The Best Thai Food You Can Eat

By Nomadic Matt | Published March 29th, 2012

I know Monday’s post was a bit of a debbie downer but don’t worry, I am not done writing about travel – just being a permanent nomad. So in a complete 180 from Monday’s post, let’s talk about travel and my love of good Thai food. When I returned to Thailand a few weeks ago from being in Cambodia, I went on an eating binge. Cambodia, as much as I love it, doesn’t have a lot of great food. It’s very bland, and I missed the zesty, spicy, and flavorful Thai food. Since I was leaving Bangkok soon, I tried to enjoy as much Thai food as I could. So as a way to remember all the food I ate, as well as make you run off to your local Thai restaurant, here’s a list of all my favorite Thai food:

Pad Thai

The quintessential Thai dish that is often ruined in restaurants around the world as they standardize it to the point where it becomes generic. Yet I love a good Pad Thai, and when you veer out of the tourist destinations, it’s easy to find it in Thailand. On Sukhimvit 33 in Bangkok, there is a Pad Thai stall so good that even my Thai friends compliment it. I bring every visitor to Bangkok there. Pad Thai may be standard fair but it’s oh so good.

Spring Rolls

A quick street snack, I love eating spring rolls. You get five for 50 cents. Throughout the streets of the main cities, you find little stalls around and for a quick mid-day or late night appetizer, nothing beats a spring roll — draped in sweet chili sauce of course.

Red Pork Noodle Soup (Kuay Teow Moo Daeng)

By far my favorite Thai dish, this red pork noodle soup is sadly only found in Thailand. It’s street food (i.e. not found in restaurants) and because of the way they make the broth, you’ll never find it outside of Thailand. The broth sits for a long time and health and safety organizations don’t really approve when kitchens do that. This dish consists of noodles, a potent and flavorful broth (made from boiled pork bones and onions), sprouts, bok choy, and slices of red pork. You can eat it a few ways and I eat mine with a little fish sauce (sour), a few spoonfuls of sugar (sweet), and a small amount of chili. It’s always the first dish I eat when I return to Thailand.

Kai Jeow

This Thai omelette is my breakfast of choice. It’s egg mixed with fish sauce and chilies, cooked in oil, served atop white rice and slathered in sweet chili sauce. I never would have imagined egg, rice, and sweet chili sauce would work but it does. It’s the breakfast of champions.

Pad Kra Pao

Minced pork or chicken stir fried with basil, chilies and served over rice. This dish is a favorite of mine — but only when I’m looking for something with a little kick. Even if you get them to make it “not spicy,” for a Thai that only means two chilies and I end up trying hard not to breathe fire. It’s a common dish but I prefer mine from the night markets and street stalls where they tend to mince and chop the meat a little finer than in restaurants.

Chicken Soup

As the books have told you, chicken soup is good for the soul — and the Thai version is not only good for your soul, it’s also good on your tastes buds. Thai chicken soup is exactly like any other chicken soup, but that broth (made with chicken bones, onions, ginger and garlic), just like the pork noodle soup broth, sits out there for a while collecting all those delicious flavors. It’s a taste explosion in your mouth. I also love putting some basil in it as well as fish sauce and some sugar.

Pad See Ew

This is a dish of fat rice noodles cooked with eggs, chicken, and bok choy. The noodles are darkened with a soy sauce that adds lots of flavor to the otherwise bland noodles. The noodles are quite sticky and when you pick them up on your fork, you usually get about half the dish on it.

Som Tam

This dish is a staple of Thai cuisine and you can’t throw a stone without hitting a dozen som tam sellers. Shaved papaya is tossed in a mortar and pestle with carrots, peanuts, tomatoes, string beans, palm sugar, fish sauce, and a whole lot of chilies. It is as delicious and amazing as it is fiery. It’s so spicy that I simply don’t get it made with any chilies. As it’s used throughout the day, the mortar is coated with chili pieces and seeds so when they make mine, the residue coats my dish with enough spice for me. But I often put up with the fiery taste because it’s just so delicious. You want to stop eating it but you can’t.

Mango Sticky Rice

This delicious dish combines sweet mangos and sticky rice and coconut cream syrup. It’s incredibly sweet and the mango and cream sauce that is used makes it a great snack or desert.

Sticky Rice – Speaking of sticky rice, I could eat just sticky rice all day. In fact, I often do. It’s a late night snack. I’ll find a sticky rice seller, buy a few portions of it, and walk around eating nothing but rice.

Pad Fuktong Sai Kai
I’ll be honest – other than pumpkin and eggs, I have no idea what is in this dish. I should know what goes into it because this is one of my favorite dishes, but all I really care about is the taste. And the taste is divine – it’s a very sweet dish that can be a little too sweet on its own, so I tend to eat it with rice to mellow out the flavor. You don’t find it around a lot; I mostly see it in the night market near the famous Khao San Road or at the weekend market.

