A Taste of Thailand: The Must-Eats in the Land of Smiles

Ashleigh Simmons Photo

Ashleigh Simmons

28 February 2019

Time to Read


A Far Eastern gem that knows no boundaries, Thailand is known for many things – the lightning-fast tuk-tuks zipping in and out of Bangkok traffic, the flashing billboards and buzzing bars on Bangla Road, the picturesque sunset over Sairee Beach in Koh Tao… the list truly goes on and on. But, there’s one aspect of the Land of Smiles that’s miles above the rest: the food.

Lovers of flavour, spice and all things nice will undoubtedly be in their element when it comes to authentic Thai cuisine. One of the street food capitals of the world, Thailand is chock full of vendors flogging authentic delicacies from morning until night on every corner. You won’t need a map – just follow the smells!

Pad Thai

You’ll be hard-pressed to go more than 100 metres down any road in Thailand without a street vendor or a restaurant selling pad Thai. This delectable fried noodle dish is sweet, sour, spicy and salty all at the same time, marrying ingredients like chilli, garlic, tofu, and fish sauce together with a protein of your choice for a match made in heaven, or keep it veggie with plenty of tofu. You’ll pay slightly more if you opt for the seafood variation, but it’s still amazingly cheap no matter what you choose. Challenge yourself and eat with chopsticks, but don’t be shy to ask for a fork if your fingers don’t quite bend that way. Garnish your noodles with crushed chillies if you like an extra kick, peanuts for crunch, and plenty of lime juice for zest – don’t worry, you can thank us later.

Khao Pad

The Thai phrase for fried rice, this tasty dish goes above and beyond the egg fried rice found at your local Chinese takeaway. Fragrant jasmine rice used in this recipe truly makes all the difference, and is traditionally best enjoyed with shrimp. Pineapple fried rice is one of the most popular versions of khao pad and no, it’s not as strange as it sounds. This colourful concoction is often served in half a carved-out pineapple – stalks and all – for extra flair, and is interspersed with chunks of the sweet fruit as well as vegetables and the protein of your choice. Trust us, this isn’t something that’s meant for sharing.

Tom Yum Goong

Chilli fanatics, this is where you shine. Translating to hot and sour soup, this delicious broth is famous for its mighty kick, so maybe strategically position yourself under some powerful air conditioning while you eat it. Tom yum goong is usually cooked with shrimp, but it can be easily substituted for any other meats or a vegetarian option, but the staple ingredients include lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and of course, plenty of crushed red chilli peppers.

Massaman Curry

Sweet and rich – sounds like the ideal romantic partner, right? This steaming bowl of delectable curry certainly fulfils your needs in more ways than one, warming you up from the inside out and providing a true melt-in-the-mouth sensation. Relatively mild as far as Thai curries go, Massaman can be easily recreated at home, and it’s even more succulent if you have a slow cooker handy.

Green Curry

A classic Thai curry that you might even find at your local pub, this delicious bowl of creamy goodness is miles above a Friday night stint at Wetherspoons. Again, like most Thai recipes, they can be prepared with whatever meat of your choice, although chicken tends to be the more traditional option. Created around a base of coconut and fresh green chillies, the pungent smell of Thai green curry alone is enough to make your mouth water. Just wait until you taste it…

Need To Cool Down?

If you find yourself wiping beads of sweat from your forehead because your food is a little heavy on the chillies, there are plenty of Thai beverages that can assist in cooling you down. Sold in every restaurant, 7-Eleven and street stall is Chang, the local beer. Loved by natives and visitors alike, this emerald green bottle filled with golden elixir comes in both small and large sizes (always opt for the latter) that you’ll fall in love with after just one sip. If cocktails are more your thing, Mai Tais and Thai Smiles will put a spring in your step, or if you’re looking for an alcohol-free delight, the fresh fruit smoothies certainly go down a treat. Oh, and if you have a sweet tooth then rolled ice cream is a brilliant dessert option that is popular on the smaller islands. Watch creamy liquid and fresh exotic fruit be chopped and blended by hand right in front of your very eyes while it’s solidified and then rolled by metal utensils.

A Few Words of Warning:

The Thais like it hot. And we don’t mean madras-down-the-pub hot. We mean eating-vindaloos-on-the-sun hot. Okay, that was a slight exaggeration but before tucking into a spicy dish with a potential fire hazard, be prepared for the amount of chilli content. Many restaurant menus helpfully have a spice guide, indicating with chillies how hot it is and allowing you to turn up or turn down the heat to suit your palette.

If you’re allergic to peanuts, then it might be worth learning some crucial Thai phrases surrounding the nut content in the food and come equipped with your necessary medication. There are several dishes to avoid with a nut allergy in Thailand, including the famous pad Thai and papaya salad, and many fried foods may be cooked in peanut oil. Be careful, vigilant and cautious before you dig in!

Beaming sunshine all-day-long means staying hydrated is imperative whether you’re lounging by the pool or hiking up a mountain – but tap water is a no-no. 7-Eleven stores can be found on every corner where you can stock up on bottled water, and most hotels will have complimentary bottles stashed in the mini bar.

Although curry and rice is a classic pairing, most restaurants sell rice as a separate side order that’s not included in the main part of your meal. If you’re unsure, simply ask if they come together and order accordingly.

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