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Last Updated on July 24, 2023 by Madison Krigbaum
There’s a reason why Thai cuisine is eaten and beloved in every corner of the world. It’s just 👏🏼 that 👏🏼 good. However, eating Thai food in the states or some other random country is definitely not the same as experiencing Thai food in Thailand. Thankfully for you, when it comes to eating your way through Thailand – I’m pretty much a pro.
In 2022, I spent eight weeks backpacking around Thailand to my heart’s content. Well…if traveling with two full-sized suitcases could be considered “backpacking.” I was in it for the temples, I was in it for the beaches, I was in it for the views…but most of all – I was in it for the FOOD. From classic, world-famous dishes like Pad Thai to lesser-known Thai foods like Pad Kra Pao Moo, my all-inclusive foodie’s guide is guaranteed to have you drooling.
So, grab your fork and spoon (that’s right – Thai food isn’t actually eaten with chopsticks) and let’s dive into the amazing world of Thai cuisine in Thailand.
Learn How to Make Thai Food in Thailand
If you’re a foodie (like me) who’s looking to elevate your culinary skills, then you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to take a Thai cooking class in Thailand. My friends and I took a cooking class during our 2019 trip to Chiang Mai and learning to make traditional Thai food in Thailand, like panang curry, pad thai and thai tea, was one of the highlights of our vacation.
Imagine wandering through a bustling Thai market, collecting fresh ingredients, and then returning to a cozy kitchen to cook up a storm. With the guidance of a local chef, you can learn the secrets to making fragrant curries, savory soups and tasty stir-fried noodles in no time. Not only will you leave with a satisfied stomach and a new skill, but you’ll also be able to impress your friends and family with a Thai dish or two back home.
Now, some are you aren’t the cooking-on-vacation type. If that’s you, consider booking a street food tour instead to immerse yourself in the local culinary culture.
🍜 Highly-Rated Food Tours In Thailand:
- Cooking Class with Organic Farm in Chiang Mai at Mama Noi – I took this class in 2019 and LOVED every second of it (⭐️ 5/5)
- Phuket Thai Cooking Class (⭐️ 5/5)
- Pink Chili – Thai Cooking Class and Market Tour in Bangkok (⭐️ 5/5)
- The 10 Tastings of Chiang Mai With Locals: Private Street Food Tour (⭐️ 5/5)
- Bangkok Street Food Tour By Night (⭐️ 5/5)
Thai Food Starters in Thailand
You haven’t truly experienced Thai food in Thailand until you’ve ordered off the starter menu. Better show up hungry hon, or else you’re going to leave seriously uncomfy. These authentic Thai starters truly set the tone for the delicious meal ahead.
Thailand is famous for spicy and sour soups made with local herbs, fresh vegetables and savory proteins like chicken or seafood. Although their salads are lesser-known worldwide, it doesn’t make them any less delicious (and shockingly healthy for a binge-drinking trip to Thailand). And don’t forget about everyone’s favorite – deep fried Thai spring rolls with sweet & sour sauce.
Next time you’re dining on Thai food in Thailand, don’t skip out on these traditional Thai food starters – they just might steal the show.
Som Tam (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
Looking at this famous Thai dish, you would never know it’s made from papaya. Before papayas turn that deep orangish/red color that we all know and love, they start out white and light green inside. Som tam, one of the best Thai dishes I tried in Thailand, consists of shredding this green papaya flesh and adding garlic, carrot, cherry tomatoes, bird eye chilis, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and peanuts.
Sometimes green beans, Thai egg plant, hard boiled eggs and some sort of protein is also added – most commonly chicken or shrimp. Som tam is one of my favorite Thai dishes since it’s healthy, light and perfect for a hot and humid day in Thailand…assuming you can handle spicy food in the heat that is.
This particular som tam dish is from one of my favorite restaurants in Patong Beach, Dang Restaurant.
Chicken Satay (Gai Satay)
Chicken satay is not only a favorite in Thailand, but all over the world! This Thailand famous food is popular among tourists because it’s cheap, familiar and super tasty.
