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The Best Thai Foods You Need To Try

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Thai food ranks among the most popular cuisines worldwide. Why? 

Well, authentic Thai food is very appealing in terms of taste, smell, and appearance. In fact, most dishes are colorful and presented with an artistic flair. And if you come to Thailand, you might be surprised to learn that you can find food, snacks, and drinks 24/7—and not just in convenience stores!

Because a country’s food is a major component of its culture, trying Thai food is a special experience for foreigners who visit Thailand.

In this article, we’ll present you with tons of practical Thai cuisine information. This includes…

  • …the top five Thai foods to try in restaurants
  • …several unique Thai foods only found in-country
  • …a few foods you may question are actually Thai
  • …practical food-related vocabulary

As a bonus, ThaiPod101.com will also give you some easy Thai food recipes you can make at home.

If you want more information on Thai cuisine, you can check out the following lessons on ThaiPod101.com:


Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Thai Table of Contents
  1. 5 Must-Try Thai Dishes
  2. Unique Thai Foods
  3. Are These Food and Snack Items Thai?
  4. Vocabulary for Food and the Restaurant
  5. Bonus: Simple Thai Recipes
  6. Conclusion

1. 5 Must-Try Thai Dishes

When visiting a Thai restaurant—whether in-country or abroad—it can be hard to know what Thai food to order. To help you out, we’ve handpicked five of the best Thai dishes you should definitely try! 

ส้มตำไทย (sôm-dtam-thai) – Papaya Salad

Ingredients:  

  • มะละกอ (má-lá-gaaw) = papaya
  • ถั่วฝักยาว (thùua-fàk-yaao) = cowpea
  • มะเขือเทศ (má-khǔuea-thêet) = tomato
  • ถั่วลิสง (thùua-lí-sǒng) = peanut
  • กุ้งแห้ง (gûng-hâaeng) = dried shrimp
  • พริก (phrík) = chili
  • กระเทียม (grà-thiiam) = garlic
  • น้ำตาลปี๊บ (nám-dtaan-bpiíp) = palm sugar
  • มะนาว (má-naao) = lime
  • น้ำปลา (nám-bplaa) = fish sauce

ส้มตำ (sôm-dtam) is an iconic Thai food, making it perfect for you to try as a language learner. 

ส้มตำไทย (sôm-dtam-thai) is just one type of ส้มตำ (sôm-dtam), and we recommend you try this one first if you’ve never had this before. There are other types that contain small raw crab and pickled fish sauce, but that may be a bit much for your first time. 

Basically, ส้มตำ (sôm-dtam) is raw vegetables mixed together with peanuts and dried shrimp. The vegetables offer a fresh taste and the dish has sweet, sour, and salty flavors. 

I Love Sôm-dtam-thai

ผัดไทย (phàt-thai) – Thai-Style Fried Noodles

Ingredients:  

  • เส้นจันทน์ (sên-jan) = a type of noodle
  • เต้าหู้เหลือง (dtâo-hûu-lùueang) = yellow tofu
  • กุยช่าย (gui-châai) = Chinese chive
  • ถั่วงอก (thùua-ngâawk) = bean sprout
  • หอมแดง (hǎawm-daaeng) = shallot
  • กุ้งแห้ง (gûng-hâaeng) = dried shrimp
  • ไช้โป๊ว (chái-bpóo) = salted turnip
  • ถั่วลิสงบด (thùua-lí-sǒng-bòt) = crushed peanut
  • ไข่ (khài) = egg
  • น้ำมัน (nám-man) = cooking oil
  • พริกป่น (phrík-bpòn) = chili powder
  • กระเทียม (grà-thiiam) = garlic
  • น้ำตาลปี๊บ (nám-dtaan-bpiíp) = palm sugar
  • น้ำมะขามเปียก (nám-má-khǎam-bpìiak) = tamarind juice
  • น้ำปลา (nám-bplaa) = fish sauce

If you were to speak of a noodle dish in Japan, it would be Ramen. But Thailand’s famous noodle dish is ผัดไทย (phàt-thai).

Here’s some Thai food history for you: During World War II, the Thai leader Plaek Phibunsongkhram wanted to create a sense of nationalism in the country. He did this by encouraging people to create a unique Thai dish, which turned out to be ผัดไทย (phàt-thai).  

This has become one of the most popular Thai cuisine dishes among native Thai people and foreigners alike. It  tastes sweet and sour, and the noodle itself is pretty chewy. 

