Finding the best Thai dishes during your holiday in Thailand can be challenging. Especially with the lack of knowledge of the local cuisine, exploring Thai food during a holiday in Thailand can be difficult but it’s something most tourists want to. In this article, I will go through the best Thai dishes the country has to offer and what food you should not miss.
The best Thai dishes you must try in Thailand are:
1. Pad Kra Pao
Forget Pad Thai! Pad Kra Pao is one of Thailand’s most popular Thai dishes among locals. Pad Kra Pao is a stir-fry with holy basil, oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic, chilli, sugar and salt. Pad Kra Pao can be found in every Thai restaurant and basically on every corner of the street as this Thai dish is perfectly suitable as street food. The reason why it’s so popular its because it’s so easy to make and so incredibly tasty. Usually served as with chunks of chicken or minced pork, although there are other versions such as beef, seafood, crispy pork belly and even tofu with mushrooms. Pad Kra Pao is not complete with a Thai fried egg. A Thai fried egg is a one-side-fried-egg in oil, making it crispy on one side, while soft on the other side. Pad Kra Pao is a spicy Thai dish.
Pad Kra Pao, one of the best Thai dishes this country has to offer.
Laab is a spicy meat-based salad with Northeastern Thai roots, also known as the Isaan region. This is not a Western salad you are used to. Instead, Laab is a heavily spiced meat salad with mint leaves, cilantro, red onion, kaffir leaves, lime juice and plenty of chilis. Usually, you order Laab with either chicken (Laab Gai) or with pork (Laab Moo), but there are other versions to be found throughout the country, such as a duck version. When it comes to Laab Gai and Laab Moo, the minced meat is boiled, making it a lean salad. Laab is served with some raw refreshing vegetables, including cucumber and cabbage. Laab is a spicy Thai dish.
Laab, a highly recommended Thai dish that is famous for its herbiness.
3. Som Tam (Papaya Salad)
This Thai dish is probably Thailand’s most popular salad. It’s made from the green papaya and is a sweet and sour salad which can be as spicy as you want it to be. Usually, the staff or the vendor will ask how many chillies you want. Besides the green papaya, Som Tam is made of garlic, fish sauce, limes, tomatoes, chillies and palm sugar. There are several versions available throughout the country. I would recommend sticking to Som Tam Thai and would avoid “Pla Ra”. Pla Ra is fermented fish, which gives it a flavour that most foreigners absolutely don’t like. You have been warned.
Your trip to Thailand is not complete without trying the famous Papaya Salad.
4. Tom Yum Kung
Tom Yum Kung is a popular Thai dish, which is a spicy and sour soup with prawns (Kung). Although there are several variations of Tom Yum, the most popular one is the variation with prawns. Tom Yum Kung has a distinctive taste, thanks to the lemongrass, kaffir leaves and galangal. Keep in mind that there are two different versions of Tom Yum, one version (tom yum nam sai) served as a clear broth while the other version (tom yum nam khon) is served with coconut milk. While both versions of this delicious soup are spicy, the one with coconut milk is, in general, less spicy.
Mouth-watering isn't it? You should definitely try the Tom Yum Kung soup.
5. Khua Kling
Khua Kling is a Southern Thai dish, which is an extremely spicy dry curry, served with raw refreshing vegetables. Southern Thai Cuisine is known for its extreme spiciness and Khua Kling is one of the most popular Thai dishes in this region. But it’s not the spiciness that makes it so popular, it’s the use of fragrant herbs like lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Usually, Khua Kling is served as minced pork with (southern) chilli paste. Where usually the curry gets finished and most important, balanced with coconut milk, Khua Kling is served straight away. This results in a lot of flavours but a lot of spicinesses as well. Khua Kling is a Thai dish that is not easy to find in other parts than the Southern Thai region. If you are in the south, though, you will find it in every restaurant.
If you can handle a high amount of spiciness, try the Khua Kling in South-Thailand.
6. Pad Thai
Pad Thai is the Thai dish that gets associated instantly with the Thai cuisine, but the Thai cuisine has so much more to offer than Pad Thai. With that being said, Pad Thai is still a hugely popular Thai dish. It gained its popularity when the Thai government wanted to boost nationalism as well as promoting noodles during a period of rice shortage due to World War II. Pad Thai is a Thai dish that is hugely popular among tourists as well, as the noodle dish is perfectly fit for the Western taste palate. The sweet and salty noodles are flavoured with tamarind paste, fish sauce, garlic, chilli and palm sugar. Usually, Pad Thai is served with prawns or chicken. Pad Thai is served with peanuts, chilli, sugar, fish sauce and vinegar. This is similar to the western habit of seasoning dishes with salt and pepper and you’ll quickly learn what suits you best. When in Bangkok, make sure to visit one of the restaurants listed in our Best Pad Thai in Bangkok article.
