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BlogTravel buzzWhat Thai food should I eat in Thailand? Here are 10 can’t-miss dishes to try
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Travel buzz

What Thai food should I eat in Thailand? Here are 10 can’t-miss dishes to try

Jan 18, 2023 by Emily Houston

Tom yum soup slurped up by the spoonful and pad thai noodles smooshed between a set of chopsticks—that’s where the delicious side of Thai culture lies. Whether you’re digging into a spicy curry or a sweet slice of mango, every meal sings from start to finish. The food is one of the top reasons to take a guided tour of Thailand, and this guide is your one-stop-shop for insider info on the country’s most delectable dishes.

a variety of Thai dishes served on a restaurant table

Thai food always finds a way to hit the perfect spicy-salty-sweet high note. Here’s what to know before you dive fork first into the symphony of flavors found in popular Thai dishes.

Is Thai food spicy?

Short answer: Yes. The heat you taste in traditional Thai food is there to balance the flavor profile of the dish. So, while spiciness may carry through some foods, there are also sour and umami-rich notes for your palette to find.

Plus, locals know you’re not Thai and understand you likely have a different spice tolerance than them. The Thai dishes you order are made with this in mind. If you just can’t get enough spice, drizzle nam pla prik on your Thai food. This is fish sauce mixed with chili peppers, garlic, and lime, which you’ll find on the table at most restaurants.

What is the national dish of Thailand?

Pad thai is the answer to this question. Even if you’re not a Thai food aficionado, you’ve likely heard of this stir-fried noodle dish. Scroll down to number nine to get all the details on this meal.

What food do you eat in Thailand?

Here’s our perfect meal featuring food from Thailand. Start with a warm bowl of tom yum soup. For your main, opt for khao soi if you’re in the north and pad krapow gai if you’re anywhere else in the country. Then, cap it off with a plate of mango sticky rice.

10 best Thai dishes to try

Whether you’re looking to book one of our Thailand trips or researching for your upcoming tour, these are the best Thai food dishes to eat.

coconut cream being poured over a bowl of mango chunks, sticky rice, and roasted mung beans

1. Khao neow mamuang

How to say it in English: Mango sticky rice

You won’t find cloyingly sweet Thai dishes served for dessert. Thai people prefer to indulge in fresh fruit, and mango sticky rice is a fan favorite. This famous dish in Thai cuisine features slices of mango, sticky rice, coconut cream sauce, and roasted mung beans.

While the rice may look like jasmine rice, it’s actually a form of glutinous rice with a high starch content that makes it stick together when cooked—hence the name. The best way to eat this Thai dish is to cover your rice with the cream and tiny mung beans (they add extra texture and flavor!). Then, fill your fork with equal parts mango and rice and dig in.

Thai food tip: Keep your taste buds peeled for a vanilla-esque flavor as you enjoy this dish. That taste comes from pandan leaves, which are the Thai equivalent of vanilla extract.

Try it on tour

a hollowed-out coconut shell holding Thai coconut pancakes

2. Kanom krok

How to say it in English: Coconut pancakes

Ditch the restaurants! Some of the best food you’ll eat during trips to Thailand is found at markets, and that’s the case with these tiny pancakes. They’re traditionally a half-dome shape, but the flatter ones aren’t any less delicious or authentic. The outside is cooked to crispy perfection and the inside is a pillowy cloud of dough and coconut flakes.

This popular Thai food is only about two inches in diameter and much sweeter than what you’d find at a diner in say, the U.S. or Canada. You’ll get eight to ten in an order, making it the perfect snack to share with a friend (but we won’t judge if you keep them all for yourself!).

Where to order this Thai dish: Search around the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market for vendors cooking these pancakes in their boats. They’re freshly made, will only run you about 60 baht (around $1.50), and are served in a bowl made from banana leaves.

Eat this in Thailand

a bowl of Northern thai curry garnished with cilantro, a fried uncooked noodles, and scallion shoot

3. Khao soi

How to say it in English: Northern Thai curry noodles

A lot of popular Thai dishes aren’t tied to a single region, meaning you can find them in every city you visit during Thailand tours. Khao soi is the exception. This curry is a specialty of Northern Thailand and you’ll only find it in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai while on guided tours to Thailand. So, dig in while you have the chance!

Smooth coconut cream and a fragrant curry paste featuring ingredients like black cardamom seeds, ginger, turmeric, and chili peppers make up the base. Chicken and egg noodles are added to round out the curry, which is easily one of the best Thai dishes. Don’t skimp on adding the crispy topping made from fried, uncooked noodles, as it adds an essential bit of crunch to the curry.

Thailand food tip: Make khao soi from scratch alongside a local family in Chiang Mai during the included cooking class on our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket.

Eat this in Thailand

a bowl of Thai green curry, garnished with sprig of Thai basil, with a mound of rice in the background

4. Gaeng khiao wan gai

How to say it in English: Thai green curry

There are two main types of curry you’ll find all throughout the country: red and green. Both are spicy, but the level of hotness comes down to whether fresh chili peppers or dried chili peppers are used. Fresh chili peppers are what bring the heat, whereas dried chili peppers don’t pack as big a punch. Red curries tend to be spicier, but don’t let that fool you—green curry is still one of the best Thai dishes to order if you want to dip your chopsticks into the spicy food world.

