Your guide to the best in Thai cuisine

In addition to smiling locals and stunning scenery, Thailand is home to some of the world’s most incredible food. Rightfully renowned around the globe, top chef’s claim the best Thai cuisine is some of the most exciting they’ve ever tried, and, with a week or two in Thailand, you can find out why.

When most people talk about the best Thai cuisine, they immediately talk of curries and that old tourist favourite, Pad Thai. While these are great options, they are not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the vast and wonderful world of Thai cuisine.

Thai food comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and flavours and is best eaten by ordering at least two dishes, but ideally more, to share between friends. Whether it’s an individual dish or a meal comprised of many dishes, the best Thai cuisine is all about balance and harmony. The best thing to do when eating is to order something from at least two of the sections in this list, mix and match different dishes, change it up each meal and see what suits you. Also be sure to try things that aren’t on the list because there is plenty that isn’t.

The Salads

Thai salads are not what you might expect from a salad and provide some of the country’s best-loved and most exceptional dishes. Usually based on a dressing of fish sauce, lime juice and chilies, they are not for the faint of heart. Fresh, sour, salty and extremely spicy, these are packed with flavour and are all best eaten with sticky rice (khao niao).

Namtok Nuea (Waterfall Beef)

My absolute favourite Thai dish. Thin slices of succulent, barbequed beef tossed in the usual kind of Thai dressing, with the addition of mint and toasted rice giving it its truly unique flavour.

Yam Neua (Spicy Sour Beef)

Another favourite of mine, which differs from Namtok in that it has no mint and more vegetables, giving it a fresher flavour.

Best Thai Cuisine: Yam Neua
Yam Neua

Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

Som tam is an absolute must and almost unavoidable when travelling in Thailand. Served by the side of the road, for as little as 20 baht, as well as in top-end restaurants, this is a national favourite. Thin strips of green papaya tossed together with a fresh dressing and peanuts, to sweeten things up. This has a totally tropical flavour and is particularly great when combined with a grilled or deep-fried meat dish.

The Stir-fried dishes

Stir-fried dishes in Thailand are again wonderfully full of flavour. They are easy to make and therefore very common to see on menus everywhere. These dishes are great by themselves, on rice, and are often best with a fried egg (kai dao) on top.

Gai Gatiem (Thai Garlic and Pepper Chicken)

Gai gatiem is an extremely simple dish to tantalise those taste-buds. Great with a little coriander and cucumber on the side, this isn’t a spicy one but is full of garlic, so beware. If you want a little extra spice ask for some fish sauce with chilies (nam pla prik) to season your rice.

Best Thai Cuisine: Gai Gatiem
Gai Gatiem

Pad Krapow (Fried Holy Basil)

The aniseed-like taste of Holy Basil is what makes this dish what it is. Fried up with chilies, fish sauce and meat of your choosing, this is a stir-fry with a totally unique flavour.

Pad Pak Boong Fai Deng (Stir-fried Morning Glory)

This is often on menus as Morning Glory but might be seen under other names. This crunchy, peppery vegetable is fried up in oyster and soybean sauce with smashed chilies and garlic and is great over rice or as part of a bigger meal.

About James Gill

Born and raised in the UK, James got his first taste for travel on an inter rail trip, round Europe. Since completing his English Lit. degree, he has spent most of his time working and traveling in Asia. As well as the UK, James has lived in Thailand and southern China and is now trying his luck in Australia. He has backpacked throughout Southeast Asia and China and travelled in America, Australia and Europe. He is a keen reader and loves eating spicy food.

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