Thailand's most famous dish, Pad Thai
7. Khao Soi
Khao Soi in a Northern Thai dish that is hugely popular among both locals as tourists. Tourists like it for the same reason they like Pad Thai: it’s perfectly suitable for the Western taste palate as it is barely spicy. Khao Soi is a coconut-based curry with noodles, usually served with a chicken drumstick and topped with fried noodles. Khao Soi is made with chilli, garlic, shallots, ginger, coriander seeds, cardamom and turmeric. Northern Thai city Chiang Mai is known for this heavenly curry. If you are planning to visit this city, make sure to visit one of the restaurants listed in our Best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai article.
The most popular Thai dish in the Northern parts of Thailand: Khao Soi
8. Boat Noodles
Back in the days when Bangkok was not a Metropol, trades were done by boat from the canals. Floating markets were made to connect several communities with each other to trade goods. During that time, boat noodles were invented. These noodles were served from small canoes. As the canoes were small and the vendor had to do everything from the boat (making the boat noodles, getting paid, serve the bowls, clean the bowls, etc.) it was convenient to serve these boat noodles in small bowls. This same principle applied for the boat noodles that was being served in Ayutthaya. Nowadays, these boat noodle specialists serve the exact-same-sized-bowls from their shops. Boat noodles are a popular lunch meal as it’s served quickly and is really cheap. These noodle soups are extremely fragrant and delicious. The most interesting ingredient is cow's blood. When visiting Bangkok, make sure to head over to Victory Monument and explore the Boat Noodle Alley.
Hugely popular in Bangkok and Ayutthaya: Boat Noodles.
9. Hoy Tod
Hoy Tod is a popular Thai dish that is served in many local restaurants. The dish consists of a tasty omelette with mussels, oysters or both and it’s extremely greasy but really tasty. There are two versions available, where one version is crispy (Hoy Tod) and the other version is spongy (Or Suan). The omelette is served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. Hoy Tod has similarities to Pad Thai when it comes to flavour. My personal favourite version is the crispy omelette with oysters. If you are in Chinatown Bangkok, you can find a few highly recommended Hoy Tod restaurants. You can check these restaurants in our Best Hoy Tod in Bangkok article.
Oyster Omelette, also known as Hoy Tod.
10. Green Curry
Thai cuisine gets often associated with curries. Although there are several other delicious Thai dishes available in this world-famous cuisine, curries do play a big role. One of Thailand’s most popular curry is the green curry. The curry itself is made of green chillies, garlic, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, cilantro, cumin seeds, shallots, shrimp paste and finished with coconut milk. The curry is served with your usual protein but also with Thai eggplant and pea aubergine. Green curry, in general, is spicier than red curry, which people often mistook. The green chillies they use in the green curry is spicier.
Another hugely popular Thai dish: Green Curry.
11. Mango Sticky Rice
Mango sticky rice is probably the most known Thai dessert. The recipe is simple and thanks to its simplicity, you can find mango sticky rice served by street food vendors throughout the country. Mango sticky rice is made of sweetened steamed rice and fresh mango. The sweetness comes from coconut cream and the dessert is topped with deep-fried mung beans. When in Bangkok, head to one of the restaurants listed in our Best Mango Sticky Rice in Bangkok article.
Got some room left for dessert? Mango Sticky Rice it is!
12. Stir-Fried Crab in Curry Powder
If you are looking for something special, a Thai dish that you’ll remember the rest of your trip? Then try the stir-fried crab in curry powder. This is a non-spicy, garlicky curry that is a combination of the Thai and Chinese cuisine. As the curry is thickened with eggs, it’s completely different than what you are used to in a normal curry. What makes this curry extra special is the use of crab. There are several variations of this curry, for example, the curry can be served with crab meat, deep-fried soft-shell crab or a complete freshwater crab. The last variation is probably the tastiest one, but difficult to eat. You can find this delicious Thai dish easily in Chinatown Bangkok.
Stir-fried crab in curry powder. A highly recommended Thai dish that you won't forget easily.
13. Lod Chong
One of my favourite Thai desserts is Lod Chong, a simple, refreshing coconut milk-based dessert. Lod Chong is made of extra-sweetened coconut milk, crushed ice and pandan noodles. It is so simple that you can find it in almost every Thai restaurant and on every corner of the street at one of the street food vendors. Not only does it taste really good, but it’s also very nice to have lod chong after a spicy meal.
