As a foreigner, when you think of Thailand, you think of spicy Thai food. Although there are plenty of non-spicy options available in this world-famous cuisine, we can’t deny that many Thai dishes are packed with flaming hot chillies. Personally, we love a bit of spice and over the years, we even got addicted to these hot little peppers. In this article, we list spicy Thai food that can be easily found throughout Thailand and that we believe you should try at least once. We do not solely focus on Southern Thai dishes, which are by far the spiciest Thai foods in the country, as not every tourist visits the southern parts. Instead, we make a combination of easy-to-find, common spicy Thai dishes and a handful of lesser-known Thai dishes that are spicy.
10 Most Spicy Thai Food You Should Try During Your Holiday In Thailand:
1. Gaeng Tai Pla
In this article, you will notice that many of the spicy Thai food originates from the southern parts of Thailand. As a rule of thumb, remember that the further you go south, the more you burn your mouth. In the southern parts, the level of spiciness is just extreme compared to other regions and the other regions do serve pretty spicy dishes too. The spiciest Thai food we’ve ever tried is Gaeng Tai Pla, which is a is a super spicy curry with fermented fish intestines. You can find this somewhat legendary dish in every Southern Thai restaurant and the flavour of the curry itself is not as extreme as it sounds - the soup has a fishy taste but is quite tasty - except that it’s insanely spicy. If you’re up for a challenge and you do believe you can handle spicy food, Gaeng Tai Pla is what you should try.
Gaeng Tai Pla, the most spicy Thai food!
2. Khua Kling
Compared to the previous Gaeng Tai Pla, Khua Kling is much more accessible flavour-wise. Again, this is a famous Southern Thai dish. Khua Kling is a dry curry, meaning that the meat is marinated curry paste but won’t soften the extreme flavours with coconut milk and palm sugar, which is the case with regular Thai curries. The result is that Khua Kling has much deeper, but also extreme flavours. The dry curry is topped with lemongrass, spur chilli and kaffir lime leaves and served with a variety of fresh veggies do tip with. Khua Kling is a bit similar to a Thai curry, but dry and intense, but also seriously delicious. In Bangkok, there is an amazing restaurant named Khua Kling Pak Sod that is specialized in Southern spicy Thai food, which is a great place to try their signature dish Khua Kling.
Khua Kling, one of our favourite spicy Thai food.
3. Pad Kra Pao
You might think that Pad Thai is the most popular dish that Thai eat every day. But that’s absolutely not true. Perhaps the most popular dish is Pad Kra Pao (or Som Tam), which is a stir-fry with holy basil, garlic, chilli and a variety of (oyster) sauces and other seasonings. Pad Kra Pao, or as foreigners call it (Chicken) Stir-Fry with Holy Basil, is the Thai equivalent of a sandwich or burger, as it’s perfect as a quick bite. You can find Pad Kra Pao in every restaurant and the level of spiciness of this famous dish is usually high in order to satisfy the local customer. Luckily, you can easily order a Pad Kra Pao with fewer chillies as it’s a typical dish that has to be made from scratch. Make sure to order Pad Kra Pao with a typical Thai-style fried egg.
All-time-favourite among Thai, Pad Kra Pao. And often very spicy!
4. Gaeng Pa - Jungle Curry
Gaeng Pa, which literally means Jungle Curry in Thai, is originated from the forest regions of Thailand. In contrary to other Thai curries, Gaeng Pa does not contain coconut milk. Instead, the curry is often watery instead of creamy and much spicier than other curries as the coconut milk does balance out the intense flavours. The heavy use of herbs makes Gaeng Pa one of the most fragrant curries the Thai cuisine has to offer and if you’re not familiar with these extreme flavours, the jungle curry won’t be such a good choice for you.
Extreme flavours guaranteed with this spicy Jungle Curry!
5. Nam Phrik
Nam Phrik is a spicy dip made with common herbs such as chillies, garlic, lime, fish paste and shallots and is usually served with either a variety of fresh vegetables or with fish, poultry and meats. The idea behind this dish is that you dip the assorted veggies or the fish, poultry and meats in the spicy dipping sauce. Each region in Thailand has a different type of dip and the level of spiciness vary enormously. In the Northern Thai cuisine, Nam Phrik is not that spicy, but more herby and served with assorted vegetables, which is a huge taste explosion in your mouth. In the Southern parts of Thailand, the dipping sauces become much spicier. The spiciest Nam Phrik is Nam Phrik Narok, which literally means chilli paste from hell.
Nam Phrik comes in many forms and can be super spicy!
6. Pad Prik Gaeng (Moo Grob)
When you think of the Thai cuisine, you think of curries. All these curries are made with curry pastes and a decent amount of coconut milk. The coconut milk reduces the spiciness and for that reason, curries are a popular choice for many foreigners. But there are dishes available that don’t add the coconut milk and are much intenser in flavours than curries. One of these Thai dishes is the Pad Prik Gaeng Moo Grob which is a Stir-Fried Crispy Pork with Red Curry Paste, but any other type of protein, such as chicken and fried fish can be commonly found in Thai restaurants. Where some other spicy Thai food listed in this article depends on how many chillies are added, the level of spiciness of Pad Prik Gaeng is always high as the curry paste is made in bulk. I’ve never tasted a non-spicy Pad Prik Gaeng in my life, and I don’t think it even exists.