Banana Pancakes

Often associated with backpackers due to their love of this dish, this dish is actually found in a lot of every Thai food markets. I usually have mine at the famous Thong Lor market in Bangkok. A fried dough filled with bananas and topped with sugar and condensed milk (you can also get it with chocolate), this is a sweet explosion in your mouth and one of my favorite snacks. It usually one of the first dishes I make my friends try when they come visit me.

BBQ Skewers – Sure, BBQ skewers can be found everywhere in the world but the Thai BBQ sticks from the street are cooked with they are marinated in soy sauce, sugar and garlic that can’t be found elsewhere. If spring rolls are nowhere to be found, BBQ skewers work wonders to replace them.

Massaman Curry

This is a southern Thai dish that is Muslim in origin. The dish usually contains coconut milk, roasted peanuts or cashews, potatoes, bay leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, palm sugar, fish sauce, chili and tamarind sauce. I typically have it with chicken and it also comes with a side of rice. Massaman is my favorite curry – I love the thick, nutty flavor of the sauce and heartiness of overall dish. I mean, I love anything that has to do with potatoes, and just the overall mix of the flavors here leaves me very satisfied.

Tom Yum

Tom yum soup is a spicy clear soup that will burn the roof of your mouth off. I have it very rarely – only when I want something with a little kick because even when I order it “not spicy” I still have trouble eating it. Tom yum is characterized by its distinct hot and sour flavor. The basic broth is made of stock, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers. Then add your meat of choice, though the most popular is Tom Yum Kung (Shrimp).

Thai Iced Tea (Cha Manao) – Ok, not really a “food” but there’s nothing more sweet and more delicious to drink than Thai lemon ice tea. This dark tea mixed with sugar and limes is sweet, delicious, and just a little tart. I drink a few of these everyday and have been known to drink the whole thing in one gulp.

Thai food has a well-deserved reputation for excellence and there’s nothing as good as Thai food as in Thailand. You just don’t get the whole atmosphere of street food cuisine in the westernized restaurants. I can find a lot of good ethnic food outside the food’s home country but with Thai food, I’m only ever really satisfied when I’m eating a bowl of soup at a little plastic table on a street in Bangkok.

If you are thinking about visiting Thailand or want to learn more about the country, I have a lot of resources from living there for a number of years. Head over to my Thailand travel guide and start learning more today.

comments 49 Comments

thanks for making me hungry! :) yummmmmmmm.

NomadicMatt

You’re welcome!

Pad Kra Pao is by far my favourite. I love the flavour of Thai basil. It is also one of the easiest Thai dishes to recreate at home.
I always try to keep a little bush of Thai basil growing in my garden. It’s a bit hard in a Melbourne winter though. Even in the hot house it dies.
I am so hungry now!

NomadicMatt

Do you get the dish spicy? I can’t eat it too spicy.

Dwight

I order pad kra pao in a restaurant without knowing what it was and it was so spicy that I couldn’t taste anything the rest of the day but it was delicious. One of my favorites now.

Thai food is amazingly great. Coming to think of it, here in Costa Rica we could have more Thai joints – we roughly share the same equatorial location after all, so we have access to a lot of the fruits and vegetables they use. I don’t mind spicy either – I survived living on my own for months on Mexico City long ago, I swear I got cured of pepper phobia there :D

We also have a local saying, “arroz con mango” (rice with mango) to refer to something that doesn’t make sense. But leave it to the Thais to debunk that and show us how shortsighted we are culinarily speaking :)

Andrew Legere

So glad I am in Thailand while reading this! Time to go eat!

Meggie

Nomnomnomnomnom.
Especially those Banana Pancakes. :)

jan

OK Matt, that was a pretty cool post (or hot). I agree totally with all your favourites. You will miss Thai food, although I am sure you will find some in Sweden?

NomadicMatt

There are some good places in Stockholm. I’ll get my fix!

Good lord..I have been obsessed with pad thai lately..The things I would do for some authentic pad thai in Thailand…

NomadicMatt

I think a trip to Thailand is in order then!

Oh my god I’m literally salivating!! Teleport me to Thailand now!! Yum!! Thanks for sharing!

I absolutely LOVE thai food!! this post is making me so hungry!!

