21 Things You Gotta Eat in Thailand
Hello eaters! Strap on your panties because this post is going to take you for a ride through Yumtown (a.k.a. Thailand). I went to Thailand in January and I ate my way through that country, not without some consequences, but it was all worth it in the end. Here are a couple things to know about eating in Thailand.
- Green chiles can f**k you up, go easy on those bad boys
"Guys it's not that spicy, I'm fine" (20 seconds later) "HOLY DICK CHENEY MY MOUTH IS AS HOT AS SATAN'S REAR PASSAGE!"
- Eat the street food, it is delicious, cheap, and authentic however, not all vendors take the right measures to ensure food safety. Make sure that you go to stands with a long line of people and buy just-cooked food (don't buy grilled chicken that has been sitting there, ask them to grill a new one).
- Thailand is so inexpensive that you could eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner for under 1 US dollar per meal (only on the street, but it is possible and very satisfying).
- About 30 Thai baht = 1 US dollar
- You can drink the water, but most travelers try to stick with bottled water.
- If you see beautiful fruit in a market, just buy it. You won't find the vendor if you try to go back and you can never have too much fruit!
- Durian is banned from many hotels and airports. What is durian you ask? It's a spiky fruit with yellow meat that smells and (in my opinion) tastes like hot poop. Give it a try, it's very expensive and many consider it a delicacy (you can have my portion of hot stinky poop any day).
- And yes, wandering through a food market can be your activity for a whole day, no one will ever judge you for that in Thailand!
Now that you know how to eat in Thailand let me tell you what to eat in Thailand!
1. Fish Cakes (Tod Mun Pla)
We went to Thailand with my mom's dear friend Tas--I wrote a blog post about her two years ago (click here to read). When I was little, Tas used to fry up fish cakes in the summer and I would devour them on her back porch. They are light, salty, and crispy. They always come with a cucumber, red chile, and a sweet vinegar sauce for dipping. Seriously, go find these ASAP.
2. BBQ Chicken (Gai Yang)
You will see this chicken on every street corner. They marinate it and grill it to perfection. If we had these in the US maybe people would finally put their phones away and obsess over these chicken lollipops instead.
Back when I was a little peanut I used to be pickier when we'd go out to eat (hard to believe now, eh) but chicken satay was always my go-to. The chicken is marinated in lemongrass, lime, soy sauce, fish sauce, turmeric, cumin, and garlic, just to name a few. They grill the chicken and serve it with the same sauce as with the fish cakes and a peanut sauce. It's foolproof.
4. Mango Sticky Rice (Khao Neow Mamuang)
I don't want to say that mango sticky rice is the reason why I went to Thailand, but it is the reason why I went to Thailand. Yes blah, blah, blah, we have it in some Thai restaurants here, but nothing compares to the real thing (other than Tas' mango sticky rice--that's how I fell in love with it in the first place). The sticky rice is made with coconut milk, sugar, and salt. You can eat it hot or cold, but the rice tastes like heaven when it's still warm and it won't clump like it does when it starts to cool. You can find this on the street in day markets, night markets, and some grocery stores. Buy it every chance you have.
5. Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum) Top Right
In Thailand they eat several fruits before they are ripe because they are less sweet and soak up seasonings like a sponge. They sell green mango on the street, Tas claims that it's the best palate cleanser on your way to work and it crunches just like an apple. They do not sell green papaya like this and instead they shave it and make into a sweet, salty, and spicy salad. Right before they serve it, they toss the fresh shaved papaya into a wooden mortar and mix it with fish sauce, lime juice, chiles, palm sugar, dried shrimp, and garlic. They serve it with peanuts, tomatoes, green beans, and in this case, fresh shrimp. Beware, this salad can be very spicy because they smash whole red chiles into it, tell them to use less if you are sensitive.
6. Pandan Leaf-Wrapped Chicken (Gai Hor Bai Toey) Bottom Right
The chicken is marinated in oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil, fish sauce, garlic, and coriander and wrapped with pandan leaves. Pandan leaves are similar to banana leaves and they are also known as screwpine leaf. When you unwrap the leaf the chicken will release a glorious perfume and you'll find a tender glazed chicken thigh inside. I wish Santa would put these under the Christmas tree.
7. Wide Flat Noodles (Pad See Ew)
Ohhhh! Oh! YES YES! You're going to want what I'm having and I'm having Pad See Ew. Holy cheese I love this dish. The noodles are smooth, silky, and easy to pick up with chopsticks. They catch the sauce oh so well, and blow in the breeze like a flag. I love them, I worship them, I want to be them. I pledge my allegiance to Pad See Ew.
8. Steamed Barramundi (Pla Kapong Neung Manao)
Order this fish when you have a chance to sit down at a restaurant. While you're at it just order a Singha beer too, it's a pale lager and goes perfectly with salty Thai food on a hot evening. This flaky white fish is steamed with lime juice, garlic, fresh herbs, and chiles. You must carefully pull the flesh and skin off of the bones, and then ladle the salty and sour broth into a bowl. I also recommend that you put some fresh rice in the bowl to sop up all of that angelic nectar. If you want this EXACT fish and you're in Bangkok, head over to Lek Seafood, the atmosphere is nothing to call home about but you'll be calling your whole family, first grade teacher, and Paul Ryan about this barramundi for sure.
