Whether you have visited Thailand or planning your future travels to the Land of Smiles, chances are you have already fallen in love with Thai food. Many people know the staples when it comes to traditional Thai dishes like Thai curries and Pad Thai, but Thai cuisine has much more to offer beyond the usual dishes you may already know. With fresh ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, Thai chilies, galangal, and ginger, Thai food is often an explosion of flavors.
How to Eat Thai Food
When in Thailand, you’ll notice that they eat their rice dishes differently from other Asian countries. Instead of chopsticks, you’ll be given a fork and spoon at your table setting. The spoon is your primary eating utensil while the fork is used to manipulate the food onto your spoon. We have adopted this tradition at home when we eat our own Thai dishes and it is far more efficient.
There won’t be a knife at your setting when eating in a Thai restaurant, the food will already be cut to order but if you do need to make a cut, simply use the side of your spoon. And do not put the fork in your mouth, use your spoon keeping it in your right hand.
Even noodle dishes like Pad Thai or Pad See Ew are eaten with a fork and spoon. Chopsticks are only used when eating noodle dishes in a bowl.
Delicious Thai Dishes
So now that you have the basics of Thai food etiquette the next time you go to the Land of Smiles, make sure to order these tasty Thai dishes. If you aren’t traveling soon, no worries, you can make them all at home too! For more Thai recipes, check out the best Thai fish dishes: 9 Massively Tasty Thai Dishes to Eat in Thailand.
Gluten Free Thailand Food Guides
Are you Celiac or have a gluten intolerance? Our friend Jodi at Legal Nomads has created detailed gluten-free cards that have been translated into the Thai Language by native speakers. These cards were created to help people with celiac disease eat Thai food safely while traveling in Thailand. Carry them with you and show them to restaurants and staff to ensure they understand your food requirements. Get more details and Purchase your gluten-free Thailand card here for just $8.99
1. Thai Green Curry (Gaeng Keow Wan)
Thai green chicken curry is my go-to dish in Thailand. This delicious creamy meal is served over jasmine rice and is one of the most filling and satisfying Thai meals to order. At home, we make Thai curry with tofu instead of chicken for a vegetarian option. The curry is made with green curry paste and coconut milk. I’ve never been able to make my home Thai cooking taste quite as delicious as it tastes in Thailand, but it is still tasty. Get the recipe here.
The curry is mixed with chilis, Thai basil, fish sauce, and added vegetables. There are a variety of vegetables to include from snow peas and eggplant to lime leaves and baby corn all served over freshly steamed rice. Make sure you visit Thailand to truly explore the best Thai cuisine. Read more: Thailand Travel Tips – 32 Things to Know Before you Go.
2. Cashew Nut Chicken (Kai Med Ma Muang)
This is Dave’s favorite Thai food. When we are out for dinner in Thailand, I usually order a curry with jasmine rice (or sticky rice) and he orders Cashew Chicken with sticky rice. It’s funny how we always fall back on our “go to’s” It’s also very easy to make at home. Start with stir-fried chicken and mix in roasted cashews, and garlic. When making the vegetarian version we use mushrooms. The key to cashew nut chicken is corn starch. When added to the dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, black pepper, and rice vinegar, it thickens into a savory treat. Get the recipe here.
3. Panang Curry
Panang curry is a bit milder than green curry but just as flavorful and is popular in southern Thailand. This savory yet sweet Thai curry is made from scratch in Thailand, but at home, you can buy Panang curry paste, (However, Panang curry paste is more difficult to find than green or red curry paste. You can usually find it in an Asian grocery store though)
Panang Curry is orange in color and filled with vegetables in a coconut cream sauce. The delicious sauce is fille with flavours from kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, fish sauce, and sugar that is served over fragrant jasmine rice. Usually, Thai curries are made with chicken when visiting Thailand but at home, we make it with tofu. Once I discovered Panang Curry, this was my go-to Thai dish and took over a green curry as my favorite Thai curry. See how to make it here.
4. Pad Thai
Pad Thai is a staple dish in Thailand and is one of the most popular of all Thai foods. You can order Pad Thai from street vendors, at corner cafes, restaurants, and pretty much any shop on a street corner. Pad Thai is the national dish of Thailand so it is obvisouly the go-to for tourists grabbing lunch on Kho San Road. This fried noodle dish is cheap and delicious and is mixed in a peanut sauce with either chicken or shrimp. See how to make Pad Thai at home with this easy-to-follow recipe.
5. Pad See Ew (Thai Stir Fried Noodles)
Pad See Eiw is a thick noodle dish in Thailand. These noodles are stir-fried in soy sauce creating a thick gravy. If you enjoy Pad Thai, this is a good option for your next Thai dish to try while in Thailand. Besides noodles it also is served with chicken, pork, or beef and vegetables can be cabbage or broccoli.
This is popular street food in Thailand and you will find many locals huddled around tables eating this savory meal. Pad See Ew is made with wide rice noodles, Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli). The stir-fried chicken is mixed with dark soy sauce, white vinegar, oyster sauce, and sugar. For the full recipe visit here.
6. Tom Yum Soup (Hot and Sour Soup)
You’ll see Tom Yum soup on nearly every menu in Thailand. Tom Kha Gai and Tom Yum Goong are two soups that you will often see on menus. Tom Kha Gai is similar to Tom Yum soup (I used to think it was Tom Yum Soup) but Tom Kha Gai is the creamy version made with coconut milk and lemongrass. It can be served as a soup or over freshly steamed rice.
The main flavor you will notice is lemongrass but there are plenty of other spices to make this savory dish. Tom Kha Gai also includes ginger, chiles, lime juice, cilantro, and the regular Thai food staple of fish sauce. It usually consists of chicken and mushrooms. Make Tom Kha Gai at home.
