Thai Food: A Local Guide on What to Eat in Thailand (2023)

written by local expert Anna Faustino

Anna is a co-founder of Adventure in You and has been traveling the world for the last 9 years. She has spent time living in Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Spain and is our local expert in these areas. Her expertise on travel, gear, and building businesses have been featured on Foundr, Business Insider, Yahoo Travel, and more.

Thai food has become increasingly popular around the world, and for good reason.

The combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors, along with fresh herbs and aromatic spices, makes for a truly unique and delicious culinary experience.

As someone who has both traveled and lived in Thailand, I’ve had the pleasure of indulging in countless amazing Thai dishes.

In this blog post, my aim is to take you on a journey through the best Thai dishes and their origins. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or simply curious about Thai food, this post will offer insights into the diverse and flavorful world of Thai food.

Despite coming from the Philippines, Thai food is probably one of my favorite cuisines in Southeast Asia.

Everywhere you go you can find delicious and CHEAP street food that will both satisfy and awaken your taste buds. One of my favorite things to do is to wander around Bangkok’s night markets eating my way around the food stalls.

Given the wide range of things to eat, here is our list of must try Thai dishes. So get ready for a culinary delight as you try out a broad range of tastes and flavor. So sit back, grab a snack, and let’s dive into the mouthwatering world of Thai food!

Photo of my partner Tom, in a cooking class in Thailand when we lived there.

Origins of Thai Cuisine

Before we dive deep into the ins and outs of Thai food, and more importantly, what to order, let’s do a brief deep dive into its origins and what makes it so unique.

Thai food is known for its bold and vibrant flavors, but its origins are a diverse mix of cultures and traditions.

Over the centuries, Thai cuisine has been influenced by neighboring countries such as China, India, and Malaysia, as well as European and American cuisines. Thai dishes often incorporates elements of traditional Thai medicine, which emphasizes the use of herbs and spices for their medicinal properties.

One of the most significant aspects of Thai food is the use of fresh herbs and spices, which play a crucial role in enhancing the flavors of Thai dishes.

Common herbs and spices used in Thai cooking include lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, basil, and chili peppers. These ingredients not only add flavor but also offer a range of health benefits, from aiding digestion to boosting the immune system.

Overall, the origins of Thai cuisine are a fascinating mix of cultural influences and traditional practices, resulting in a unique and flavorful culinary tradition that continues to captivate foodies around the world.

Wondering how Thai food compares to other cuisines? Check out our comparison articles:

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Traditional Thai Food that You Can’t Miss

Listed below, in no particular order are some of the most famous Thai food that Thailand is known for.

As a fun game, make a mental note on how many of these Thai meals you’ve already tried.

1. Pad Thai

Naturally, no Thai food list is complete without the ever so famous Pad Thai. Readily available in almost every street food cart, this dish is something you can never go wrong with.

Thick noodles topped with a variety of shrimp or chicken, bean sprouts, egg, and tofu, stir-fried together in goodness.

To be honest, I find the pad thai served in the streets to be more delicious and authentic than those in restaurants. Best thing about it? An entire meal, averages out between $1-2.

Can I get a hell yeah?

thailand pad thai

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2. Massaman Curry

Massaman curry is a rich and aromatic Thai dish that is beloved for its flavorful blend of spices and tender meat. This curry is typically made with beef, potatoes, onions, and peanuts, and is simmered in a creamy coconut milk based sauce that is flavored with an array of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg.

The result is a complex and savory flavor that is slightly sweet, slightly sour, and slightly spicy, all at once. The coconut milk adds such a creamy texture to this Thai curry.

One of the best meals I’ve had in Thailand was an incredibly spicy buffalo massaman curry which I still dream about to this day!

3. Tom Yum Soup

This for me is the soup of all soups! It is the perfect rainy day comfort food and is delicious on every level.

The soup is generally sour and is made with a mixture of lemongrass, chili, ginger, kefir lime leaves and is often topped with shrimp and mushrooms.

