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Thai Food: Top 12 Must-Eat Local Dishes In Thailand


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Margaretha Selby



When it comes to food travel, Thailand has long been a top destination for food lovers from around the world. The country’s vibrant culinary scene caters to all tastes and offers a wide range of flavors and dishes. From spicy and fragrant curries to tangy and refreshing salads, Thai cuisine is known for its bold and harmonious combination of flavors.


Thai food is a reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage, influenced by neighboring countries such as China, India, and Malaysia. The result is a unique fusion of flavors and techniques that tantalize the taste buds.


One of the best things about exploring Thai food is the variety and accessibility. From bustling street food stalls to upscale restaurants, you can find delicious and authentic Thai dishes almost everywhere you go in Thailand. And the best part? Most dishes are incredibly affordable, making it a budget-friendly option for food enthusiasts.


Whether you’re a seasoned food traveler or just starting your culinary journey, there are a few Thai dishes that you simply cannot miss. In this article, we will take you on a virtual tour of Thailand’s gastronomy and introduce you to the top 12 must-eat local dishes in Thailand.


Pad Thai

Pad Thai is arguably the most famous Thai dish and a must-try for any food traveler visiting Thailand. This stir-fried noodle dish is made with flat rice noodles, eggs, tofu, shrimp or chicken, bean sprouts, and flavored with a tangy combination of fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar.


The key to a good Pad Thai lies in the balance of flavors and textures. The noodles should be cooked to perfection with a slightly chewy texture, while the sauce should be savory, sweet, and slightly sour. The addition of lime juice, crushed peanuts, and fresh herbs like coriander and Thai basil adds complexity and freshness to the dish.


What makes Pad Thai truly unique is the customization factor. You can add your choice of protein, such as shrimp, chicken, or tofu, and adjust the spice level to suit your taste. It’s a versatile dish that can be mild or fiery, depending on your preference.


Pad Thai is widely available, from high-end restaurants to street food stalls. It’s a popular lunch or dinner option among locals and tourists alike. You can enjoy it as a standalone dish or pair it with other Thai favorites like spring rolls or papaya salad.


For an authentic Pad Thai experience, head to Bangkok’s bustling street food markets like Chinatown or Sukhumvit Soi 38. Here, you’ll find vendors whipping up plates of Pad Thai in giant woks, creating a delicious spectacle while you wait in anticipation for your plate of noodles.


Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong is a spicy and sour soup that is a beloved staple in Thai cuisine. This iconic dish is made with a flavorful broth infused with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and chilies. The star of the show is the succulent shrimp, which is cooked in the broth along with mushrooms and other aromatic herbs.


What sets Tom Yum Goong apart is its explosive flavors and aromatic qualities. The combination of the sourness from lime juice, the spiciness from chilies, and the fragrance from the herbs creates a symphony of tastes in every spoonful. The fresh ingredients and bold flavors make it a true delight for the senses.


Tom Yum Goong is known for its spicy kick, but don’t worry if you’re not a fan of heat. You can always request a milder version or ask for adjustments to the spice level. The soup is typically served with a side of steamed jasmine rice, which helps balance out the heat and adds a comforting element to the meal.


This Thai classic is available in almost every Thai restaurant, from casual eateries to high-end establishments. It’s the perfect dish to warm you up on a rainy day or when you’re feeling under the weather, thanks to its invigorating and nourishing qualities.


To truly savor the authentic flavors of Tom Yum Goong, head over to restaurants in Bangkok’s Yaowarat (Chinatown) area or to riverside eateries in Bangkok where you can enjoy the soup while taking in breathtaking views of the Chao Phraya River.


Massaman Curry

Massaman curry is a unique and flavorful dish that combines the best of Thai and Indian cuisines. This aromatic curry, with its rich and creamy sauce, is a true delight for curry lovers. It features tender chunks of meat, such as beef or chicken, cooked in a fragrant blend of spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.


What sets Massaman curry apart is its fusion of flavors. The dish incorporates traditional Thai ingredients, such as lemongrass and galangal, along with Indian spices like cumin and coriander. The result is a harmonious blend of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors that come together to create a truly memorable culinary experience.