9. Omelet (Khai Jiao)
Talk about fast food. This omelet is made in under 60 seconds in a wok with smoking hot oil. We purchased it on the street for 20 baht and it came with a fluffy bed of rice underneath it. We split two omelets between the four of us and it was more than filling. There is not one place I can think of in the US where you could eat a breakfast this delicious and fast for only 75 cents.
10. "One Bite Wrap" (Miang Kham)
This snack was one of my absolute favorite things we ate in Thailand. Sometimes it was served at the beginning of a meal at a restaurant (similar to how we serve bread or chips in the US). One must start by taking the cha plu leaf and folding it to make a small cup. Then you pile in toasted coconut, shallot, ginger, lime wedge (yes, you eat the skin), dried shrimp, peanuts, and a spoonful of the sweet tamarind sauce. At first, I was skeptical at the thought of eating a lime skin because they are bitter, but everything balances everything out. The sweet sauce balances the bitter lime skin, the tartness of the lime juice balances the spice of the shallot and ginger, the coconut flakes and peanuts add a crunch, and the cha plu leaf is refreshing and mild. These leaves are hard to come by outside of Thailand and many people use kale, spinach, and lettuce leaves to replicate it, but I don't think it would be the same. Every time we would find it in a market or restaurant Tas would tell us, "Now this is really really Thai!" I like really really Thai!
11. Coconut Water
There is nothing, I'm telling you NOTHING like cracking open a fresh coconut and drinking it on the street on a 90 degree day in Thailand with almost 100% humidity. They serve them all over the streets and I would buy them constantly and drink them on the spot. You can feel your body using the electrolytes and perk up immediately! But don't stop there! You must then take a spoon and scrape out the fresh young meat from the inside and eat that too. It is soft and sweet and makes for the perfect snack. I can't even tell you how many coconuts I devoured, but the boxed coconut water we have in the US just tastes like dirty socks compared to the fresh coconut water in Thailand. Seriously, buy them every single chance you have.
12.Watermelon, 13. Guava, 14. Dragonfruit, and
These fruits will be available everywhere. Pineapples on sticks in the market, watermelon freshly cut in plastic baggies, guava in cups...everywhere. Don't even second guess yourself, the answer is always yes, I could use some fresh fruit.
What are these little wild Elmo fruits you ask? Even though they look similar to lychee, they are NOT lychee (don't bring it up to the rambutans, it's a sensitive topic). You must break open the skin with a knife to reveal the tender translucent fruit inside. Don't bite right into it because there is a seed hidden in the middle, but it is worth all of the effort!
17. Pomegranate Juice
There are a lot of juices sitting out in the markets and Tas was very particular when deciding whether or not it was safe to drink them. Don't buy a juice that is sitting in the sun with no ice. In this case, we watched him make one and then bought two cold ones. Again, along with coconut water this tart juice is also super refreshing on a hot and humid day in Thailand.
It's kind of like rambutan and lychee but...not really. When we were touring the Phi Phi Islands, our captain (Captain Jack, featured above holding a longan) brought fresh fruit onto the boat. We were swimming in a beautiful cove and when we came back on he pulled out a basket of mysterious fruits, one of them was longan. You don't need any kitchen tools to eat these tasty boys, you just use your finger nail to puncture the skin and peel it off. Inside you will find sweet translucent meat and a beautiful shiny, brown seed.
19. Butterfly Pea Refresher
Okay let's be mature about this. Butterfly pea powder comes from a flower called Clitoria Ternatea because it looks like female genitalia. Didn't need to know that? Well, now you know and you can giggle about it too. But after you're finished giggling go find this drink! It is a beautiful brilliant blue color and they add a bit of sugar.
20. Thai Iced Tea
If you're too weirded out by the butterfly flower (it's 2018 people) then you can try Thai iced tea instead. The picture above is black tea, lemon juice, and sugar, much like an Arnold Palmer, but better. You can also get a Thai iced tea with condensed milk, which I've made in my own kitchen. They pour hot black tea back and forth from one cup filled with condensed milk into the other. It turns a bright orange color once mixed and tastes as sweet as a dessert!
21. Coconut Smoothie
Yet another extremely refreshing drink in Thailand. I'm not making these things up, they just have that many more amazing and abundant options than us. We purchased this smoothie in the Chiang Mai night market, which was a metropolis of hand-crafted bowls, jewelry boxes, wooden animals, fashionable clothes and mouthwatering food! You could walk through the market for 6 hours and still not see everything. This smoothie has fresh young coconut meat, palm sugar, coconut water, and ice, that's it! It was so icy, light, and hydrating, and only 20 baht!
I hope you'll take all of my food advice and go to Thailand! I had an incredible time and this trip only cemented the notion that Thailand has the best food in the world. If you are planning a trip to Thailand please reach out, I'd love to help you. If you've already been to Thailand and I missed your favorite foods feel free to comment. I'm well aware that this list doesn't cover even a small portion of the incredible dishes that exist in Thailand, but it sure gives you an idea.
Happy Eating friends!