Of all the culinary-adept nations on earth, Thailand ranks near the top due to its skillful blending of flavors and spices. One meal could have you blissfully enjoying the perfect marriage of sweet and sour, while the next may set your mouth on fire (and you’ll like it too!)
These qualities have led to the unparalleled expansion of this multifaceted dining experience across the world, with Thai restaurants now rivaling Chinese in popularity in places, which would have been an unheard of situation just a decade or two ago.
If your preliminary experiences with Thai cuisine have you wanting to delve deeper into the land where they were birthed eons ago, then we recommend signing up for food tours in Thailand once you arrive here. Curious about what to expect in each region?
Below, we break down the top dishes in the three main regions in Thailand that you simply must indulge in while you are in the Land of Smiles…
If there is one dish you should try before leaving Chiang Mai, be sure it is a steaming bowl of Khao Soi. Unique among most Thai curries for its lack of heat, this dish more than makes up for it with its bevy of taste and texture sensations, as the sweet coconut milk base will have you saying “mmmm!” involuntarily upon your first spoonful, while the mix of soft and crisp egg noodles ensures that you won’t be bored as you consume your bowl with unprecedented gusto.
If you seek something more savory, Khanom Jeen (Northern Noodles) will satisfy that urge with its tomato-based broth while gently singing your mouth with a level of spice missing from the former dish.
If your inner carnivore demands a meat-heavy side to this, having some Northern Thai Sausage will placate it, mixing pork with lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves, and chili peppers to deliver an aromatic experience that you have not experienced in a sausage before.
As far as food in the south goes, a pair of curries lead the way in terms of popular dishes. Lovers of heat will want to go with Panang Curry, a fiery red-hued dish that is made with coconut milk, giving it a sweet and hot character.
Those that don’t like it hot won’t go wrong by trying Massaman Curry, which blends potatoes, nuts, and beef in a coconut milk base, creating a hearty meal that will have you going back for a second helping.
Chicken Biryani is a rice dish with origins in the Muslim community in Thailand, having been brought over from the Middle East and Pakistan centuries ago. The Thai version of this dish takes turmeric-flavored rice and mixes it with chilies, deep-fried onions and chicken. It is a meal that will leave you content and happy after eating it, a true sign of a well-constructed dish.
Isaan (Northeastern Thailand)
If you wish to get off the beaten track on your holiday, Isaan awaits your rare arrival, as few foreigners choose to come here due to their understandable fixation on Thailand’s many perfect beaches, none of which are located inside this interior portion of the country.
The dish that Isaan is best known for is Som Tam, a spicy salad that will result in you never looking at the uninspired collection of greens you call a salad the same way again. This healthy but zingy favorite of culinary adventurers mashes together unripe papayas, lime, peanuts, chilies, and fish sauce, creating an experience that your mouth will either embrace or detest, dependent on your love of spice.
If you’d rather indulge in some meat whilst you consume your greens, eating Laab is the best way to fulfill this desire. Pork is minced with shallots and mint leaves, and is either consumed cooked or raw. If the latter turns your stomach, advise your chef to cook your meat for you when you order.
If the air in Isaan is chilly at night when you go there (as it tends to be during the dry season) then a steaming serving of Thai Hot Pot will just the thing for you and your group. Also known as Jim Jum, the dish is cooked actively by you and your party, but you start out with a broth infused with shallots, lemongrass, chilies, garlic, and sweet basil. A selection of noodles, meats and veggies can be selected at will by your group, making for a fun and interactive dinner together!