Food in Thailand – 20 Classic Thai Dishes

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Travelling to Southeast Asia is high up on the bucket list of many travellers and there are several reasons to go. For some, it’s the culture or maybe, the cultural shock that awaits them. But for me, it is the food. Out of all the countries in that region, Thai food has become popular around the world.

Thai dishes are an immersive flavour explosion and exploring Thailand for its food is not just about eating meals for the sake of eating. It is about travelling to different parts of the country and letting this beautiful food culture take your taste buds through an amazing experience.

Street food in Thailand is where the real Thai magic lies. The Thai have a close connection to their cuisine and they believe in eating as well as you can. To find a good restaurant in Thailand, all you have to do is look for places that are packed with locals and the food you will get will be imprinted in your memory (I think about how good Thai food is every day!) Here are some Thai dishes that you should try in Thailand. 

Food in Thailand

Top Food Tours In Bangkok

Thai Street Food

1- Pad Thai

Khao Lak: Thai Cooking Class in a Garden with Transfer
Pad Thai is one of the most famous foods in Thailand. You can easily learn to make it at home.

There is a formula to Thai cooking and that is whatever ingredients you choose, the end result should a be perfect balance of four flavours — salty, sour, sweet and spicy.

That is the foundation for the taste of most of the Thai dishes.

Naturally, Pad Thai being the national dish of Thailand, does it the best.

Basically, a stir-fried noodle dish, seems so simple on paper but the use of ingredients makes this dish one of the best in the world.

Rice noodles cooked with multiple proteins, coated in an array of condiments like dried shrimps, tamarind paste, palm sugar and so on.

Pad Thai’s flavour combination is unforgettable.

This dish is served throughout the day, almost everywhere and you can find locals enjoying it even at 5 am in the morning.

2- Som Tam

This green papaya salad is one of the best examples to show how fruits can be incorporated into savoury cooking.

Even though the salad is spicy and sour, it is an extremely refreshing eat.

You can hear the salad being prepared ‘Tam style’ by the street vendors as the ingredients get pounded in clay mortars.

The idea is to bring out the juices from the raw papaya and let it soak in all the sweet, spicy, sour dressing.

‘Tam style’ salads are pounded salads which are originally from the neighbouring country of Laos but the Thai have really made Som Tam their own by adding a sweet twist to it.

Now, the dish is a massive part of the Central Thai food culture.

3- Pad Kra Pao

Fried Basil Leave With Pork
Pad Kra Pao is another tasty dish in Thailand.

This stir-fry is the original dish where the famous combination of minced pork and basil comes from.

It is unbelievable how Thai people take simple ingredients and turn them into incredible tasting dishes that are super cheap and can be quite healthy.

Pad kra pao doesn’t even take many ingredients; minced pork is tossed with a few aromatics, a touch of fish and oyster sauce, and a ton of fresh Thai basil is introduced towards the end in order to maintain its strong flavour.

This dish is the ultimate comfort food for many of the locals.

It can be enjoyed as it is or served with steamed rice and a fried egg.

This dish is so simple but hits the home run every time.

If you don’t eat pork, there is a famous version made with chicken.

4- Tod Mun Pla

Tod Mun Pla
Tod Mun Pla fishcakes are a popular Thai street food dish.

If you like fish and fritters, this is the dish for you.

I consider these fish cakes to be one of the best finger foods out there.

The batter for these fritters is made with fresh fish and the usual Thai flavour tropes but the extra zing comes from the added curry paste.

After being fried to a perfect golden brown they are served with a unique dipping sauce.

Even though the cakes are amazing by themselves, the dipping sauce steals the show every time.

It is so easy to mess up a recipe like this because it takes a ton of ingredients but the Thai people have really mastered the art of balancing multiple flavours.

Crispy fish cakes dipped in the savoury, spicy, slightly sweet cucumber sauce make for the perfect food to enjoy while walking around the lively Thai streets.

5- Hoi Tod

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Hoi Tod (fried mussel pancakes) is one of the best street foods in Thailand.

Another fried seafood street food that you cannot miss, this is one of the most common served dishes in almost every Thai night market.

