Thai cuisine is universally regarded as some of the finest in the world. The variety of Thai cuisine, especially its world-famous street food, is astounding, but it consists primarily of noodles, stir-fries, curries, soups, and salads, which are available everywhere from street vendors to Michelin-starred restaurants in Bangkok. Here are our top recommendations for must-try Thai dishes.
1. Thai food (Stir-Fried Noodles)
Chinese immigrants introduced noodle dishes to Thailand, and Pad Thai is arguably the most celebrated of them all. This signature dish is an excellent introduction to Thai cuisine because it is not overly spicy. Pad Thai, like many other dishes, varies regionally, but consists of flat rice noodles, seafood (or chicken, pork, or tofu), dried shrimp, tamarind, fish sauce, bean sprouts, shallots, and egg, all stir-fried in a hot wok and topped with roasted peanuts, fresh herbs, and chilies (optional). Pad Thai exemplifies the signature Thai combination of sweet, sour, and salty flavours and well-balanced textural contrast.
2. Tom Yum Goong (Hot & Sour Shrimp Soup)
This popular soup is an explosion of spicy, sour, and aromatic flavours, making it one of Thailand’s most renowned dishes. The distinctive flavours of this spicy clear soup from the central region result from the combination of fragrant lemongrass, shallots, fish sauce, galangal, mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, and red chilli peppers. Although shrimp (Goong) is the most common ingredient and considered the tastiest, other variations include chicken, fish, and mixed seafood. If you find this dish to be too spicy, Thai chicken coconut soup, a northern specialty, is a milder, sweeter, and equally delicious alternative; it has the same exquisite flavours and spices, but the chilies are optional and the coconut milk tempers the heat.
3. Kaeng Lueang (Yellow Curry)
The world-famous curries of Thailand range from mild to fiery, sweet to sour, and are always made with coconut milk and have a soup-like consistency. There are innumerable regional varieties, but the three main curry types, red, green, and yellow, are the most well-known internationally, with distinctions based on levels of spiciness and dominant ingredients.
Yellow curry is heavily influenced by southern Thai cuisine, with a rich texture and distinctive hue derived from turmeric. This is combined with traditional aromatic ingredients, which typically include coriander, cumin, shallots, lemongrass, and galangal. In addition to coconut milk, vegetables, and potatoes, chicken, alternative proteins, or tofu are added. As this curry type typically contains fewer chilies than its green and red counterparts, it is less spicy and therefore suitable for those, including children, who prefer a milder flavour.
4. Gaeng Daeng (Red Curry)
Red curry is one of the most popular curry varieties in Thailand; it is generally spicier than yellow curry but milder than green curry. This rich, sweet, and aromatic curry gets its distinctive red hue from crushed red chilies in the curry paste (a base of garlic, shallots, blue ginger, and lemongrass), which is then combined with coconut milk, vegetables such as eggplant, mushrooms, or tomatoes, and chicken breast slices. The curry is garnished with thinly sliced kaffir leaves and sweet basil, presenting a perfectly balanced combination of creamy and spicy broth that will excite your taste buds.
Massaman Chicken Curry, one of the most well-known red curry varieties, is mild, sweet, and simmered in coconut milk; however, its less soupy consistency and interpretation of a traditional Persian dish and Indian curry, made with roasted spices, make it unique.
5. Gaeng Keow Wan Gai (Green Curry)
Originating in Central Thailand, green curry is the spiciest of Thailand’s “holy trilogy” and, arguably, the most well-known dish in the world. This immensely popular dish is based on fragrant green chilies, which were introduced to Thailand by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, giving it its distinctive green hue and fiery flavour. Despite being simmered in coconut milk (which moderates the heat and imparts a rich, sweet flavour) and containing ingredients common to many Thai curries (galangal, shallots, lemongrass, kaffir lime, Thai basil, etc.), it is the green chilies that give this dish its intense heat. Green curry is also distinguished by the presence of mini eggplants, potatoes, bamboo shoots, and chicken breast slivers.
6. Khao Soi (Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Soup)
Noodle soups are a popular street food in Thailand, served at all hours of the day and night. One of the most popular types is Khao Soi (or Soy), a signature dish of Northern Thailand that is particularly revered in Chiang Mai. This Burmese-inspired soup is renowned for its mildly spicy and fragrant curry broth with a rich coconut milk base, soft egg noodles, chicken, beef, or tofu, and a garnish of deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled vegetables, and sliced shallots. In one mouthful, Khao Soi is delicious, comforting, slightly spicy, sweet, and creamy.
7. Khao Pad (Thai Fried Rice)
This Thai fried rice dish is a local favourite served at any time of day, but especially for lunch. Khao Pad is prepared with chicken, pork, beef, seafood, or tofu, in addition to eggs, onions, garlic, fish sauce, fresh herbs, tomatoes, or other vegetables. All of these ingredients are stir-fried with fragrant Jasmine rice until well combined, then served with cucumber slices, lime wedges, and additional condiments. As this dish can be made to order, you have control over the heat level and additional flavours, making it ideal for picky eaters or those seeking spice relief. The variation with pineapple and shrimp, Khao Pad Sapparod, is an appetising alternative.