Thailand is my absolute favorite country when it comes to cheap quick meals. As backpackers, we normally try to order the cheapest thing possible on the menu and this doesn’t pose a problem when you go to Thailand. Everywhere you go you can find delicious and CHEAP street food that will both satisfy and awaken your taste buds. 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.
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. Nomadic Matt swears by a food stall by Sukhumvit Soi 33 in Bangkok. Best thing about it? An entire meal, plus other dishes will cost you no more than a dollar. Can I get a hell yeah?? If interested,Check out this guide to the best pad thai in Thailand
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in learning how to cook Thai food, I recommend attending Cooking Classes in Thailand which will teach you how to make these incredible dishes.
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, kafir 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.
Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
Oh man. This dish, I can eat every day. For me, it’s the perfect blend of flavors and texture and goes well with every meal. It’s like the ultimate side dish to cleanse your palate. 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.
Pad Krapow Moo Saap (Fried Basil and Pork)
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 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)
Kai Med Ma Muang (Chicken with Cashew Nuts)
One of those meals which I can eat every day! Kai Med Ma Muang (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!
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, fish sauce and fresh herbs. Sounds a bit odd? Trust me, it’s delicious!
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. 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 kafir lime which makes even more flavorful!
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 Lamduon Fahrm Kaosoi, a 70+ year old establishment that is unpretentious and downright delicious!
Pad See Ew
To be honest, if asked to choose between the many Thai dishes, I wouldn’t choose this one but that is just my opinion. Pad See Ew is like the sticky version of Pad Thai. Essentially it is a thick and sticky fat rice noodles stir-fried with lots of soy sauce and topped with some veggies or chicken or beef. Flavor wise, it is actually quite delicious- I’m just not a fan of the sticky texture.
Mango Sticky Rice
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. Each bite is like a symphony of flavors!
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.
Want to read other food guides around Southeast Asia?