You would find many iterations where this dish is stir-fried or cooked in a flat pan but trust me, deep fried ones are to die for (‘Tod’ means fried).

A mix is made out of fresh mussels, rice flour and eggs, fried perfectly and served with bean sprouts (sometimes the sprouts are fried in the mix too).

Hoi Tod can be either enjoyed as an entire fried pancake or broken apart into fritters depending on the cooking style, both taste fantastic.

This beauty is served with Sauce Prik which is sweet and spicy and would always keep you wanting more.

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6- Jok

Pork Congee Or Chinese Rice Porridge
Jok is another traditional food in Thailand.

Upon arriving in the morning markets in Bangkok, I was quite surprised that this was one of the most common dishes when it came to take- aways.

I noticed a huge number of metal cans being carried by the locals and found out that those cans contained Jok.

I never cared much about rice porridges and I still don’t, except for this dish.

Jok is the Thai version of the Chinese congee and is the direct opposite of what Thai food usually is.

This breakfast dish is light, creamy and extremely comforting.

It tastes best when the rice is cooked on top of charcoal giving the porridge a slightly smoky flavour.

Cooked meat is added to the base, normally pork meatballs before serving.

I know this is not a dish for everyone but locals are crazy for it and you should give it a chance too.

7- Khai Krata

While this is a really simple dish to cook, there is just something about enjoying khai krata in a sizzling hot pan around a morning market in Thailand.

Eggs are love for me; Khai krata is fried eggs in a pan served with different toppings and they are served in the pan directly.

One of my morning rituals in the island of Koh Chang was to enjoy them in a local cafe with a big glass of Thai iced milk tea.

When topped with some fried garlic, Chinese sausage, scallions and the sweet-chilli sauce, khai krata is my favourite Thai breakfast.

You can never go wrong with this dish, I mean who doesn’t love eggs, sausage and coffee in the morning.

8- Sai Krok Isan

Sai Krok Isan
Sai Krok – Isan food in Thailand.

Sai Krok Isan directly translates to “northeastern sausage”, named after the region it comes from.

This sausage is extremely popular all around Thailand but the people who made it? Not so much.

This sausage was created by a small community of people called Lao, mainly residing in the North-east of Thailand.

These people have been discouraged from identifying as Lao but a tasty piece of their culture became an integral part of the Thai cuisine.

Sai Krok Isan gets its unique sour taste because of a fermentation process; minced pork get mixed with cooked rice, a lot of garlic, vinegar, salt and the sausages are fermented in direct sunlight for 48hours.

The sausages taste really good when grilled and it is usually served with some salad and bird’s-eye chilli.

Be careful of the chilli, which is eye-wateringly hot.

9- Khao Man Gai

This dish is perfect for people who are new to Thai street food.

It tastes amazing but the flavours are much more mild in comparison to other street foods.

Khao Man Gai is the Thai version of the Hainanese chicken and rice.

The dish can be enjoyed any time of the day and is a definite staple for the Thai locals.

Rice is cooked in a fatty chicken stock to give it a slight oily feel and you can order it with either boiled chicken or fried chicken.

Khao Man Gai comes with a side of clear broth to wash it down and also a really flavourful sauce, if you wish to use it.

The sauce is made with fermented soybeans and really elevates the entire dish.

Simple and delicious!

Thai Soups and Curries

10- Tom Yum Goong

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Tom Yum is the best food in Thailand if you love spicy meals.

This shrimp soup is definitely up there with Pad Thai when talking about the most famous Thai dishes.

Tom yum is a type of hot and sour soup which is served as a clear broth.

While it can be done with any protein, the iconic Tom Yum flavour works at a different level when paired with shrimp (goong).

This Thai staple is said to have originated in the regions surrounding the Chao Phraya River in Central Thailand.

It gets its famed flavour mainly because of the use of kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass.

Many modern iterations add Nam Phrik Phao, a Thai chilli paste which is not traditional but it does give the soup an orange colour that most people are familiar with.

It can be quite spicy but it is extremely flavourful and represents the Thai flavours quite well.