Massaman curry is typically served with a side of jasmine rice, which helps balance out the richness of the curry. The creamy sauce, infused with coconut milk, provides a smooth and velvety texture that coats the tender pieces of meat, creating a flavorful and satisfying meal.


This curry, with its unique combination of flavors, is a testament to Thailand’s multicultural heritage. It reflects the influence of Muslim traders from the Middle East and the Indian merchants who traded spices along the ancient global trade routes.


To experience the best Massaman curry in Thailand, head to the southern region, particularly in provinces like Krabi and Phuket, where you’ll find an abundance of local restaurants and street food stalls serving up this delectable dish. The southern-style Massaman curry often incorporates the use of cashews and potatoes, adding a delightful twist to the traditional recipe.


Green Curry

Green curry, known as “Kaeng Khiao Wan” in Thai, is a popular and vibrant Thai dish that is loved for its aromatic flavors and vibrant green color. This curry is made from a paste of fresh green chilies, Thai basil, cilantro, and other herbs and spices, which gives it its distinct flavor and signature hue.


The heat of the green chilies is balanced by the creaminess of coconut milk, creating a rich and fragrant base for the curry. The curry paste is typically cooked with a variety of vegetables, such as eggplant, bamboo shoots, and bell peppers, along with your choice of protein, such as chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu.


Green curry is known for its spicy punch, but you can adjust the spice level to your liking. The addition of fresh herbs and lime juice at the end adds a refreshing and tangy element to the dish, enhancing the overall flavor profile.


When it comes to enjoying green curry, it is best paired with fragrant jasmine rice or crispy roti bread. The combination of the creamy curry and the fluffy rice or crispy bread creates a satisfying and comforting meal.


Green curry is widely available in Thailand, from local restaurants and street food stalls to upscale Thai eateries. To fully experience the authentic flavors of green curry, head to a local market or food court, where you can watch the curry being prepared from scratch and enjoy it alongside other Thai delicacies.


If you’re looking for a unique twist on green curry, be sure to visit Northern Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai. The northern-style green curry, known as “Kaeng Khiao Wan Kaew,” features the addition of more herbs and spices, such as ginger, turmeric, and dried chili, resulting in a bolder and earthier flavor profile.


Som Tum

Som Tum, also known as Papaya Salad, is a zesty and refreshing dish that is a perfect representation of Thai street food. This salad is made with shredded unripe papaya, mixed with a combination of flavors that are both sweet and tangy.


The dressing typically includes lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, and chilies, which provides a burst of flavors. Other ingredients like tomatoes, green beans, garlic, and peanuts are added to create additional textures and add depth to the dish.


What sets Som Tum apart is its distinct balance of flavors. The tanginess from the lime, the saltiness from the fish sauce, the sweetness from the palm sugar, and the spiciness from the chilies create a harmonious blend of tastes that awaken the palate.


Som Tum is usually enjoyed as a side dish or a light meal, and it pairs well with grilled meats or sticky rice. The crunchy texture of the shredded papaya, combined with the burst of flavors, creates a delightful and satisfying eating experience.


If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try different variations of Som Tum. Some popular variations include adding salted crab, fermented fish sauce, or even swapping the papaya for other fruits or vegetables, such as mango or cucumber.


To experience the true essence of Som Tum, head to a local street food market in Thailand. You’ll find numerous vendors skillfully preparing this dish with fresh ingredients, using a large mortar and pestle to pound and mix the salad, creating a lively and appetizing spectacle.


Khao Pad

Khao Pad, or Thai Fried Rice, is a staple dish in Thai cuisine that is loved for its simplicity and versatility. This flavorful and aromatic fried rice is made with jasmine rice, stir-fried with a combination of meats, vegetables, and a delectable blend of seasonings.


The key to a good Khao Pad lies in the fried rice itself. The rice grains should be fluffy and separate, with a slightly charred aroma from the stir-frying process. It is common to use leftover rice from the previous day, as the drier texture of the rice ensures that it does not become mushy during cooking.


Khao Pad can be customized to suit your taste preferences, with various protein options such as chicken, shrimp, or pork, along with vegetables like carrots, peas, and onions. The seasoning typically includes soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce, which adds a savory and umami flavor to the dish.