Note: The difference between Pad Prik Gaeng and Khua Kling (earlier mentioned in this article), which both are dry curries, is the paste that is being used.
Only by looking at it, you know Pad Prik Gaeng is spicy Thai food!
7. Som Tam
Thailand’s most famous salad is som tum, or as you might know it: papaya salad. Som tam is in general one of the spiciest Thai dishes you can order and is available in every Thai restaurant throughout the country. But because the papaya salad is always made from scratch, the level of spiciness can be simply adjusted by adding more or fewer chillies to the mortar. There are many different versions of this popular salad available, some of which contain unusual ingredients such as fermented fish sauce, pickled crab, freshwater snails or pickled bamboo shoots. Personally, we believe that Som Tam Thai is the most delicious version as it’s a less-extreme version where sweet and sour flavours are perfectly balanced. This does not mean that Som Tam Thai is not spicy, though.
Note: like some other spicy Thai food options in this article, it’s very easy to order a less-spicy or an extreme spicy version of Som Tam as this Thai dish is always made from scratch and chillies can be added or omitted.
Platters of Som Tum like these are covered in many chillies. Be aware!
8. Tom Yum Nam Khon Pla - Spicy & Sour Thai Fish Soup
When you think of tom yum soups, you think of creamy, bright orange soups with large prawns. But tom yum can be made in two different ways with several different types of seafood. The most common way is Tom Yum Nam Sai, which is a version with coconut milk. As mentioned earlier, coconut milk makes spicy Thai food less spicy and more balanced. But there are always spicier versions available in the Thai cuisine and for Tom Yum soups that is Tom Yum Nam Khon, which is a clear soup and much spicier than the creamy version. If you are planning to visit Bangkok, check out our article about the best tom yum in Bangkok, as we recommend several Tom Yum Sai and Tom Yum Nam Khon soups that are of excellent quality.
Tom Yum Nam Khon is much spicier than the more common Tom Yum Nam Sai.
Laab is one of the most popular Thai salads the Thai cuisine has to offer, although you shouldn’t think it’s a salad like Western salads with a variety of fresh vegetables and a dressing. Instead, laab is a combination of boiled minced meat with roasted ground rice and a variation of herbs which can be extremely spicy. Laab comes from Lao, however, the Isaan-region, as well as the Northern Thai region, made their own special versions of this unofficial national dish of Lao. The difference between Isaan Laab and Northern Thai Laab is that the Isaan version has more extreme flavours and is much spicier than Northern Thai Laab. The Northern Thai version is herbier and darker in colour due to the use of lemongrass and tasted a bit similar to Northern Thai Sausage. Isaan-Laab is by far the most common version of both and can be found in almost every Thai restaurant. Similar to Som Tam, the level of spiciness can be easily adjusted as laab is always made from scratch right before serving.
Laab is extremely flavourful, but can be extremely spicy too!
10. Yum Talay
Yum Talay is another popular spicy Thai salad that, if you can handle chillies, is an amazing dish to try. Yum means spicy and sour, is a common term in Thai Cuisine, for example, Tom Yum Goong means spicy and sour soup with prawns and is one of the most famous Thai dishes. So whenever you see the word yum on the menu, you can expect some spiciness. Yum Talay is a sweet and sour, lukewarm salad with a variety of seafood. As the seafood is only dipped in boiled hot water shortly, the seafood such as the squid, are not overcooked. The salad is finished with dressing and that dressing, in particular, is what makes the yum so spicy. In contrary to som tam, you cannot easily change the level of spiciness and if you find a popular local vendor or restaurant, the dressing is usually extremely spicy. Yum Talay is a common Thai dish that you can easily find at the majority of Thai restaurants.
Yum is a popular Thai salad but the dressing is usually packed with chillies.
Tip: cool your tongue with Lod Chong
After trying one of these spicy Thai foods, cooling your tongue is more than welcome. One of the best remedies for a flaming hot tongue is the Thai dessert named Lod Chong. Lod Chong is a combination of crushed ice, coconut milk and green, almost tasteless, jelly noodles. Lod Chong is often served in a small bowl with a spoon and this ice-cold sweetened goodness works perfect to cool your mouth from the chillies. Lod Chong is a common Thai dessert that you can find at the majority of Thai restaurants.
Lod Chong, the perfect remedy for a flaming hot tongue.
Interested in more Thai food? We've published an in-depth article about Bangkok Street Food that covers every aspect regarding this popular topic. The article is partly focussed on Bangkok but contains plenty of general information about street food in Thailand. If you're planning to visit Thailand, it's an absolute must to have a look at our street food guide (completely free).
There you have it, our list of the ten most spicy Thai food. You can find all these dishes in our food app called TopTravelFoods. Our app helps you find the best food in Thailand. Instead of recommending good restaurants, we recommend the best food these restaurants have to offer. This way, we help you to explore the Thai cuisine to the fullest during your holiday and make sure you won’t miss out local deliciousnesses. The app is available for both iOS and Android and is completely free. If you're curious about more tasty Thai food recommendations, check out our article about the 20 best non-spicy Thai foods.