11- Khao Soi

Phuket: Half Day Easy Thai Cooking Class & Local Market Tour
Khao Soi halal food in Thailand.

My usual suggestion for people who cannot handle spice and still want to experience Tom Yum — Tom Kha.

It is the same soup but with added coconut milk.

Over the years, I have realised that while Tom Kha tastes amazing, Khao soi is the dish with a much more flavourful broth that can be enjoyed by everyone.

The dish comes from Northern Thailand and most famously known in Chiang Mai.

Most of the locals in Chiang Mai have their favourite spots and can get into a quite debate over this amazing dish.

The broth has a similar taste to a traditional yellow curry but the flavour is much deeper and the texture lighter.

Typically made with beef or chicken served with wheat noodles and topped up with fried noodles.

When done right, this dish is mind-blowing.

12- Guay Tiew Reua

Bangkok: Half Day Thai Cooking Class with Market Tour
Guay tiew is a delicious food in Thailand.

Now, this is a dish that The Thai really came up with to use most of their ingredients.

The components of this are massive in number but it is quite straightforward when cooking.

Guay Tiew Reua means ‘Boat Noodles’ because this dish was most notably sold through boats along the canals of Bangkok.

You will find iterations of it all throughout the famous floating markets.

Traditionally, noodle soups come from China but the Thai adapted them and really added their own twist to it.

Basically, it consists of an extremely flavourful meat broth, rice noodles and a mouth watering chilli vinegar.

There is a lot more to it but the unique thing is the use of beef or pork blood to thicken the broth.

This is another extremely comforting Thai dish.

13- Gaeng Som

This one is a punch to your senses.

Gaeng Som is a sour fish curry with a distinct yellow colour.

There are many iterations to be found all across the continent but the one found in southern Thailand is on another level.

The base of this curry uses a paste made with a mix of chillies that are spicier but also fruitier and good quality turmeric is used to achieve the yellow colour.

In the south it is usually done with saltwater fishes such as mackerel and mullet.

Other notable ingredients used in this delicacy are green papaya, bamboo shoots or pineapple chunks.

You should definitely look out for this dish in the south, specially in Krabi or Koh Samui.

14- Gaeng Keow Wan

Thailand is famous for its curries and most people are familiar with red, green or yellow Thai curries.

While all three are amazing, I want to focus on Gaeng Keow Wan or the green curry.

Look, it is the spiciest of the three but it is also the one with the most flavour.

The curry can be made with any kind of protein but it works best with chicken as the flavours complement each other very well.

Funny thing, the name directly translates to ‘sweet green curry’ but there is nothing sweet about it.

‘Sweet green’ is what they call the colour of the curry because the coconut milk dilutes the colour of the paste made up with all the herbs and spices.

The paste has a striking green colour because of the fresh green chillies pounded into it.

Try to find the strength in you to try it because this is a flavour profile you cannot miss.

15- Mu Kratha

More than just a dish, Mu Kratha is the name of the pan that is used in this preparation.

It is kind of like Korean barbecue but depending on the season, I prefer this dining concept much more.

This Thai version fused the concept of Korean barbecue with that of the Chinese hot pot.

You can grill your meats in the centre of the pan that has a dome shape while the sides hold the broth that can be used to cook the veggies, noodles or fish balls.

I find this method genius.

The entire pan sits on top of charcoal and makes for amazing group dinners.

You can find this concept all over Thailand and definitely something to try if you travelling in a group.

(Or you can join a group of locals)

16- Massaman Curry

Now this is a dish that celebrates the exoticness found in Thailand.

Not many know about it but Thailand hosts many different communities and religions.

Massaman curry is a dish that is heavily influenced by Indians, Persians and Malays.

The flavour profile of this curry is so unique and bold as it fuses common Thai ingredients like shrimp paste, galangal, lemongrass etc with spices like cinnamon, cloves, star anise and so on.

Due to the islamic influence, this curry is most commonly made with chicken or goat and also uses potatoes, which is very uncommon for Thai dishes.

Massaman curry did originate in Ayutthaya, central Thailand but now this symphony of flavours can be found all across the country.

