Thailand Food Guide: 10 Things to Try on Your Next Trip

There are many reasons to visit Thailand, and the food is definitely one of them. Whether you are traveling to the Land of Smiles for the gorgeous beaches, for the insane parties, for some retail therapy, or for serious sightseeing, you have to pop into a random eatery furnished with plastic tables or check out a street food stall in order to experience the country fully. Thai cuisine is celebrated for its spicy vibrant flavors, and you can’t leave Thailand without a taste of its specialties.

However, as I’m sure you have experienced, it’s not easy to figure out what to eat in a land where the menus are long and almost every dish name sounds the same. So to help you with your food adventures, I have compiled a list of all the best dishes I tried from my trip to Thailand early this year. I didn’t do any research before going—I had wanted to explore randomly, trust my instincts, and ask locals. Since this was my first time in Thailand, I figured that the “best restaurants in Thailand” experience must be reserved for another trip. Enjoy reading, and have fun eating your way across amazing Thailand!

1 | Pad Thai

I’ve tried a lot of pad thais in different Thai restaurants in the Philippines, but nothing beats the one I’ve eaten from—guess where—a random stall in Khao San Road in Bangkok. With the numerous options in this busy street, we were so lucky to have stumbled upon this one selling pad thai so addictive that we ate there every night (two servings at a time, of course). It’s quite minimal with only chicken or shrimp as toppings for the stir-fried noodles along with some egg, chilies, and bean sprouts; but the flavor—damn! You can adjust the taste with some seasonings and add crushed peanuts as you wish. I’ve read somewhere that this is already a variation as the classic recipe uses shrimp only and is dry and lightly flavored. But hey—in this case, who cares? I bet the others lined up in the stall like me would agree.

2 | Pad Kra Pao

Probably the dish with the most number of appearances throughout our trip after the pad thai, the pad kra pao is hard not to love. It’s simply pork stir-fried with fresh basil and chilies, served on top of plain rice. Some restaurants mince the pork finely while others serve bigger cuts—either way, this dish is just insanely good. The meat is spicy, and good thing you have your rice with you! Perhaps it’s the Filipino in me (we love rice) or the basil lover in me, but the pad kra pao is something I definitely miss—and one I would definitely pig out on again when I go back to Thailand.

3 | Tom Yum

If you like spicy soups, an order of tom yum should not be missed when dining in a Thai restaurant. It’s very common all over Thailand—a renowned dish with a smorgasbord of herbs and aromatics, a clear spicy soup, and shrimp (tom yum goong) or chicken (tom yum khai). It’s spicy and sour at the same time, and if this dish doesn’t awaken your taste buds and whet your appetite, I don’t know what will. Each spoonful is a burst of flavors from the load of ingredients like lemongrass, cilantro, chili, tomato, lime, and many more. It’s truly an exciting Thai dish—and servings are usually good for sharing (unless you like hoarding spicy soups).

4 | Tom Kha Khai

Craving for an extra layer of flavor and some thickness to your soup? Then make sure you look for some tom kha khai in that restaurant or eatery you’re eating at in Thailand. This dish is similar to Tom Yum, except that it has coconut milk, which adds some delightful creaminess to the broth and somewhat tones down its spiciness. The tom kha khai is the chicken version with galangal, chilies, shallots, lemongrass, and mushrooms. We order this with tom yum and we can’t stop alternating spoonfuls from the two—both are so good, it’s hard to pick a favorite!

Traveling to Thailand soon? Check out these must-dos when in Bangkok: Bangkok Tours

5 | Kow Mok Khai

In one of our midnight cravings, we found ourselves in a random eatery just a short walk away from our hostel in Chiang Mai and ordered some Chang beer and random food items. One of them is the kow mok khai, the Thai version of chicken biryani. The rice is herby and lightly spicy, the chicken flavorful. It comes served with steaming bowl of chicken broth. You can dip the meat into some chili sauce if you want more spice (generally you would find these condiments in all diners) or eat it as is—it’s tasty enough on its own, trust me.

Related stuff:

A guide to visiting Thailand's "most lavish" temple.

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6 | Spring Rolls

Admittedly, I couldn’t eat spicy things all the time so I get myself some spring rolls whenever I just need a break from all that heat. Fortunately, Thai spring rolls are so good—the common variation is the vegetarian one filled with noodles, carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, onions, tofu, and chilies, served with sweet chili sauce or tamarind dipping sauce. Other variations have shrimp, chicken, or pork. It’s good for a quick takeaway snack which you can munch on while walking around the streets of Bangkok or Chiang Mai, or an appetizer or side along with your favorite Thai dishes.

7 | Chicken Fried Rice

Simple, satisfying, familiar. The Thai Chicken Fried Rice (khao pad) is another must-try dish—cooked simply with egg, garlic, onions, chicken breast, fish sauce, and oyster sauce, with some tomatoes, cucumber, and fresh coriander on the side. It’s filling and delicious—and cheap, as you won’t even need a viand to pair it with. It’s our favorite hangover food after a night of partying in Bangkok.

8 | Thai Barbecue

You can find them everywhere—sticks and sticks and sticks of chicken, pork, curried meats, fish, even fried scorpions! Definitely worth a try when in Thailand (the last one if you're adventurous). They’re pretty safe and relatively tamer compared to those found in the Philippines, where we have innards for snacks as well. I find that Khao San Road is a good place to get some because you can eat these BBQ skewers along with a wide range of other street food and some cheap beers from 7 Eleven (and some more street-style pad thai, LOL).

 Discounted Bangkok hotels. Check rates here. 

9 | Banana Pancakes

I’m not a fan of sweets so I almost took a pass on this one—good thing my friend Via bought some and forced us to take a few bites. OMG! They are seriously good! They’re more like roti or crepes than pancakes, but it’s what locals call these yummy desserts so the hell with names! Filled with bananas and topped with chocolate, hazelnut, vanilla, or strawberry, these pancakes should not be missed when in Thailand—add this to your eat-inerary! If you find those women selling them in little carts—please, do yourself a favor and buy some.

10 | Thai Iced Tea

I’ve been wondering how a drink this simple can taste so good, but after several years, I decided to stop wondering and just enjoy it. Thai iced tea is simply tea, milk, and sugar—a magical concoction in a tall glass filled with ice. Sometimes it betrays me (or rather, my stomach) and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, I still love to drink it, and buy some whenever there’s a chance. Best consumed with some food to prevent tummy ache, and while people-watching along the streets of Thailand. :)

Further reading:

Researching your destinations, booking your transfers, choosing accommodations, and shopping for the essentials.
Our 10-Day itinerary across Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam; useful tips; plus our budget breakdown!

What's your favorite Thai food? Anything to add to this list? What should I try on my next trip?

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