Phàt-thai Is Delicious

แกงเขียวหวาน (gaaeng-khǐiao-wǎan) – Green Curry

Ingredients:  

  • พริกแกงเขียวหวาน (phrík-gaaeng-khǐiao-wǎan) = green curry paste
  • ไก่ (gài) = chicken
  • มะเขือเปราะ (má-khǔuea-bpràw) = green brinjal
  • มะเขือพวง (má-khǔuea-phuuang) = turkey berry
  • พริกชี้ฟ้า (phrík-chíi-fáa) = cayenne pepper
  • ใบมะกรูด (bai-má-grùut) = leaf of kaffir lime
  • ใบโหระพา (bai-hǒo-rá-phaa) = basil
  • กะทิ (gà-thí) = coconut milk
  • น้ำตาลปี๊บ (nám-dtaan-bpiíp) = palm sugar
  • น้ำปลา (nám-bplaa) = fish sauce

There are various types of curry in Thailand, and แกงเขียวหวาน (gaaeng-khǐiao-wǎan) is one of the most popular.  

It’s a main dish often served with rice or rice noodles. In some recipes, chicken is substituted with other protein sources such as fish or beef. Despite having the word หวาน (wǎan), or “sweet,” in its name, แกงเขียวหวาน (gaaeng-khǐiao-wǎan) does not taste sweet. It’s also not as spicy as other curries, which is why we recommend it to foreigners.

Let’s Try Gaaeng-khǐiao-wǎan

ต้มข่าไก่ (dtôm-khàa-gài) – Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup

Ingredients: 

  • พริกแกงเขียวหวาน (phrík-gaaeng-khǐiao-wǎan) = green curry paste
  • ไก่ (gài) = chicken
  • เห็ดฟาง (hèd-faang) = straw mushroom
  • พริกชี้ฟ้า (phrík-chíi-fáa) = cayenne pepper
  • ข่า (khàa) = galangal
  • ตะไคร้ (dtà-khrái) = lemon grass
  • ใบมะกรูด (bai-má-grùut) = leaf of kaffir lime
  • น้ำซุปไก่ (nám-súp-gài) = chicken broth
  • กะทิ (gà-thí) = coconut milk
  • มะนาว (má-naao) = lime
  • น้ำปลา (nám-bplaa) = fish sauce

Another great choice for foreigners is ต้มข่าไก่ (dtôm-khàa-gài). It’s similar to ต้มยำ (dtôm-yam) but has a smoother taste and is less spicy, making it perfect for those who can’t handle spicy foods. It also tastes lighter and healthier than curry. During the vegetarian season, you can find a vegan version of this dish as well.

หมูสะเต๊ะ (mǔu-sà-dté) – Grilled Pork Stick with Turmeric

Ingredients:  

  • พริกแกงเขียวหวาน (phrík-gaaeng-khǐiao-wǎan) = green curry paste
  • หมู (mǔu) = pork
  • กระเทียม (grà-thiiam) = garlic
  • ผงขมิ้น (phǒng-khà-mîn) = turmeric powder
  • ผงยี่หร่า (phǒng-yîi-hràa) = cumin powder
  • ผงกะหรี่ (phǒng-gà-hrìi) = curry powder
  • เมล็ดผักชี (mà-lét-phàk-chii) = coriander seeds
  • น้ำตาลทราย (nám-dtaan-sai) = sugar
  • กะทิ (gà-thí) = coconut milk
  • นมสด (nom-sòt) = milk

One of the most popular Thai street foods you should try is หมูสะเต๊ะ (mǔu-sà-dté). 

This is a chewy, salty appetizer served with a savory, nutty dipping sauce. The most common protein for this snack is pork, but you can sometimes find chicken or lamb as well. Thai people eat หมูสะเต๊ะ (mǔu-sà-dté) with toast.

2. Unique Thai Foods

In this section, we’ll present you with some unique Thai foods and desserts. You may find some of the food combinations weird, but they taste really good!

ข้าวแช่

The weather in Thailand is hot all year. Some people even joke that Thailand has three seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. To cope with the weather in summer, Thai people created ข้าวแช่ (khâao-châae).  

This dish consists of cooked rice soaked in flower-scented water. It’s eaten with various side dishes, such as shredded pork, salted turnip fried with egg, or stuffed bell peppers. It tastes very fresh and has a nice fragrance. You can find this cuisine item in Thai restaurants during the summer. 

น้ำจิ้มซีฟู้ด

น้ำจิ้มซีฟู้ด (nám-jîm-sii-fúut) is a special dipping sauce. There are various recipes for this dipping sauce, but it’s typically made with chili, garlic, coriander root, fish sauce, lime juice, and salt. Originally, Thai people dipped seafood in it. But today, it’s currently served with various foods, such as hot pot, crab fried rice, and steamed fish ball. 

ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง

ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง (khâao-nǐiao-má-mûuang) is a famous Thai dessert. Thai people eat this sweet and salty rice with ripe mango (and sometimes durian) topped with coconut milk. You can find this Thai dessert in summer, which is mango season.  

Some foreigners may find it weird to eat rice with fruit, but the flavor of sticky rice goes well with ripe mango and coconut milk. However, we have to warn you that this isn’t a very healthy Thai food, so you shouldn’t eat it too often.