Coconut Lovers Ahoy! (Thai Desserts)

17- Khao Niao Mamuang

Mango Sticky Rice
Mango and sticky rice is a popular Thai dessert food.

It is quite hard to escape this dish because you would find it being served everywhere you go.

But when something tastes this good, you want more of it, so, luckily there is a mango sticky rice vendor at every corner.

Sticky rice is not an easy thing to make, it is extremely time consuming but it is a true staple of Thai cuisine.

There are many kinds of fresh fruits served with sticky rice all around Thailand but nothing beats the king of the fruits — Mango.

Khao niao mamuang gets prepared right in front of you; Ripe mango slices placed on top of sticky rice, sweet coconut milk poured all over it and some places also top this dessert with fried mung beans.

It is refreshing, slightly sweet and the texture is amazing.

You need to look forward to trying this.

18- Thai Coconut Ice cream

Coconut Ice Cream
Coconut Ice Cream is another popular dessert food in Thailand.

All it takes is one bite to fall in love with this dessert.

I dream about this dessert during the summers.

It is easy to say that Italians are the best at making gelatos but no one makes coconut ice-cream as good as the Thai.

When ice-cream was first introduced in Thailand, it was considered an expensive dessert because cream and milk were imported.

To make it cheaper, they started using full fat coconut milk and this beauty was born.

Texturally, it is somewhere between a traditionally ice-cream and a sorbet.

I find it perfect, as it is really light and still creamy enough, not very sweet and just a balanced amount of coconut flavour.

It tastes even better when sandwiched between fluffy white bread.

19- Khanom Krok

Ka Nom Krok (Thai Word), Kind Of Thai Sweetmeat, Thai Dessert
Ka Nom Krok is an interesting street food dessert in Thailand.

Looking at this dessert, it might remind you of Poffertjes (mini dutch pancakes or the griddle used to cook these would definitely take your mind to Takoyaki (Japanese Octopus balls) but that is not what these are.

Khanom Krok are coconut rice pancakes that have been part of the Thai food culture for ages.

They are cooked on a special pan with indentations for the batter and then two halves are joined together to get to these cute, delightful mini coconut pancakes.

The fragrance that surrounds you while they cook is enough to serenade you.

They are extremely airy with a smooth texture and taste fantastic.

It is so easy to over eat them because of their lightness and you can have many in one bite.

You need to get them while enjoying Thai iced coffee, trust me, great combination.

20- Tub Tim Grob

Krabi: Traditional Thai Cooking Class
Tub Tim Grob is a chestnut in coconut dessert food in Thailand.

I remember being super confused by this dessert when I was younger.

The ruby-coloured water chestnuts used to remind me of super sized pomegranate seeds.

This is one of the most unique desserts I have ever had and it tastes as good as it looks.

Tub Tim Grob translates to ‘crispy rubies’ and that is because of the way water chestnuts are prepped for this dish.

The chestnuts are cut into little pieces, soaked in red food colouring or grenadine, coated in tapioca flour before being boiled.

The rubies are then served in a bowl of coconut milk and shaved ice.

The flavour is mild but perfect after a spicy meal and texturally it is fantastic.

For me, Thailand is one of those places that you can head to blindly.

There is no need to plan or research anything.

My favourite thing while visiting Thailand is to go to random food carts and try whatever they offer.

I still don’t know half of the dishes I have tried there and I don’t intend on knowing either because that is part of the fun.

The dishes that I have suggested are some of the best and they are great for you to start with.

Enjoy eating Thai food. 

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Growing up in India you are bound to be crazy (or curious) about good food. In search of myself I clichéd out and spent a while travelling in South-East Asia. Eventually, I ended up enrolling in a culinary school in Porto. This is where I live now. It has been almost six years that I have been working as a chef. Until last year, I used to work for a few months, save up and then slow travel to the point of being broke. Last year, I decided to quit working in conventional kitchens and focused on projects where I could write, work privately and have the freedom to travel full time. The most fun aspect of my day now, is working on my blog (shout out to My favourite destination is Azores. It is in Portugal but is truly a different world in itself.