To enhance the flavors, a fried egg is often placed on top of the Khao Pad, allowing the yolk to mingle with the rice, creating a rich and creamy element. Additional toppings such as crispy shallots, cucumber slices, and lime wedges are often served alongside the dish to add freshness and texture.


You can enjoy Khao Pad on its own, as it is a complete meal in itself, or pair it with other dishes like Thai-style omelet or a side of tangy and spicy papaya salad. It is a popular choice among locals and visitors alike due to its affordability, convenience, and delicious flavors.


Khao Pad is readily available in Thai restaurants and street food stalls across the country. For an authentic and memorable experience, try visiting local food markets, where you can witness the skillful preparation of Khao Pad in large woks, with the aromas of stir-fried rice filling the air.


Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai, also known as Thai Coconut Chicken Soup, is a creamy and aromatic dish that showcases the delicate balance of flavors in Thai cuisine. This soup is made with a fragrant broth of coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. Tender chicken pieces are cooked in this rich and flavorful broth, along with other ingredients like mushrooms, tomatoes, and Thai chili peppers.


The combination of the creamy coconut milk, the tanginess of lime juice, and the earthy aromas of the herbs creates a comforting and soothing soup. The flavors are further enhanced with the addition of fish sauce, which adds a savory element to the dish.


Despite its name, Tom Kha Gai is not limited to just chicken. It can also be made with other proteins like shrimp, tofu, or even a combination of vegetables for a vegetarian version. The soup is typically garnished with fresh herbs, such as cilantro or Thai basil, which adds a burst of freshness and adds to the complexity of the flavor profile.


Tom Kha Gai is a popular choice among locals and visitors alike, thanks to its mild and fragrant qualities. It is often enjoyed as a standalone dish accompanied by steamed jasmine rice, which helps to balance out the richness of the soup.


If you’re looking to experience the best Tom Kha Gai in Thailand, head to the country’s northern region, particularly in Chiang Mai. The northern-style Tom Kha Gai features a bolder and more intense flavor profile, often incorporating the addition of local ingredients like pickled bamboo shoots or young banana blossoms.


Tom Kha Gai is widely available in Thai restaurants, from street food stalls to upscale eateries. It is the perfect choice for anyone seeking a comforting and flavorsome soup that embodies the essence of Thai cuisine.


Pad See Ew

Pad See Ew is a popular Thai stir-fried noodle dish that is loved for its simplicity and bold flavors. Meaning “stir-fried soy sauce noodles,” Pad See Ew features wide rice noodles that are stir-fried with a combination of meat, usually beef or chicken, and flavorful soy-based sauce.


The key to a delicious Pad See Ew lies in the perfect balance of flavors and textures. The noodles should be cooked just right, slightly chewy and not too soft, while the sauce should be rich, savory, and slightly sweet. The dish also typically includes Chinese broccoli or other leafy greens, which add a contrasting crunch and vibrant color to the dish.


Pad See Ew gets its distinctive flavor from a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, and sometimes a touch of dark sweet soy sauce. The sauces create a caramelized and slightly smoky flavor that coats every strand of noodle and infuses the dish with its savory goodness.


This savory and satisfying noodle dish can be found in Thai restaurants and street food stalls throughout the country. Its popularity among locals and tourists speaks to its universal appeal and comforting nature.


If you’re looking for a twist on the traditional Pad See Ew, some variations might include the addition of shrimp or pork, as well as a sprinkle of chili flakes for those who prefer a spicier kick. You can also customize the dish with your preferred level of sweetness or add a squeeze of lime for a tangy flavor.


To truly experience Pad See Ew, head to bustling night markets or street food areas like Bangkok’s Chinatown or Sukhumvit Soi 38. These vibrant areas are renowned for their wide selection of food stalls, offering freshly cooked Pad See Ew with all its deliciousness and aroma wafting in the air.


Mango Sticky Rice

Mango Sticky Rice, or Khao Niao Mamuang, is a beloved Thai dessert that combines the sweetness of ripe mangoes with the creaminess of sticky rice. This popular dessert is a delightful combination of flavors and textures that is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.