Although I normally like to be a bit more adventurous while trying new restaurants in Southeast Asia, I couldn’t resist eating plenty of chicken satay during my two months in Phuket. This staple of Thai cuisine is usually served with a couple pieces of toast and ridiculously delicious peanut sauce.
Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Tom yum is one of the most popular Thai dishes in Thailand…and probably the most famous soup dish.
This savory, spicy soup is most commonly made with prawns, but I’ve also seen it made with chicken. Its ingredients usually consist of mushrooms, lemongrass stalks, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, shallots, chilis, tomato, coriander, spring onion, sugar, fish sauce (or soy sauce for a vegetarian alternative), lime juice and coconut milk.
Thai food in Thailand doesn’t get better that this! This particular bowl of tom yum was enjoyed at Sairee Cottage Restaurant in Koh Tao…with a gorgeous view of the beach.
🍤 Pro Tip for Eating Thai Food in Thailand:
When visiting Southeast Asia and sampling all the best traditional food in Thailand, keep in mind that not everything in Thai food is meant to be consumed. Thailand food culture includes a lot of aromatics, such as lemongrass stalks, kaffir lime leaves, birds eye chilis and basil leaves. These ingredients are meant to add flavor to your dish, but they are not meant to be consumed (except maybe the chilis…if you can handle it). Trust me, leave the aromatics alone. You won’t enjoy attempting to chew a stalk of lemongrass.
Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup)
Another famous soup from Thailand is kom kha gai – coconut chicken soup.
This is a great option for Thailand visitors that don’t like to eat a lot of spicy food. It’s much milder than tom yum with a light, refreshing coconut milk base. Tom kha soup is also full of aromatics like lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves.
Deep Fried Thai Spring Rolls
If you’ve never tried deep fried Thai spring rolls before, you’re in for a treat.
These crispy little, trans-fat filled rolls are packed with flavor and are perfect as both an appetizer or a snack. Each bite is filled with a mix of shredded vegetables, meat and fragrant spices. Thankfully, you don’t have to go far to find fried spring rolls here, since they’re one of the best foods in Thailand. (Not to mention, one of the most internationally popular).
Fried spring rolls are typically served with a sweet chili sauce for an irresistible combination that’s sure to tickle your taste buds. Trust me, one bite of these deep fried spring rolls and you’ll be hooked…forever.
Thai Food Entrees in Thailand
There’s nothing quite like experiencing Thai food in the place where it originated. From flavorful curries to spicy street food, Thailand has a main dish to satisfy any traveler’s needs. In particular, pad thai is one of the most delicious Thai dishes that every tourist must try on-site.
But pad thai is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Thai food in Thailand. So, whether you’re a seasoned solo traveler or just a curious foodie, Thailand is the perfect place to indulge in a culinary adventure that you’ll never forget.
Isn’t it pretty? 😍 There’s nothing like a gorgeous dish piled high with pad thai to get the stomach growling (pictured below).
This world-famous fried noodle dish is among the best Thai food in Thailand. It’s also the #1 popular dish among tourists – no surprise there.
Pad thai is a classic in Thai cuisine and can be found all over the country – and the world. This delectable noodle dish is made with fried rice noodles, eggs, tofu, bean sprouts and your choice of meat or seafood. It’s completed with a savory sauce made from tamarind paste, oyster sauce, fish sauce and palm sugar. Lastly, it’s topped off with peanuts, lime wedges and chili flakes to give it that extra special kick.
In additional to being served in basically every restaurant, pad thai is a popular street food in Thailand. It’s also one of the best Thai dishes for beginners to make at home. We made it in our Chiang Mai cooking class with Mama Noi Cooking School back in 2019.
💡 Did you KNow?
Did you know that pad thai is the national dish of Thailand and the most famous Bangkok food? Just another reason to eat your fill of pad thai while traveling through Thailand!
