I know Monday’s post was a bit of a Debbie Downer, but don’t worry, I’m 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:
This is the quintessential Thai dish, but it’s 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’s 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 fare, but it’s oh so good.
I love eating spring rolls as a quick street snack. You get five for 50 cents. Throughout the streets of the main cities, you find little stalls around, and for a quick midday 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 sign off on kitchens doing 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.
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 together, but they do. It’s the breakfast of champions.
Pad Kra Pao
Minced pork or chicken stir fried with basil and 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 more finely than in restaurants.
As the books have told you, chicken soup is good for the soul — and the Thai version is good for your tastes buds too. Thai chicken soup is exactly like any other chicken soup, but the 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, fish sauce, and sugar in it.
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 too.
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’s as delicious and amazing as it is fiery. It’s so spicy, 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, sticky rice, and coconut cream syrup. It’s incredibly sweet, and the mango and cream sauce makes it a great snack or desert.
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’s 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.
Often associated with backpackers due to their love of this dish, it’s actually found in a lot of Thai food markets. I usually have mine at the famous Thong Lor market in Bangkok. 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. One of my favorite snacks. It’s usually one of the first dishes I make my friends try when they come visit me.
Sure, BBQ skewers can be found everywhere in the world, but Thai BBQ sticks from the street are marinated in a mix of soy sauce, sugar, and garlic that can’t be found anywhere else. If spring rolls are nowhere to be found, BBQ skewers work wonders to replace them.
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 the overall heartiness of the dish. I mean, I love anything that has to do with potatoes, and the overall mix of the flavors leaves me very satisfied.
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, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed chili peppers. You 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 no drink more sweet and more delicious than Thai lemon iced 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 international cuisines outside their home countries, 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’re 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.