The star of the dish is the sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice, which is soaked, steamed, and then mixed with coconut milk and a touch of sugar. The result is a sticky, slightly chewy rice that pairs perfectly with the juicy and fragrant slices of ripe mango.


Mango Sticky Rice is typically served with a drizzle of coconut milk on top and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds for added texture. The natural sweetness of the mangoes and the creamy coconut milk create a harmonious balance of flavors that make this dessert truly irresistible.


During the mango season in Thailand, which typically falls between April and May, you’ll find an abundance of mangoes and various street food stalls and local dessert shops selling Mango Sticky Rice. The dish is often served as is, or sometimes with a scoop of coconut ice cream for an extra indulgent treat.


To experience the best Mango Sticky Rice, head to the local fresh markets, where you can find vendors offering ripe mangoes and freshly prepared sticky rice. Watching the skillful preparation of this delightful dessert and indulging in its flavors is an essential part of any visit to Thailand.


Not only is Mango Sticky Rice a delicious treat, but it’s also visually appealing. The vibrant yellow mangoes contrast beautifully with the white sticky rice, making it a feast for the eyes as well.


Whether you’re exploring the streets of Bangkok or relaxing on a beach in Phuket, make sure to indulge in this quintessential Thai dessert. It is a delightful end to any meal and a must-try for all dessert lovers.


Moo Ping

Moo Ping is a delicious and flavorful street food dish in Thailand that consists of marinated grilled pork skewers. It is a popular snack or light meal that showcases the combination of sweet and savory flavors that Thai cuisine is known for.


The pork skewers are traditionally made using tender pieces of pork that have been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, and various spices. The marinade is key to infusing the pork with its mouthwatering flavors and ensuring the meat remains succulent and juicy when grilled.


Once marinated, the pork is threaded onto bamboo skewers and grilled over charcoal, creating a smoky aroma and enhancing the flavors of the meat. The grilling process adds a delightful char and caramelization to the pork, creating a perfect balance of textures.


Moo Ping is often served with a side of sticky rice or as part of a rice dish, accompanied by a tangy and spicy dipping sauce made from chili, lime juice, and fish sauce. The combination of the tender pork, fragrant marinade, and zesty sauce creates a mouthwatering experience.


This street food favorite is commonly found in local markets, night markets, and street food stalls across Thailand. The sight and smell of Moo Ping being grilled on the streets is an enticing invitation to indulge in this tasty treat.


When exploring Thailand, be sure to immerse yourself in the local food scene and try Moo Ping from different vendors. Every stall may have their own unique twist, offering variations in marinade ingredients or grilling techniques, resulting in a range of flavors.


Moo Ping is not only popular among locals but also among tourists who are eager to experience the authentic flavors of Thai street food. It is a must-try dish that delights the taste buds and showcases the culinary diversity of Thailand.


Tom Sab

Tom Sab is a traditional Thai hot and sour soup known for its bold and intense flavors. This lesser-known soup is often found in the northeastern region of Thailand, known as Isaan, and is a favorite among locals for its unique taste and hearty ingredients.


The distinguishing feature of Tom Sab is its distinct herbal flavor. It is made by simmering a combination of herbs, including lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and various local herbs, in a tangy and aromatic broth. This combination creates a complex and invigorating taste that tickles the taste buds.


In addition to the aromatic herbs, Tom Sab often includes tender pieces of meat, such as pork or beef, and mushrooms to add depth and texture to the soup. The flavors of the herbs and the meat meld together, creating a robust and satisfying soup that is perfect for comfort or during colder months.


The name “Tom Sab” translates to “fermented soup” in Thai, referring to the natural fermentation process that occurs during the cooking process. This process contributes to the unique and slightly fermented taste that sets Tom Sab apart from other Thai soups.


Tom Sab is typically served hot with a side of steamed rice. The sourness of the broth, balanced with the herbs and the richness of the meat, creates a harmonious and refreshing flavor profile. It is a hearty and comforting soup that is sure to warm the soul.


To experience the authentic flavors of Tom Sab, head to the northeastern region of Thailand, particularly in cities like Khon Kaen or Udon Thani. Here, you’ll find local restaurants and street food vendors specializing in Isaan cuisine, serving up bowls of delicious and aromatic Tom Sab.