The best remedy for when your tongue is on fire.
14. Nam Phrik Long Ruea
When visiting the Northern parts of Thailand, make sure you try the Thai dish called Nam Phrik Long Ruea. This is a dipping dish, usually served as two versions. One version is made of green chillies, while the other is made of tomato. These incredibly herby dipping sauce are served with steamed vegetables. The idea of this interesting dish is to dip the steamed veggies in the dipping sauces to get a taste explosion you’ve experienced before with distinctive flavours you can only find in the Northern parts of Thailand.
Nam Phrik Long Ruea
15. Massaman Curry
One of the most fragrant curries in the Thai cuisine is the massaman curry, thanks to the use of herbs like star anise, cumin and cinnamon. Massaman curry is also a great option for those who do not like to eat spicy food, as it is one of the mildest curries Thailand has to offer. The curry itself is served with chunks of potato and often with a chicken drumstick, although there are several other versions available throughout the country. The most interesting one I’ve ever tried was Massaman Curry with Durian Fruit. Durian, also known as the king of fruits, is a hugely popular fruit in Thailand but is known for its strange and strong smell. If you are in Thailand, I would highly recommend trying this garlicky fruit as well.
A non-spicy and incredibly fragrant Thai curry called Mussaman Curry.
16. Yum Seafood
Yum Seafood is a spicy, sweet and sour salad with a variety of seafood, raw onions, sliced tomato and a handful of greens. Yum seafood often gets soaked in boiling hot water to make sure that seafood is prepared nicely. What makes yum so delicious it the sourness and spiciness of this Thai dish. The salad is often served with prawns, mussels, sliced squid and even tiny octopuses.
Yum Seafood, really sour and spicy!
17. Nam Tok
Flavour-wise, Nam Tok has similarities to the early mentioned Laab salad. The big difference is the use of either beef steak or grilled pork neck. Nam Tok has its origins from the Northeastern parts of Thailand, also known as Isan. The food from this region is widely known for its heavily spiced Thai dishes, so make sure you order a few extra glasses of water to put out the fire in your mouth.
Nam Tok Moo, with grilled pork neck.
18. Deep-Fried Sea Bass with Spicy Mango Salad
For everyone who likes deep-fried fish, you must try the deep-fried sea bass with spicy mango salad. Every seafood restaurant in Thailand has this popular Thai dish on their menu. The fish is thinly coated and served with a spicy mango salad. The combination of this sour and spicy salad with the greasiness of the deep-fried fish is what makes this Thai dish so popular. The sea bass is sliced in half, making it easy to eat the fish filet without eating the fish bones.
Super crispy-fried sea bass with a spicy mango salad.
Mookata is not actually a Thai dish as it’s a cooking method with a hot pot. But it’s so good, that I could not resist adding it to this list of best Thai dishes. In the centre of the hot pot, you can grill the meat and seafood, while on the sides of the hot pot, you can boil your veggies and noodles. Mookata and other types of barbecue are popular in Thailand. I would highly recommend to try it out yourself. Mookata, in general, is cheap, but that also means the quality of the meat and seafood vary. To avoid sickness, make sure you do your research first and make a decision based on fellow-tourists reviews. You can also download our app TopTravelFoods to find highly recommended mookata and other barbecue venues.
20. Grilled Giant River Prawns
Cities like Ayutthaya are known for their giant river prawns. I would highly recommend trying these enormous grilled prawns at least one time during your trip to Thailand. These prawns are pricy but oh-so-delicious. The prawns are sliced in half, making it easy to eat. Don’t forget to scoop out the prawns head as well, as their boiled brains are the most delicious part of these creatures. This delicacy is packed with umami flavour! The prawns are served with a spicy dipping sauce, but actually don’t necessarily need the sauce as they are delicious on their own.
Giant River Prawns in Ayutthaya. You have to order these!
There you have it, our list of the best Thai dishes you must try during your holiday in Thailand. If you are planning to visit one of the following cities, make sure to read the following article:
The Best Local Restaurants in Bangkok
The Best Local Restaurants in Ayutthaya
The Best Local Restaurants in Chiang Mai
The Best Local Restaurants in Pattaya
The Best Local Restaurants in Kanchanaburi
All of these dishes can be found in our food recommendation app called TopTravelFoods. This app, which is completely free, lets you find the best food near you during your holiday in Thailand. As others only recommend the best restaurants in your area, we recommend the best food these restaurants have to offer. Never get stuck wondering what to order again.