Be wary though as they often serve this HOT! I always request it with no spice and it often comes back with the right amount of spice that I can handle. 

tom yum soup

4. Kaeng Khiao Wan (Green Curry)

Green curry is a popular Thai dish known for its vibrant color and bold, spicy flavor. This curry is typically made with coconut milk, green chilies, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and a variety of fresh herbs and spices.

Meat such as chicken, pork, or shrimp is then added to the green curry, along with vegetables such as eggplant and bamboo shoots.

The combination of creamy coconut milk and spicy, aromatic herbs creates a delicious balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors. Similar to most Thai curries, the curry paste is made from scratch using the vibrant flavors that they have.

Green curry is often served with steamed rice and is a must-try for anyone who loves Thai cuisine. It is one of the most famous amongst the Thai curries and is a crowd pleaser!

Thai food is super interesting and is a huge part of the Thai culture. Check out our guide to the best fun facts about Thailand.

5. Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

Oh man. This dish, I can eat every day. For me, Som Tam or Green Papaya salad is the perfect blend of flavors and texture and goes well with every meal. It’s like the ultimate side dish to cleanse your palate.

This green papaya salad is made of shredded papaya mixed with green beans, garlic and chilies marinated in a vinaigrette type of sauce topped with peanuts.

Great to help combat the spiciness of your usual Thai dishes- unless your grilled papaya salad is spicy as well. I love eating this dish with some Gai Yang (Grilled Chicken) and sticky rice.

som tam salad

Read: Planning Your Dream Trip to Thailand

6. Khao Pad (fried rice)

Khao Pad, also known as fried rice, is a simple yet delicious Thai dish that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. This dish typically consists of steamed rice stir-fried with eggs, vegetables such as carrots and peas, and protein such as chicken, shrimp, or pork.

The stir-fry fried rice is seasoned with soy sauce, and often garnished with fresh cilantro and sliced cucumbers.

Khao Pad is a quick and easy meal that can be found at many street food stalls and restaurants throughout Thailand. If you’re not great with spicy food, you can’t go wrong with fried rice which is why Khao Pad is a staple in Thai foods.

7. Pad Krapow

Another crowd pleaser right here! A quick one-bowl dish that is both cheap and delicious. It is basically a stir-fry pork or chicken dish cooked with lots of thai basil, garlic, and chilies served on top of a piping bowl of white rice.

Often, it is topped with an egg and is a perfect meal any time of the day (hangover days included) Again, like most meals in Thailand, tell them how spicy you want it or you will end up with something ridiculously spicy.

I highly suggest getting at least some basic Thai down (like how to tell them not to burn the roof of your mouth with spice)

We recently ate in foodie Mark Wiens restaurant in Bangkok called Phed Mark which specialized in just Pad Krapow. The thai basil adds a fresh and aromatic taste to this authentic thai food.

Be warning, it is SPICY so choose you spice level well. Check out our post on the 32 best things to do in Bangkok for more inspiration.

pad krapow
SPICY pad krapow from Phed Mark during our recent trip to Bangkok

Read: Basic Thai for Travelers

8. Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai is a delicious authentic Thai food that is known for its creamy and aromatic coconut milk base. The soup is typically made with chicken, coconut milk, galangal (a type of ginger), lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves.

The ingredients are simmered together until the flavors meld, resulting in a savory and slightly sweet broth made from coconut milk that is enhanced with the flavors of fresh herbs and spices. Tom Kha Gai is often served with steamed rice and is considered a popular comfort food dish in Thai cuisine.

The dish can also be made with shrimp or mushrooms instead of chicken for vegetarians.

9. Gai Pad Med Mamuang (Chicken with Cashew Nuts)

One of those meals which I can eat every day! Gai Pad Med Mamuang (whew, what a mouthful!) is a sweet and savory chicken stir-fry topped with cashews and vegetables.

Loads of flavor and kick to it. I would order this dish at least once a day when in Thailand. I literally can’t get enough of it! This is often served with either steamed or sticky rice.

chicken cashew cooking chiang mai
Our cashew chicken which we made in our cooking class

10. Panang Curry

Panang Curry Panang curry is a popular Thai dish that is made with a creamy and slightly sweet curry sauce.

