Thailand food, a delicious treat to awake all your sensesby | November 16, 2023
There are more things to do in Thailand besides what most would recognize as key attractions. Most people travel to Thailand to enjoy the beach or nightlife, without recognizing that Thailand’s food is a world-renowned delicacy. Flavorful, fragrant and delicious, it attracts food-loving travelers from every corner of the world.
In this article you will find a comprehensive guide to the food in Thailand, its influences, key ingredients, cooking methods and more.
Influences in Thailand food
The cultural heritage of the country has greatly influenced the food in Thailand. The national food showcases different ingredients and cooking methods taken from other countries, mainly China, Malaysia, and India.
Thailand food culture
Thailand’s food is usually described as a complex, delicious and balanced mix of the main flavor profiles: sweet, sour, spicy and salty. They are also called the 4S of Thai food. There are usually one or two dominant flavors (Rot Chad naam) and one or two undertones (Rot Chad Rong).
Another key part of Thai food is the use of fresh ingredients, mostly found in local markets. Fresh herbs and spices are essential to develop the flavors found in the traditional food in Thailand. Some of the primary cooking techniques employed, like chopping or grating the herbs, also help the ingredients release all the intensity of flavor found in Thailand’s food.
Thai food employs many different cooking techniques to develop the intense flavors characteristic of the traditional food in Thailand. The most common ones are stir and deep frying, grilling and steaming.
Common ingredients of the food in Thailand
Thailand’s food uses the following ingredients in most of its savory dishes:
- Thai Fish Sauce
- Vinegar or cider vinegar
- Curry paste, both green and red
- Coconut milk
- Black pepper
One can also determine the common ingredients used to develop the 4S of Thailand food:
- To create sweet flavor, the food in Thailand uses fruits, palm sugar and coconuts
- For sour taste, Thai people use limes, sour pineapple, bamboo, green papaya, tamarind and green mango
- For spicy undertones, the common ingredients used are chiles and peppercorns
- The common ingredients used to develop salty flavors are fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, shellfish and sea salt
Spices and herbs in Thailand food
Fresh herbs and spices play a key role in Thailand food culture. The most common herbs and spices you will find in Thailand’s traditional food are:
- Thai basil/basil
- Vietnamese coriander
- Galangal (Thai ginger)
Traditional food in Thailand: Typical dishes
Flat Noodle Stir Fry (Pad Thai)
This is the staple of Thailand’s famous food, and also of Thailand street food.
Pad Thai is made of stir-fried noodles with egg, garlic, shallots, a protein and different vegetables mixed with a sweet and spicy sauce.
Spicy Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
Another dish representative of the food in Thailand and its quest to mix the basic flavor profiles.
This salad’s main ingredient is shredded green papaya, mixed with carrots, peanuts, dried shrimp and tomatoes. Everything is then tossed in a chili, palm sugar, fish sauce, garlic, shallots and lime dressing.
Thai Green Curry (Gaeng Keow Wan Gai)
This coconut milk curry is a popular choice of food in Thailand. Its base is green curry paste, one of the common ingredients found in Thai food, with chiles, galangal, lemongrass and shrimp paste. It’s usually accompanied by rice and chicken.
It has a creamy texture and sweetness that helps undercut the spicy flavor.
Thai Noodle Soup (Kuay Teow)
Thai noodle soup can be made in many different ways and it’s ideal for the colder time in Thailand.
Although there’s not a unified way to prepare it, it tends to use chicken or beef broth as a base for the soup, along with rice noodles and pieces of a protein (chicken, pork or beef). Some even add meatballs or wontons for extra flavor.
Spicy Shrimp Soup (Tom Yum Goong)
Tom Yum Goong is a spicy and sour soup made with a Tom Yum paste base. It’s mixed with Thai basil, fish sauce, galangal, lemongrass, chiles and more ingredients.
Although the main protein used is usually shrimp with herbs, it can be exchanged for other proteins like chicken.
Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
Another soup entry for the essentials in Thailand’s food culture! Tom Kha Gai is prepared with the same base as the Spicy Shrimp Soup but, instead of using shrimp, its main protein is chicken mixed with coconut milk. It’s sweeter and less spicy than Tom Yum Goong.
Jok (Rice Porridge or Thai Congee)
This dish is Thailand’s food answer to Chinese rice porridge or congee. Usually eaten at breakfast, Jok uses broken jasmine rice, which is cooked for a very long time until it becomes mushy. It’s then served with toppings like ginger, eggs and green onions. The protein used in rice porridge is pork.
Spicy Salad (Laab)
This salad, like its name hints, is very spicy. It’s made of proteins like minced pork, chicken or even mushrooms. The protein is then accompanied by common ingredients like shallots, chiles, lime juice, coriander, fish sauce, mint and limes.
Mango Sticky Rice (Khao Niao Mamuang)
The most common dessert in Thai food is Mango Sticky Rice. It’s made of sweet sticky rice (sweetened with palm sugar and coconut milk) and slices of fresh mangoes, which are extremely sweet (and delicious) when they’re in season.
Durian sticky rice (Khao Niaow Tu Rian)
While mango is a fruit loved all over the world, durian is not so popular. This unique fruit is extremely fragrant, but its smell can be described as unpleasant… or simply disgusting. However, its taste is nothing of the sort: it’s soft and sweet.
The base of this dish is the same as mango sticky rice. The only thing that changes is that instead of having slices of mangoes on top, this version of sticky rice is served with sliced durian.
Kluay Kaek (Thai Banana Fritters)
Kluay Kaek is a dessert made of fried bananas with toasted sesame seeds and coconut. It’s usually served with coconut ice cream. It’s very sweet and crunchy, one of the top picks for tourists looking for sweet treats in Thailand.
Red Rubies Dessert (Tub Tim Krob)
This dessert is part of Thailand’s famous food. The Red Rubies dessert is made of crushed ice with coconut liquid infused with pandan leaves (similar to the flavor of vanilla).
But why does it have the word “rubies” in its name? It comes from an ingredient called water chestnuts, which are Chinese. These chestnuts are soaked in grenadine syrup, rolled in tapioca flour and then boiled.
Where to find the best food in Thailand
Thailand’s street food
Did you know that Bangkok, the country’s capital, was chosen as the best street food location in the world? It’s widely available, affordable and extremely delicious!
You can find the best Bangkok neighborhoods to try Thailand’s street food here.
Thailand is an excellent place to go on vacation for food lovers. The Michelin guide has awarded many restaurants in the country with one or two stars, ideal options for those traveling on a larger budget.
Asia’s best restaurants
As we said, Thailand (and specifically Bangkok) is one of the best food destinations in the world. Many world-renowned chefs opened their restaurants in Thailand, which serve unique blends of different cuisines and creativity.
“Asia’s best restaurants” has awarded many locations in Thailand. In fact, this year’s number 1 spot went to a Thai restaurant! You can see the complete list here.