ADM

This is a very good list. I would add to it Khao Soi — noodle soup with (most often) a chicken leg in it. Not sure where to get it in Bangkok, but it’s native to the north, and there are plenty of great options in Chiang Mai, including a food cart next to the other food carts off to the side of the night market (where, at a different cart, you can get “spaghetti” :-) )

Also, for those looking for great authentic Thai food in Bangkok, take a stroll down Th. Tanao, just a couple of blocks away from Khao San Road. There a couple dozen places on that street and the side streets, many of which are excellent. (It’s the focal point of the food tour in the Lonely Planet guide.) One standout there is Chote Chitr, a 100-year-old place run by a couple of aging sisters. It gets some mixed reviews these days, but it was very good when I went a few months ago.

Regarding Pad Thai, I think one local favorite in Bangkok is Thip Samai. Quite a scene there late at night, and the unique sauce and egg batter covering the pad thai is a fun departure from the pad thai you’ll see almost everywhere else.

I can see why you like the place so much! Secluded beaches, amazing food, what’s not to love? Welcome back to the US!

NomadicMatt

Thailand ticks all the right boxes!

What about green curry? My favorite! But I do love Thai food. Can’t wait to return in a few weeks

NomadicMatt

It’s good but too spicy for me!

J J Kosmac

Salivathon post Matt! And mouthwatering photos! It is 12:18 am est here in the Allegheny Mts. Of western PA. No thai food till you hit Pittsburgh app.100 miles away…but in summer season i usually have thai basil and chillis inmy garden for stir fries with bok choy! Your always invited to the Kosmac B&B when you are in the states… BTW… stellar new look to the website blog!

I’m in Chiang Mai now – about to get some Pad Thai for lunch… Sorry for making all of you jealous!

Nothing like adding salt to the wound Bart. My brain is now on program for Pad Thai, spring rolls and Tom Yum. And I’m in Arizona. Any of those choices would call my name.

NomadicMatt

Maybe there is a Thai place around the corner?

Just tried Massaman curry for the first time the other day…it is now my favourite curry too!! Great post Matt!

NomadicMatt

Great minds taste alike!

This looks positively yummy! I do prefer vietnamese food, but anything thaï ain’t half bad too – especially the spring rolls!

NomadicMatt

Thai food has more kick to it for me.

San

This makes me feel… a little bit better.

May I suggest buying a carton of Mama Tom Yum Shrimp Creamy flavor at your local chinese grocery? Not the healthiest, but it satisfies a craving for Thai food in a pinch! It’s the brand favored by Thais living overseas…:)

I love a good Masaman curry. Can’t wait to actually have it in Thailand.

NomadicMatt

It’s the best.

You’re timing is impeccable. We’re in Thailand! Thanks for providing us with a delicious checklist. We’re getting through them quick. LOL. Always hungry for more. We’re dying to try mango sticky rice. :)

Charlie

Crazy good article! But costly (reading it I decided we are going back to Bangkok next year). Thanks!

NomadicMatt

My work here is done! :)

Wow, it all looks sooo good!!! After reading so much about Thailand for our upcoming trip to SE Asia, the thing I am most excited about is the food. Everyone raves about it! I can’t wait to try it for myself.

Shouldn’t be reading this post just before lunch time… Yummy pics!! :)

These photos are making my mouth water! I love Thai food and street eats, however my very first meal in Bangkok was so spicy that my mouth was on fire and I was running into a convenience store to buy something to drink. No one warned me about how spicy the food can be :)

I think you’re still in Las Vegas, if so you should check out a Thai restaurant called Lotus of Siam (http://www.saipinchutima.com/). It’s said to be the best Thai food in North America, I ate there a couple weeks ago and it was amazing. Enjoy!

NomadicMatt

I will when I go back next month!

I’ve been craving Thai food ever since I moved to Paris. The cheapest I can find here is still around €8 for a dish, which just makes me want to cry — and I know it won’t be nearly as good as the pad thai and mango sticky rice I got for 40 baht off the street in Bangkok or Ao Nang!

NomadicMatt

Paris isn’t quite the capital of good Thai food! :(

Brooke

I have to try everyone of those dishes.

Zodi

You made me think of the rice I had at a homestay. I’m not sure if it was because we were all super hungry from hiking all day or they put some magic potion in it. It looked plain, had some egg, a few peas and chopped carrots tossed in and it was to die for! I was there for 6 weeks and ate my way through Thailand but the rice was my favorite…. funny how simple things can be so memorable. Your list of favorites is very similar to mine. :)

NomadicMatt

Great minds think alike.

Yes, Tai food is better. My favorite is chicken soup.

YUM! Thanks for making me hungry for Thai food at 9am… especially that photo of Pad See Ew… my favorite!

Namfon

i love Thai food. all very Yummy. :-)

coffeecream

the best food ever is THai and it can never go wrong.

all those flavors are amazing !!

Richard

Thai food is my favorite and I love eating at Thai Square restaurant here in London. I’ll stick to my favorite Thai food restaurant until I get to visit Thailand and try the street food.

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