3. Are These Food and Snack Items Thai?

Thai people are very open-minded when it comes to food. If you visit Thailand, you’ll see that there are various dishes, snacks, and desserts influenced by foreign food. Some of them have been adapted to suit Thai tastes and preferences. 

If you were to find these Thai food names on a menu, you might wonder if they’re really Thai! Let’s take a closer look.

ขนมโตเกียว

ขนมโตเกียว (khà-nǒm-dtoo-giiao) is a popular Thai snack. It’s a pancake roll with various savory and sweet fillings, such as ham, sausage, egg, taro paste, and custard. 

The name of this snack breaks down into two words: 

  • ขนม (khà-nǒm) – snack
  • โตเกียว (dtoo-giiao) – the name of a city in Japan

Because of its name, many people mistakenly think that this snack was influenced by Japanese cuisine.

The origin of ขนมโตเกียว (khà-nǒm-dtoo-giiao) is unclear. Some say it was influenced by a Japanese dessert called Dorayaki, while most people believe this snack was first sold in the first Japanese department store in Thailand: Daimaru. However, it was created by Thai people and named ขนมโตเกียว (khà-nǒm-dtoo-giiao) to make it sound Japanese.

Is This a Thai Snack?

ลอดช่องสิงคโปร์

ลอดช่องสิงคโปร์ (lâawt-châawng-sǐng-khà-bphoo) is a Thai snack made with tapioca flour and sweet coconut milk. 

This is another food item with a rather confusing name. Its two parts break down as:

  • ลอดช่อง (lâawt-châawng) – the name of a similar Thai dessert
  • สิงคโปร์ (sǐng-khà-bphoo) – Singapore

ลอดช่องสิงคโปร์ (lâawt-châawng-sǐng-khà-bphoo) is not a dessert imported from Singapore. It was created by a restaurant called สิงคโปร์โภชนา (sǐng-khà-bphoo-phoo-chá-na), which is located in เยาวราช (yao-wá-râat), the famous Chinatown in Bangkok.

ข้าวผัดอเมริกัน

Are you seeing a trend here? Let’s break down the name of this confusing Thai dish:

  • ข้าวผัด (khâao-phàat) – fried rice
  • อเมริกัน (a-mee-rí-gan) – American

Despite having ‘American’ in its name, ข้าวผัดอเมริกัน (khâao-phàat-a-mee-rí-gan) was created by Thai people.  ข้าวผัดอเมริกัน (khâao-phàat-a-mee-rí-gan) is rice fried with ketchup, ham, sausage, fried egg, and salad. The dish is said to have been influenced by the American-style breakfast: toast, fried egg, ham, and sausage eaten with ketchup.  

กล้วยแขก

กล้วยแขก (glûuai-khàaek) is fried banana, and this snack dates back to the Ayutthaya Period.

The name of this dish breaks down to:

  • กล้วย (glûuai) – banana
  • แขก (khàaek) – Indian

Apart from referring to Indian people, แขก (khàaek) was traditionally used to mean “strange” or “foreign” as well. Fried banana is quite different from the other snacks of that time, so it was called กล้วยแขก to imply that it was a ‘strange’ dessert made from banana.

ขนมจีน

The name of our last confusing food item breaks down as:

  • ขนม (khà-nǒm) – snack
  • จีน (jiin) – China

Despite its name, ขนมจีน (khà-nǒm-jiin) is not a snack and it was not imported from or influenced by China. It’s actually “rice noodle,” a food influenced from Mon food called kha-naawm-jin.

Thai people eat ขนมจีน (khà-nǒm-jiin) with various savory foods, such as curry, ส้มตำ (sôm-dtam), noodles, and spicy salad.  

4. Vocabulary for Food and the Restaurant

Now you know all about the most popular Thai food dishes. That means you’re ready to learn some practical Thai vocabulary for talking about (and ordering) food. Let’s go!

A- Food-Related Vocabulary

We’ll start with some useful words about Thai food for beginners. 

Taste

  • อร่อย (a-ràauy) = delicious
  • จืด (jùuet) = plain
  • เค็ม (khem) = salty
  • หวาน (wǎan) = sweet
  • เปรี้ยว (bprîiao) = sour
  • ขม (khǒm) = bitter
  • น่ากิน (nâa-gin) = looks tasty
  • กลิ่นหอม (glìn-hǎawm) = smells good

To make any of these words negative, just put ไม่ (mâi) in front.

Ingredients

B- How to Order Food

Do you plan on visiting Thailand to sample some of these amazing dishes? Then you should know how to order at a Thai food restaurant!

Can I see the menu?

Thai sentence: ขอดูเมนูหน่อย
Thai pronunciation: khǎaw-duu-mee-nuu-nàauy

I want to order the food.

