In this article, we cover the best Thai food for foreigners. When visiting Thailand, many foreigners want to explore the world-famous Thai cuisine. However, with the lack of knowledge of (local) Thai food, foreigners often stick to what they are familiar with or even worse, order Western food while travelling in Thailand. Thai food is so diverse that there is a delicious option for every type of eater. So let’s jump into what we believe is the best Thai food for foreigners.
We solely cover the best Thai food for foreigners. That means we recommend Thai food that the majority of foreigners simply love after their first visit to Thailand and all-time favourites from ex-pats, which includes medium spicy dishes. If you’re looking for other typical Thai food, have a look at one of our other article:
Thai food for kids and picky eater
Thai food that is not spicy at all
The spiciest Thai Food
Thai food for beginners
The best Thai seafood
The best Thai food for foreigners are:
Tom Yum Goong
Tom Yum Goong is a spicy and sour soup with prawns (goong) and is among the most popular Thai food for foreigners. This soup perfectly represents what the Thai cuisine stands for, namely spiciness, sourness, sweetness, saltiness and savouriness (umami). Although Tom Yum soups can be spicy, in general, the level of spiciness is that what most foreigners can handle, with a few exceptions here and there. Aside from prawns, or any other type of protein you wish to choose from, the soup is packed with mushrooms and herbs. Some of these herbs are impossible to eat, so you simply scoop out the fragrant broth, the prawns and mushrooms. You can find Tom Yum soups in almost every Thai restaurant and is most of the time, the soup is served with prawns.
It’s common to order Tom Yum Goong as one of the few dishes you will share with your companions, something that is typical in the Thai culture. Because of that reason, Tom Yum Goong is often served in typical hot pot bowl, to keep the soup warm during dinner. There are two different versions of Tom Yum soups, namely Tom Yum Ban Khon and Tom Yum Nam Sai. Tom Yum Nam Khon is the more creamy version of both and is by far the most popular one. If you’re planning to visit Bangkok, make sure to read our article about the best Tom Yum Soups in Bangkok if you want to taste exceptional versions of one of the most popular Thai food for foreigners.
Pad Kra Pao
Pad Kra Pao is one of the most popular dishes in among Thai, but also among foreigners. This stir-fried dish is the Thai equivalent of the hamburger as it’s considered a ‘fast-food’ meal due to how quick it’s served. Choose your favourite type of protein, most of the time it’s either pork or chicken and within minutes, you’ll be served an addictively, great-tasting stir-fry meal with steamed rice. What makes Pad Kra Pao so delicious is the heartiness, saltiness and spiciness. Pad Kra Pao is seasoned with garlic, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, chillies and most important, Thai holy basil leaves. Because of the use of holy basil leaves, Pad Kra Pao is known as Stir-Fry Holy Basil among foreigners.
Pad Kra Pao is quite spicy Thai food for foreigners, but when visiting a Thai restaurant, most of the times the staff will ask if you can handle spicy Thai food. And as Pad Kra Pao is made from scratch, it’s really easy to let them make a non-spicy or a milder version of this hugely popular Thai dish. One last thing, Pad Kra Pao is often eaten with a Thai fried egg, which is a deep-fried egg with a sunny side up. The combination of a partly crispy fried egg with running egg yolk, steamed rice and spicy, savoury Pad Kra Pao is so delicious, that many Thai and foreigners in Thailand eat Pad Kra Pao almost every day. When visiting Bangkok, make sure to visit one of the restaurants listed in our article about the best Pad Kra Pao in Bangkok.
Som Tam, or better known among foreigners as Papaya Salad, is the most popular Thai dish there is. This spicy and sour salad made from green (unripe) papaya and originates from the Isaan region, which is one of the most interesting cuisines of Thailand. You can find Som Tam literally in every Thai restaurant, but also many street food vendors serve Som Tum. In a wooden mortar, the scraped green papaya gets crushed along with chillies, garlic, roasted peanuts, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime and tomato and is served within minutes. Similar to Pad Kra Pao, it’s very easy to ask for a less or non-spicy version of it as it’s completely made from scratch.
It’s good to know that there are different versions of Som Tam. The most common version - which we believe is the best choice for foreigners - is Som Tam Thai, as other versions contain ingredients that are not foreigner-friendly. For example, a popular version among Thai is Som Tam with Pla Ra, which is fermented fish and has an unusual, strong smell that usually won’t increase your appetite.
Khao Soi is by far the most popular Thai dish of the Northern Thai Cuisine, especially among foreigners. Although Khao Soi originates from the Burmese cuisine, over time, Chiang Mai and other places created their own version of it. Khao Soi is Northern Thai curry made with shrimp paste, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, coriander seeds, lime leaves, cardamom, chillies and palm sugar. Khao Soi is served with noodles and topped with crispy fried noodles, which gives the curry a lovely texture. Khao Soi is always served with pickles, red onions and lime which is the equivalent of salt and pepper in the Western cuisine. Although Khao Soi is herby, the flavours are not as extreme as for example Som Tam (Papaya Salad) and because of this, for many, it’s one of the most popular Thai food for foreigners.
