other popular grilled Thai street foods, too. Gai yang (grilled chicken) and ping gai (grilled chicken neck) are both super common. You can also find satay (skewered meat) all over Thailand, which goes great with the peanut dipping sauce and a cold glass of beer.
That completes our list of the best Thai dishes. Did we miss any must-try foods in Thailand? Tell us your favorite Thai food in the comments below!
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