The sauce is typically made with coconut milk, Panang curry paste, and a variety of herbs and spices, including kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.

The dish is often made with chicken or beef, although vegetarian options are also available. The result is a flavorful and aromatic dish that is often enjoyed with steamed rice.

They have a version of this as well in other cuisines like Malaysia but the Thai curry tends to be lighter than its counterparts.

11. Larb

A minced meat stirfry that is both juicy and flavorful. Larb is traditionally from the Northeast of Thailand and is made from ground meat seasoned with rice powder, chilies, lime juice, and fresh herbs.

Sounds a bit odd? Trust me, it’s delicious!

12. Gaeng Daeng (Red Curry)

Naturally, no Thai food list will be complete without some curry. My personal favorite is the gaeng daeng which is red curry.

When made correctly (which is very easy to find in Thailand), this stunner of a dish is a fantastic meal. The curry paste is made from scratch and is very fragrant and aromatic! Cambodian food has a similar version but the Thai curry is much more flavorful in my opinion.

Fresh coconut milk is used to create the delicate flavor of the curry itself, leaving it thick and creamy. Often mixed with any topping you want from chicken, seafood, of even roasted duck.

They then top it with kefir lime which makes even more flavorful! 

thai red curry

13. Pad Prik King (Dry Curry Stir-Fry)

Pad Prik King is a Thai stir-fry dish that features meat such as chicken or pork, stir-fried with green beans and a dry curry paste.

The paste is made with a combination of herbs and spices, including lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and chili peppers. The result is a flavorful and slightly spicy dish that is often enjoyed with steamed rice.

14. Pad See Ew

Pad See Ew is a classic Thai dish that features wide rice noodles stir-fried with eggs, Chinese broccoli, and meat such as chicken or pork.

Pad See Ew is seasoned with a dark soy sauce and oyster sauce, and is often garnished with fresh cilantro and sliced chili peppers.

The result is a savory and satisfying meal that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Personally, I’m not a huge Pad See Ew fan as I find the noodles too thick and goey. However, loads of people love it and this is just a personal preference.

15. Moo Ping (Grilled Pork Skewers)

Moo Ping is a popular Thai street food that features marinated pork skewers that are grilled to perfection. The pork is marinated in a combination of fish sauce, palm sugar, and soy sauce, along with other herbs and spices.

The result is a sweet and savory dish that is often served with sticky rice and a spicy dipping sauce.

16. Khao Soi

Again, another dish typically found in Northern Thailand, Khao Soi is a curry based noodle soup which is rich and flavorful.

Topped with shallots and a piece of lime, it’s like heaven in a bowl. Tom and I were in Chiang Mai and drove around for hours in search of a tiny hole in the wall restaurant that allegedly served the best Khao Soi in the area.

Our verdict? Worth it! When in Chiang Mai, check out Khao Soi Mae Sai and Grandmas Khao Soi.

chiang-rai-khao-soi
Khao Soi that we made during a cooking class in Thailand.

17. Gaeng Som (Sour Curry)

Gaeng Som is a sour and spicy Thai curry that is made with a tamarind-based broth and flavored with spices such as turmeric, chili peppers, and garlic.

The curry is typically made with fish, shrimp, or chicken, along with vegetables such as tomatoes and green beans. The dish is often served with steamed rice and is a popular Thai dish due to its tangy and refreshing flavor.

18. Mango Sticky Rice

Mango sticky rice is one of Thailand’s most popular snack and dessert. To those new to the Asian cuisine, the concept of eating rice and fruit together may seem strange, but it is actually very tasty!

Known locally as Khao Niaow Ma Muang, it is a combination of sticky rice and juicy mangoes topped with a sweet coconut cream. The sticky rice is SO good and is the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

Each bite is like a symphony of flavors! 

mango sticky rice dessert thailand

19. Kuay Teow Nam Tok

Kuay Teow Nam Tok is a popular Thai noodle soup that is known for its spicy and savory broth. The soup is typically made with rice noodles, meat such as pork or beef, and flavored with a combination of chili peppers, garlic, and fish sauce.