As Khao Soi has Muslim roots, Khao Soi is one of the few Thai dishes that are usually not served with pork and one of the few dishes that’s served with (stewed) beef. Beef is a not-so-common protein in Thai cuisine, as many Thai don’t like to eat beef because a cow is such a large animal. It’s not forbidden by Buddhism, but there is a certain belief of not eating large animals. With that being said, Khao Soi is mostly served with chicken (drumstick). When visiting Chiang Mai, make sure to check out our article about the best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai.
Definitely not our favourite Thai dish, but we can’t deny Pad Thai is typical Thai food for foreigners. Many foreigners think that Pad Thai is Thailand’s most popular dish, but this is not true. During World War II, when Thailand suffered from a shortage of rice because of floods and war, Pad Thai was crowned Thailand’s “National Dish” to promote the consumption of noodles and Thai nationalism. This PR stunt was so successful, especially outside of Thailand, that foreigners who never visited Thailand often think that Pad Thai is what Thai eat all day.
Nonetheless, Pad Thai can be found everywhere in Thailand and it’s not like Thai don’t like to eat Pad Thai. But the Thai cuisine represents five elements including spiciness and Pad Thai is sweet, savoury and sour but not that spicy. Because of this, Pad Thai is the most popular Thai food for foreigners. If you’re planning to visit Bangkok, make sure to read our article about the best Pad Thai in Bangkok, which includes Pad Thai Thip Samai, an institution when it comes to Pad Thai.
Massaman Curry is yet another creamy, herby, not too spicy Thai curry (similar to Khao Soi) that is hugely popular among foreigners. And similar to Khao Soi, Massaman Curry has Muslim roots. The curry itself is made with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves and nutmeg. Only by reading those fine spices, you can already imagine how fragrant this curry is. The curry is usually served with either chicken or beef and inside the creamy curry, you can find large chunks of boiled potatoes. Massaman Curry is served with steamed rice but is not so common that you can find it in every Thai restaurant. Nowadays, some restaurants tend to make the curry paste that is being used for Massaman Curry the non-traditional way with modern equipment, which makes the paste and thus the curry very oily. Personally, I prefer the non-oily and the much creamier version of the Massaman Curry.
Deep-Fried Seabass with Fish Sauce
One of my all-time favourite Thai seafood dishes is deep-fried seabags with fish sauce. And because the flavours are well-suitable for the western taste palate, it’s excellent Thai food for foreigners. Thai Sea bass is either sliced in half or filleted first and cut into large chunks and then deep-fried with the batter which gives the fish a crispy, hearty layer. Personally, I prefer the so-called Pla Ka Pong Tod to be filleted first and carved into thick chunks of sea bass for two reasons. Most importantly, the comfort of eating fried fish without any fishbone. Secondly, these smaller chunks of sea bass are more crispy than frying a fish as a whole.
There are several variations of serving this Pla Ka Pong Tod (deep-fried Thai sea bass). Most common options are with oyster sauce, fish sauce or Thai herbs. Thai herbs are the most fragrant option and perhaps a bit too wild for foreigners. Fish sauce on the other hand is your safest bet, and to be honest, probably the most popular option for both foreigners as Thai. You can find this Thai treat in every Thai restaurant that’s specialized in seafood. For more Thai seafood dishes, check out the article about the best Thai seafood dishes you should not miss when visiting Thailand.
Laab is yet another popular Thai dish that originates from the Isaan region, although it’s unofficially the national dish of Laos, that’s highly fragrant and often spicy too. Laab is a meat salad, but honestly, it has nothing to do with salad. Laab is made of marinated (boiled) meat and finished with fish sauce, green onion, shallot, cilantro, lime juice, toasted rice and mint leaves. This might all sound not as the tastiest meal there is but when you eat it together with rice (preferably sticky rice), it can become one of your favourite Thai dishes. For me personally, Laab and Pad Kra Pao are the two dishes that I eat the most often.
There are two things that you need to pay attention to when eating laab. First of all, in the Isaan-region, laab can be served with pork that’s undercooked. For obvious health reasons, you want to avoid this. In other parts of Thailand, this is not common. Secondly, entrails are a common ingredient in the Thai cuisine and laab is the perfect example of a popular Thai dish that is served with intestines. The slightly more expensive Thai restaurants usually don’t serve laab with intestines but the very local ones do.
There are countless versions of noodles to be found in the Thai cuisine and many of these noodles are popular among foreigners. Listing them all would be confusing for you as a reader. Instead, I recommend you to have a look at our article about the best noodles in Bangkok, which gives you a good idea what kind of noodles the Thai cuisine has to offer. I will dive a bit deeper into Boat Noodles, as these noodles are popular Thai food for foreigners.