Thai sentence: สั่งอาหารหน่อย
Thai pronunciation:sàng-aa-hǎan-nàauy

I Want to Order the Food

I want to order the drink.

Thai sentence: สั่งเครื่องดื่มหน่อย
Thai pronunciation: sàng-khrûueang-dùuem-nàauy

I want ___.

Thai sentence: เอา + food name
Thai pronunciation: ao-___

Additional information:
If the menu has a picture by the item you want, you can say เอาอันนี้, which means “I want this one,” while pointing to the picture.

Is ___ spicy?

Thai sentence:  ___เผ็ดไหม
Thai pronunciation:  ___-phèt-mǎi

Please make it not spicy.

Thai sentence: เอาไม่เผ็ดเลย
Thai pronunciation: ao-mâi-phèt-looei

Please make it a little spicy.

Thai sentence: เอาเผ็ดนิดหน่อย
Thai pronunciation: ao-phèt-nít-nàauy

5. Bonus: Simple Thai Recipes 

For those who are interested in cooking Thai food, we’ve prepared a couple of easy Thai cuisine recipes you can make at home. The ingredients are quite simple and you won’t need any special equipment.

A- Thai-Style Omelet

Egg dishes are fairly simple to make, so we’ll start with a recipe for ไข่เจียว (khài-jiiao), or “omelet.” ไข่เจียว (khài-jiiao) is fried egg beaten into a round flat shape. The ingredients are simple and you can make it unique by adding your favorite ingredients.

Ingredients

  • ไข่ (khài) = egg 
  • น้ำปลา (nám-bplaa) = fish sauce 
  • น้ำมัน (nám-man) = cooking oil

There are only three ingredients you need to make this Thai-style omelet, though you can also add other ingredients. For extra protein, you can add minced pork or crab, for example. Sometimes, Thai people also add vegetables such as onion, tomato, chilis, or spring onion to make it sweet and colorful.

How to Make

1. Beat 2 eggs and mix them with 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. If you want to add protein or vegetables, do so in this step.

2. Heat the oil in a pan until there is light smoke coming up. This is the secret to making the ไข่เจียว (khài-jiiao) a bit crispy and not too oily.

3. Pour the egg mixture into the pan.

4. Fry the egg until the bottom is set and has become golden brown. Once this happens, flip it.

5. Fry the other side of the ไข่เจียว (khài-jiiao) until it becomes golden brown. Then, it’s ready to be served with rice.

B- Hainanese Chicken Rice

This recipe is a little bit more advanced. There are more ingredients and steps, but people will be impressed if you can make it. To help you out, our recipe below is for Hainanese Chicken Rice cooked with the rice cooker.  

Ingredients

  • ข้าว (khâao) = rice
  • สะโพกไก่ (sà-phôok-gài) = chicken thigh
  • น้ำมัน (nám-man) = cooking oil 
  • กระเทียม (grà-thiiam) = garlic
  • ขิง (khǐng) = ginger
  • เกลือ (gluuea) = salt
  • น้ำตาล (nám-thaan) = sugar
  • น้ำซุปไก่ (nám-súp-gài) = chicken broth

How to Make 

1. Heat oil in the pan. Once hot, stir-fry 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic and 5 slices of ginger until they are aromatic.

2. After that, add 2 cups of rice and stir-fry until the rice becomes a little yellow.

3. Then, put everything from the pan into the rice cooker and add 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 2.5 cups of chicken broth. Stir everything together.

4. Put the chicken into the rice cooker on top of the rice mixture, then push the “cook” button.

5. Wait until the rice cooker is done and then slice the chicken and put it on top of the rice, served with the dipping sauce.

Ingredients for Dipping Sauce

  • เต้าเจี้ยว (dtâo-jîiao) = salt soybean
  • ขิง (khǐng) = ginger
  • พริก (phrík) = chili
  • น้ำตาล (nám-dtaan) = sugar
  • น้ำส้มสายชู (nám-sôm-sǎai-chuu) = vinegar
  • ซิอิ้วหวาน (sì-íu-wǎan) = sweet dark soy sauce
  • น้ำมะนาว (nám-má-naao) = lime juice

How to Make Dipping Sauce

1. Chop 4 tablespoons of ginger and 2 tablespoons of chili.

2. Mix 6 tablespoons of salt soybean, chopped ginger, chopped chili, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sweet dark soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of lime juice. And it’s done!

Let’s Cook Thai Food

6. Conclusion

Are you hungry and already searching for your nearest Thai food restaurant? Please let us know what your favorite Thai food is, and which ones are totally new to you! 

We hope you learned a lot in this lesson and that we’ve inspired you to keep learning Thai. If you enjoyed this lesson, keep in mind that ThaiPod101.com has many more resources available to you. For example, you can check out our lesson on the Thai floating market or sneak a peek at our free vocabulary lists

Until next time, happy learning!

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