The dish is often garnished with fresh cilantro and bean sprouts, and is a popular comfort food in Thailand. Kuay Teow Nam Tok is a must-try for anyone who loves spicy and flavorful soups.

20. Pla Rad Prik (Fried Fish with Chili Sauce)

Pla Rad Prik is a delicious Thai dish that consists of fried fish served with a spicy chili sauce. The fish is typically deep-fried until crispy and then served with a sauce made from chili peppers, garlic, and fish sauce.

The dish is often garnished with fresh herbs such as basil or cilantro and served with steamed rice. Pla Rad Prik is a popular Thai dish due to its crispy texture and spicy flavor.

This is one of my favorite Thai dishes and is something we would often order when we lived in Chiang Mai.

21. Yum Woon Sen (Glass Noodle Salad)

Yum Woon Sen is a refreshing Thai salad that consists of glass noodles, meat such as chicken or shrimp, and fresh herbs such as cilantro and mint.

The salad is often dressed with a spicy and tangy sauce made from chili peppers, lime juice, and fish sauce. Yum Woon Sen is a popular Thai dish due to its refreshing and light flavor.

22. Gai Yang (Grilled Chicken)

Gai Yang is a popular Thai dish that consists of marinated chicken that is grilled to perfection. The chicken is typically marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, and lemongrass, giving it a flavorful and tender texture.

The dish is often served with sticky rice, som tam (papaya salad) and a spicy dipping sauce. Gai Yang is a must-try for anyone who loves grilled chicken.

Gai Yang chicken

23. Khao Niao

Khao Niao, also known as sticky rice, is a staple food in Thai cuisine. This short-grained rice has a sticky texture and is often served with grilled meats, spicy salads, and curries.

To prepare it, the rice is soaked, rinsed, and steamed until it becomes tender and sticky. Khao Niao or sticky rice is a popular street food in Thailand and a common dish in Thai households, often served during special occasions such as weddings and festivals.

24. Pla Kapong Neung Manao (Steamed Fish with Lime Sauce)

Pla Kapong Neung Manao is a healthy and delicious Thai dish that consists of steamed fish served with a tangy lime sauce. The fish is typically seasoned with fish sauce, garlic and cilantro before being steamed to perfection.

The lime sauce is made from a combination of lime juice, fish sauce, and chili peppers, and is poured over the fish before serving. Pla Kapong Neung Manao is a popular Thai dish that is enjoyed for its fresh and flavorful taste.

thai fish dish

25. Pad Nam Prik Pao (Chili Paste Stir-Fry)

Pad Nam Prik Pao is a spicy and flavorful Thai stir-fry that is made with a chili paste made from dried chili peppers, garlic, and shallots. It also often has fish sauce which adds to the umami flavor of the dish.

The dish is typically made with a meat such as pork or chicken, along with vegetables such as bell peppers and onions. The stir-fry is often served with steamed rice and is a popular Thai dish due to its bold and spicy flavors.

26. Tom Yam Kai (Spicy Chicken Soup)

Tom Yam Kai is a spicy and tangy Thai soup that is typically made with chicken, lemongrass, chili peppers, and lime juice. The soup is often garnished with fresh herbs such as cilantro and is a popular Thai dish due to its refreshing and flavorful taste. Tom Yam Kai is often served with steamed rice and is a comforting and satisfying meal.

27. Gai Hor Bai Toey

Gai Hor Bai Toey, also known as pandan-wrapped chicken, is a popular Thai appetizer that is made by wrapping marinated chicken in pandan leaves and then deep-frying it until crispy.

The pandan leaves infuse the chicken with a subtle, sweet aroma that pairs well with the savory flavor of the chicken. Gai Hor Bai Toey is often served with a sweet chili dipping sauce and is a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

This is one of my ultimate Thai comfort foods.

Gai Hor Bai Toey

28. Sai Oua

Sai Oua is a flavorful and spicy Thai sausage that is made with ground pork and a mixture of fragrant herbs and spices such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal.

The sausage is often grilled or fried until it becomes crispy on the outside, and is served with sticky rice and a spicy dipping sauce.