Tom Yum Goong is a fish broth-based soup made with shrimp, Thai chilies, fish sauce, and lime juice. Both these soups can be quite spicy. Goong means shrimp in Thai and its base is made with shrimp stock and shrimp paste making this the clear version of the Tom Yum soups. Get the recipe for Tom Yum Goong here.
7. Guay Teow (Noodle Soup)
Oh, how I love a good noodle soup in Thailand. Guay Teow is made with pork, beef, or fish broth with rice noodles. When you order a bowl of noodle soup it comes with condiments that you can add to taste including fish sauce, dried chili peppers, sugar, galangal (or ginger), and lime juice. This can be eaten any time of the day and I found that I was regularly eating it for breakfast when visiting the islands. Get the full recipe here.
8. Thai Chicken Satay
Street food is a big part of dining in Thailand. You’ll find that some of the Thai food of your trip will be eaten at a street vendor. Grilled chicken satay is a popular dish for that. Chicken Satay is a simple dish of chicken cut into strips and grilled on skewers. This is one of the most popular Thai street foods. The chicken is first marinated in spices including lemongrass, chiles, and garlic. Its served on the side with a spicy Thai peanut sauce. When you make it at home you can serve it alongside Jasmine Rice for a complete meal.
9. Lettuce Wraps (Larb Gai)
I love making lettuce wraps at home when having company. Like many of the Thai food we’ve listed, this is a refreshing treat that is also easy to make. The trick to making delicious lettuce wraps is the marinade. It consists of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, and ginger which is then stir-fried with chicken. Mmm, doesn’t that sound delicious?
You can then stuff the lettuce wraps with anything of your choice. Carrots, red cabbage, cucumber slices, and rice noodles. Everything is put on a plate and people can make their own by filling the lettuce with whatever they please. I like having hoisin sauce and soy sauce on the side for dipping.
10. Khao Pad (Fried Rice)
Khao Pad is a super simple dish you’ll see on many Thai menus. Khao Pad translates to fried rice, and fried rice is a staple dish in Thailand. If you want to order something easy, simply ask for fried rice with whatever you desire (chicken, beef, tofu, or shrimp.
Khoa Pad in Thailand is usually combined with egg and onions. You may see shrimp fried rice on the menus as that it is popular among tourists but you can simply order whatever you like on top. Fried rice is also usually accompanied with fresh-cut lime on the side. Be sure to squeeze it over and use the chilies and fish sauce that are usually sitting on a table in Thai restaurants.
11. Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
Mmm, there is nothing more refreshing than a Green Papaya Salad. Spicy green papaya salad aka Som Tam is one of Thailand’s most popular dishes originating in northern thailand. The unripe green papaya is shredded and tossed with spices, fish sauce, lime juice, and chilies. It is mixed with other vegetables including tomatoes, cucumber, and carrots plus you can add dried shrimp, peanuts and don’t forget the long beans. When looking for an appetizer in Thailand, green papaya thai salad is a great starter.
12. Green Mango Salad
When visiting Thailand, I love buying fresh green mango slices off of street vendors and people on the beach. Green mango is unripened mango and I love it more than fully mature mangoes. Green Mango Salads consist of mixing grated mangoes with shredded coconuts, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs such as cilantro and basil. It can be mixed with chicken, shrimp, or the vegetarian option of tofu. The dressing is a delicious tangy treat of lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, and chili flakes.
13. Mango Sticky Rice (Kao Niew Ma Muang)
When looking for a Thai dessert, Mango sticky rice is a perfect choice. Sticky rice is glutinous rice made with coconut milk that will remind you of rice pudding. The sweet rice is served alongside fresh mango slices and when dipped and mixed together it’s delicious.
14. Yam Pla Duk Foo (Fried Catfish with Green Mango Salad)
Catfish is filled with flavor and is a delicious treat in a Thai salad. Smoke over low heat, until the skin turns golden and crunchy, and then serve over fresh mango salad. It is often served as an appetizer or as a bar snack. See how to make the full Thai meal here.
We first had Laab in Laos but soon discovered that it is one of the popular Thai dishes as well. Laab is a spicy meat salad that originated in Northern Thailand and is usually eaten with sticky rice. All the usually Thai cuisine supsects can be found in this salad including lime juice, fish sauce, galangal, Thai chilies and cilantro but it is the mint leaves that make it so refreshing. Check out the recipe here.
Why we Love Thai Food
As you can see there is no shortage of Thai food. There are so many different food recipes from Thai soups, to grilled meat dishes and taste grilled fish. Each time we go back to Thailand we discover new food. It’s no wonder there are so many Thai restaurants around the world.
What we love about eating Thai food is the family atmosphere. When ordering Thai dishes, they are meant to be shared. When eating in Thailand as a tourist, meals are often served separately, but if you see how the locals eat, you’ll notice that rice is served separately and the main dishes are put in the center of the table for everyone to share. Food never arrives at the same time, so we just start sharing and tasting it together as it comes.
When you plan your next trip to Thailand or when ordering from one of your favorite Thai restaurants, make sure to venture away from the usual Thai cuisine and try some of the lesser-known Thai dishes, you may find your next favourite meal.
Plan Your Trip to Thailand with these Resources:
- Beautiful Beaches in Thailand to Spark Your Wanderlust
- Best Things to do in Bangkok, Thailand – Plus Insider Local Tips
- 35 Amazing Things to Do in Thailand
- Thailand Travel Tips – 32 Things to Know Before you Go
- 35 of the Best Things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- The Best Things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand
- Best Things to do in Phuket, Thailand
- Best Things to do in Krabi, Thailand
- Ultimate 3 Days in Bangkok – A Local’s guide to The Perfect Bangkok Itinerary