Food is a huge part of Thai culture; so big in fact, that the common everyday greeting translates to “have you eaten yet?”.
The next time you find yourself in Thailand, it may be tempting to order dishes you’ve seen on the menus back home. Broaden your taste palettes and take a daring plunge by trying these delicious dishes instead. All the items on our list have been specially hand-picked by a local, and what better way to immerse yourself into a culture than to do as the locals do?
In Thailand, these dishes, although not so common in the rest of the world, can be found just easily at dedicated food stalls on the side of the road as they can in restaurants. Some dishes are specific to certain regions in Thailand, so keep your eyes out for regional specialities, which make use of different ingredients and flavours than their neighbouring counterparts.
If the pandemic is preventing you from making a trip to Thailand just yet, hopefully you will find some inspiration to use in your recipes (don’t forget to share it with us by tagging @travelandlifestylemag on social media!).
1) Wing Bean Salad (Yum Tua Pu)
Blanched Thai wing beans are dressed in a spicy coconut-based dressing, and usually accompanied with minced pork, cooked shrimp and coriander. Add some boiled egg to the side and crispy shallots on the top for extra crunch – this salad is a taste sensation that is brimming in protein.
If making this at home, you can easily replace the wing beans with more easily-sourced long beans.
2) Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao)
There are a few explanations for this curiously-named dish. It is best served with enough chilli to allow the spice to obliterate the worst of hangovers.. or perhaps it is named so because it pairs excellently with a glass of cold beer. Whatever the excuse, the key ingredient of this spicy and savoury dish is wide flat rice noodles. Chicken (or another meat of choice), egg, chinese broccoli and holy basil are added for texture and taste… though still a slippery eating experience!
3) Braised Pork Leg Stew on Rice (Khao Kha Moo)
This heavenly comfort dish is served by street vendors throughout the country – and usually sold out by lunchtime, for good reason! Pork leg (complete with knuckles) is simmered for hours in broth, soy sauce, sugar and spices (such as cinnamon and star anise), until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. The meat is sliced and served on top of rice, along with blanched Chinese broccoli, pickled mustard greens, boiled egg, fresh birds eye chillis, raw garlic cloves and a bowl of clear broth. A bit of chili vinegar also helps to balance out the sweetness of the dish. Delicious? It’s a rhetorical question…
4) Stir-fried Pumpkin with Eggs (Pad Fak Tong)
This dish is an excellent example of taste in simplicity – it’s mouth-watering and healthy despite having just a few ingredients. On the stret or in food courts, there’s almost always a stall with pre-cooked food displayed buffet-style, where patrons can pick between 1 to 3 dishes to be served alongside rice, and this is where you will most commonly find this dish. Thai pumpkin is steamed until it is super-soft (almost like mush in some cases), before scrambling an egg in the wok and topping with fish sauce, oyster sauce and sometimes, holy basil.
If you haven’t tried it before, this dish is a great introduction to the versatile Thai pumpkin, which is used in both savoury and sweet dishes.
5) Deconstructed Shrimp Paste Fried Rice (Khao Khluk Gapi)
This popular street food is somewhat of an acquired taste to foreigners given the pungency of the shrimp paste, which is made from fermented little krill shrimp. Taste-wise, it is a form of culinary art, balancing together a smattering of flavours and textures – and because it is served in a deconstructed manner, you get the added fun of mixing it all up! Balanced in the center of the plate, a serving of shrimp paste fried rice is surrounded by the classic components; sliced omelette, green mango, sweet Chinese sausage, sweet pork, chilli, lime, fresh vegetables… and possibly more, depending where you go!
There you have it – though these are just five suggestions, we recommend being adventurous when it comes to Thai cuisine. If you’re an expat or a digital nomad, you will find that the capital city of Bangkok has plenty of opportunity to try foods from the different regions. Just traveling through? Dare to try something different; the choices are endless and the results are rewarding. Don’t forget; you can always ask the cooks to adjust the level of spice to your liking (as Thai food does, by default, come packed with chilis).
The beautiful part about Thai cusine is the way it balances sweet, salty, spicy and savoury flavours. Top tip: you’ll find a tray of condiments on the tables of most place which allow you to experiment with thes different flavours (think fish sauce, vinegar, and crushed peanuts), so adjust and taste to your liking.
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