Sai Oua is a popular street food in Northern Thailand like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and is known for its bold and aromatic flavors. It is a must-try for anyone who loves spicy and savory sausages.

29. Hor Mok Pla

Hor Mok Pla is a delicious and fragrant Thai dish that is made by steaming a mixture of fish, coconut cream, curry paste, and fresh herbs in banana leaves. The result is a savory and slightly sweet custard-like texture that is bursting with flavor.

This is very similar to the Cambodian dish Fish Amok.

The dish is often garnished with fresh herbs such as basil or cilantro and is typically served with steamed rice. Hor Mok Pla is a popular dish in Southern Thailand and is enjoyed for its complex and aromatic flavors.

It is a must-try for anyone who loves rich and creamy seafood dishes.

30. Khao Kha Moo

LAst but not least is one of my favorite Thai dishes, Khao Kha Moo, also known as stewed pork leg with rice. It is a beloved Thai dish that is popular as a hearty and flavorful street food.

The dish consists of a generous serving of stewed pork leg that has been slow-cooked in a fragrant mixture of soy sauce, cinnamon, and star anise.

The pork is served over a bed of steamed rice and is often topped with a boiled egg and a side of pickled mustard greens. Khao Kha Moo is a comforting and satisfying meal that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

It is a must-try for anyone who loves tender and flavorful pork dishes.

Tips for Cooking Thai Food at Home

If you’re not traveling to Thailand but just want general inspiration on Thai cuisine, why not try cooking it at home?

Cooking Thai food at home can be a fun and rewarding experience. To get started, it’s important to stock up on essential Thai ingredients such as fish sauce, coconut milk, and curry pastes.

You can also make your own curry pastes if you buy the raw ingredients- it is actually very east.

Some recommended tools for cooking Thai food include a wok, a mortar and pestle for grinding spices, and a rice cooker.

When cooking Thai food at home, it’s important to keep in mind that authenticity is key. This means using fresh and high-quality ingredients and paying attention to the balance of flavors such as sweet, salty, sour, and spicy.

It’s also important to be patient and take your time to allow the flavors to develop fully.

Closing Thoughts on Thai Cuisine

In conclusion, Thai cuisine is a popular and delicious cuisine that is enjoyed around the world. From spicy curries to savory noodle dishes, there is something for everyone in Thai cuisine.

Whether you’re dining out or cooking at home, the flavors and aromas of Thai cuisine are sure to delight your taste buds.

Unfortunately, I cannot possibly keep writing this post as I am now craving for Thai food. Big time.

So there you have it, folks. A guide to what to eat and devour while in Thailand.

Although settling for banana pancakes and burgers might be the easy go-to for a lot of travelers, remember to explore your taste buds, eat local, and make the most of the many cheap and affordable street meals Thailand has to offer.

Aside from the meals listed here, check out our street food guide to Thailand to find out things you shouldn’t miss.


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7 thoughts on “Thai Food: A Local Guide on What to Eat in Thailand (2023)”

  1. If you’re ever Los Angeles, you can always stop by “Red Corner” in Thai Town and have an excellent time and food.

    Reply
  2. A Chiang Mai local stumbled upon your blog.

    – At present some dished might exceed one dollar a bit.

    – There are 2 styles of Som Tam. Th picture you posted is Thai style. Lao Style is another version. Also you and adapt them to many dishes ie. cucumber salad, carrot salad. Also you can eat it with other dishes like Khanom Chin (ขนมจีน) or rice vermicelli

    Tip: 1. Many said papaya salad best paired with Coco-cola (or Pepsi) and I agree!
    2. Also many said that eating papaya salad alone is not as fun as eating it with friends. Again I agree.

    – Chicken with cashew nut is originated from Chinese cuisine. Actually you can say it Chinese dish since we adapt nothing with the dish. I don’t know why many people misunderstood it for Thai dish.

    – There are 2 styles of larb. One is from the northeastern as you said. Another style is from the north. The taste is…well totally different. Next time you visit CM I would recommend you to try Northern style.

    Our country is not different from every places. We have both good and bad things, also good and bad people. Hope you see the first ones wherever you go.

    Welcome and be our guest again anytime.

    Reply

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