Even though green curries have a coconut milk base, don’t count on that to tamper the spice. The lack of fat in the milk means this Thai dish will always have a kick. Ladle the spicy concoction of curry, chicken, and veggies over a scoop of jasmine rice to experience one of the most famous Thai dishes at its absolute best.

Pro tip about Thailand’s foods: Look for bits of Thai eggplant and pea eggplants in your green curry. This is one way to know your meal is authentic, as these ingredients are only grown in Southeast Asia.

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a wooden spoon stiring a pan of Thai basil chicken

5. Pad krapow gai

How to say it in English: Thai basil chicken

Ask a local about the best Thai foods and we bet this chicken dish will be one food from Thailand they’ll say you can’t miss. A comforting and classic go-to, it features ground chicken cooked in oyster sauce and fish sauce. Chilies also make an appearance, as does Thai basil, which has a more anise-adjacent flavor than Italian basil.

Like any of the best Thai dishes, it’s served over jasmine rice. Do as the locals do and order this with a fried egg on top to take this popular Thai food to the next level.

Thai food restaurant recommendation: Places serving pad krapow gai are a dime a dozen, but if you’re looking for a sit-down restaurant, we love Roxane Cafe & Restaurant in Phuket.

Chow down in Thialand

a bowl of Tom yum, Thai hot and sour soup with shrimp, limes, and tomato slies floating inside

6. Tom yum

How to say it in English: Hot and sour Thai soup

It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite from this list of the top Thai food dishes, but tom yum might squeak out the number one spot. Maybe it’s the way the aromatics bring out a freshness or how the fish sauce creates that perfect salty hit, but this soup is hands down one of the best Thai dishes to try on a tour of Thailand.

The brothy base has a signature hot and sour flavor profile thanks to the curry paste and lime juice. Shrimp is added just before it’s ready to serve and veggies like mushrooms and tomatoes also make an appearance. This savory soup is best enjoyed when it’s piping hot.

Tip for eating this Thailand cuisine: Don’t try to eat the lemongrass and galangal floating in your tom yum. These aromatics add a depth to the soup, but their tough, fibrous nature makes them less than ideal to chew.

Try it on tour

a bowl of Thai coconut chicken soup - noodles in a beige broth with shreded chicken on top

7. Tom kha gai

How to say it in English: Thai coconut chicken soup

Want to try tom yum sans the seafood? This is one of the best Thai dishes for you. All the herbs and spices found in tom yum are also added to tom kha gai. But, instead of shrimp, chicken is used. The broth in tom kha gai is made from coconut milk and cream, rather than a chicken stock, which cuts some of the spice.

Get the cream, meat, and veggies on your spoon for the perfect bite. As with tom yum, avoid eating the lemongrass and galangal. They’re just there to build the flavor of the dish.

Thailand food and drink tip: Wash down your tom kha gai with a glass of butterfly pea tea. Its signature indigo color comes from infusing the leaves of the butterfly pea plant into the drink. It’s served both cold and hot, and you can’t go wrong either way.

Eat this in Thailand

Thailands green papaya salad

8. Som tom

How to say it in English: Green papaya salad

This savory salad features unripe, shredded papaya as the hero ingredient. In each forkful you’ll also find tomatoes, peanuts, and long beans. It’s one of the best Thai dishes to eat if you’re a fan of coleslaw—think of this as the Thai take on the American classic, sans the mayo.

The name and flavor of this dish comes from the sour elements (mainly limes and fish sauce) and how you use a mortar and pestle to crush the ingredients into a paste that coats the papaya strips.

Info on this Thai dish: This salad usually contains shrimp paste. If you’re allergic to shellfish, make sure to have your Tour Director check with the chef before digging into this Thai food.

Enjoy this on tour

a bowl of Pad thai garnished with a lime

9. Pad thai

How to say it in English: Thai stir fry

This is one of the Thai dishes that’s synonymous with the country’s culinary identity. The best part of pad thai is that it’s customizable. You can order it with egg, shrimp, chicken, tofu, or a slew of other proteins. The stir-fried rice noodles are the hero of this Thai dish, but the bean sprouts and crushed peanuts pull their weight to provide a crunch in every bite.

Thai food is often very affordable, and this one is no exception. A hearty serving will only run you 80 to 100 baht, or about $2 to $3 USD. That means you can order it and still have more than enough cash left over to try one of the many other Thai cuisines on this list.

Thailand food and drink tip: The best drink to pair with your pad thai? Thai tea, of course! This cold drink is made from condensed milk, tea, and sugar. It’s the perfect pick-me-up on a humid Thai day.

Dig into Thai food

thailand spring rolls stuffed with carrots, cucumbers, peppers, shrimp, and noodles

10. Popiah

How to say it in English: Spring rolls

Steamed or fried. Meat-forward or stuffed with veggies. There’s no wrong way to enjoy a spring roll. Their small, shareable nature makes them one of the best Thai dishes to split with travelers on tour. Nothing like breaking fried bread to make new friends at the start of your Thailand trip!

These are one of the best Thai foods to order day after day as each place will make them a bit differently. Some tried-and-true ingredients you’ll likely find in most spring rolls include bean sprouts, spring onions, carrots, cabbage, and mushrooms.

Tip for eating this type of Thai cuisine: There’s usually an orange-hued, sweet Thai chili sauce served with your spring rolls. Dunk away, as the sauce enhances the flavor of this already delicious Thai food.

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About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.

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