Tiny bowls of noodles served with an incredible, fragrant broth that only costs you 12 THB. What is not to like about these popular noodles? Boat Noodles originate from Bangkok and Ayutthaya where food was served from canoes. Because the vendor had to sell everything from their small canoe, the bowls of soup had to be small as well. Nowadays, boat noodles are not sold from canoes but at restaurants, but in Bangkok and Ayuthaya, you can still find restaurants who serve tiny bowls of boat noodles and these places are hugely popular. If you’re planning to visit Bangkok, have a look at our article about the best boat noodles in Bangkok. If you’re planning to visit Ayutthaya, have a look at our article about the best boat noodles in Ayutthaya.
Grilled meats served with a spicy dipping sauce and sticky rice. That is yet another part of the o-so famous Isaan cuisine, which offers more than only chilli-packed foods. Kai Yang is barbecued chicken with a slightly smoky flavour that’s familiar for the Western taste palate. You can find these grilled meats at street food vendors, although the quality and the hygiene are doubtful. But when visiting a proper restaurant, grilled chicken is an excellent choice. Other popular options are grilled beef and marinated pork and chicken skewers, although the skewers can be mostly found at street food vendors. If you’re planning to visit Chiang Mai, make sure to stop by SP Chicken, which is Chiang Mai’s most popular grilled chicken specialist and among the most popular local Thai restaurants in Chiang Mai.
The last curry that I will recommend is Penang Curry, although there are plenty of other curries you can discover in Thailand. Penang Curry has more similarities to popular Thai curries such as Green Curry, Red Curry and Yellow Curry than the other recommended curries in this article. The big advantage for you as a foreigner is that Penang Curry is the most accessible curry the Thai cuisine has to offer when it comes to flavours. Yes, a Penang Curry is still slightly spicy, but much milder than the other curries. Penang Curry is also a curry that you can find at the majority of Thai restaurants and is usually served with chicken, peas and kaffir lime leaves. Kaffir lime leaves are fragrant, herby and refreshing which many foreigners simply love. For more Thai curries, have a look at our article about the best curries in Bangkok, where we dive deeper into famous versions of the most common Thai curries.
Pork is by far the most popular form of protein you can find in the Thai cuisine and it comes in many preparations. One of the popular ways to serve pork is to bake the fat and skin out until it forms into crispy pork where the outer parts are crunchy yet the inside is still succulent. Thai use Crispy Pork in noodles or noodle soups, but also as a protein for popular dishes such as Pad Kra Pao. But you can also find Crispy Pork as a stand-alone dish where the pork is served with a thickened soy dipping sauce. The texture, the saltiness and savoriness together with the sweetness of the soy sauce is a real treat. Crispy Pork is not a typical Thai dish that is recommended by other websites, but I always recommend friends to give it a try. The simplicity of the dish as well as the not-to-crazy flavours makes it ideal Thai food for foreigners. If you’re planning to visit Bangkok, have a look at our article about the best Crispy Pork in Bangkok.
Mango Sticky Rice
So far, I discussed solely main courses but you must know that Thai do love their daily dose of sweetness. There are many amazing Thai desserts to be found in Thailand and in general, these are quite safe to try for foreigners, although there are some weird combinations and ingredients to be found. But when it comes to Thai desserts, there is only one winner for foreigners and that is Mango Sticky Rice. A ripe mango is carved in slices, served with sticky rice and topped with sweetened condensed coconut milk. It’s good to know that the quality of Mango Sticky Rice all depends on what kind of mango is being used and if the mango is ripe enough. A general rule is that the mango must have a deep yellow colour and is served during the mango season, which is from April until June. Does that mean you can’t find proper mango’s outside mango season? No. Make sure to visit one of the famous places that we listed in our article about the best Mango Sticky Rice in Bangkok to taste this incredible Thai dessert.
The last Thai food for foreigners recommendation is Moo Ping, a popular street food dish that you can find everywhere in Thailand. Moo Ping is marinated, minced pork that is grilled above a skewer. It’s not spicy at all, making it excellent Thai food for foreigners.
Moo Ping is one of many Thai street food options you can choose from as a tourist. And exploring street food is for many tourists one of the top things they want to do in Thailand. We published a complete street food guide article for Bangkok where we cover all the aspects of Bangkok Street Food. We highly recommend you to read this article if you’re planning to visit Thailand and want to experience street food to the fullest.
There you have it, the best Thai food for foreigners. All these Thai foods and many other Thai dishes can be found in our food app TopTravelFoods. The app will help you find the best food in Thailand, instead of only recommending good restaurants at popular destinations. This way, you won’t miss out legendary restaurants and you can enjoy the local Thai cuisine to the fullest. The app is available for both iOS and Android and is completely free. If you're on a desktop, you can start searching for more dishes in Bangkok or many other cities such as Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Koh Larn, Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi and Sukhothai.