Khao Pad (Thai Fried Rice)
Let’s talk about one of my all-time favorite Thailand dishes – khao pad, or Thai fried rice.
As a lover of Thailand cuisine, this particular fried rice dish has a special place in my heart (and stomach). The flavorful combination of rice, vegetables, eggs and a kick of spices all come together to create a mouthwatering dish that seriously filling and super satisfying. One of the best things about Thai fried rice is how versatile it is. You can add chicken, shrimp, or keep it vegetarian and it will still taste incredible.
If you’re a fan of Thai food or fried rice, I highly recommend giving this dish a try. It’s also the perfect dish to pig out on before a night of binge drinking. No hangover? You’re welcome.
Khao Pad Sapparod (Pineapple Fried Rice)
Are you a fan of sweet and savory flavor combinations?
If the answer is “hell yes,” then you need to try khao pad sapparod, also known as pineapple fried rice.
This famous food in Thailand combines the tropical sweetness of ripe pineapple with fragrant rice, stir fried vegetables and chicken (or tofu) in a delicious blend of spices. The vibrant combination of colors with the golden rice, red and green peppers and chunks of juicy pineapple ensure that this dish is both visually stunning and tasty.
Are you ready for the best part? It’s usually served in a hollowed-out, half pineapple! Talk about Insta-friendly foods.
Hor Mok Ma Prow Awn (Seafood Coconut Curry)
If you’re searching for the perfect Thai dish for a gal on vacation, hor mok ma prow awn, or seafood coconut curry, is the way to go.
This spicy and creamy Thai curry showcases all the culinary wonders of Thailand in one dish. It’s usually made with fresh seafood, coconut milk and a medley of Thai herbs and spices. No wonder why hor mok ma prow awn is one of the most beloved recipes in the country!
Hor mok ma prow awn is typically served hot and steaming with a side of fragrant jasmine rice. Whether you’re actually visiting Thailand or just craving an exotic twist in your dinner menu, Thai seafood coconut curry is a must-try dish on the list of the best Thai food in Thailand.
This particular coconut bowl of hor mok ma prow awn was enjoyed in Ao Nang during one of the best meals I ever had in Thailand. If you’re headed to Krabi, a visit to Tom Ma Yom restaurant is a must. Order the green curry, seafood coconut curry, fried minced pork with basil and spicy papaya salad for a meal that won’t soon be forgotten.
Pad Woon Sen (Stir-Fried Glass Noodles)
If you’re a fan of stir-fried noodles (I mean seriously…who isn’t?), then pad woon sen should definitely be on your list of Thai food to try in Thailand.
This Thai dish features glass noodles, also known as cellophane noodles, that are made from mung beans. They have a delightful chewiness that pairs perfectly with the crispy vegetables and tender slices of meat that make up the bulk of this famous food of Thailand.
The glass noodles soak up all the flavors of the fragrant garlic and savory soy sauce, giving each bite a burst of savory deliciousness. It’s no wonder that pad woon sen is a popular option in Thai restaurants around the world. Give it a try on your next Thailand vacay and see for yourself why it’s loved by so many.
Pad Kra Pao Moo (Holy Basil Stir-Fry with Pork)
Pad kra pao moo, also known as holy basil stir-fry with pork, is an easy-to-make and nationally-loved Thai food in Thailand.
The key ingredient here is the holy basil, which gives pad kra pao moo its distinct aroma and taste. The dish is made with minced pork that’s stir-fried with garlic, chilies and soy sauce, then tossed with holy basil leaves. It’s a quick and simple recipe that packs a punch in the taste department.
Unfortunately, it’s not always served with rice in the shape of a bear. This was a special little touch added by Tikky Cafe in Chiang Mai.
Kai Jeow (Thai Omelette)
Have you ever had a kai jeow Thai omelette for breakfast in Thailand? If not, you’re missing out on an egg-cellent treat! 😜
This dish is a staple in Thai cuisine and frequently enjoyed for breakfast across the country. The omelette is made with eggs, fish sauce and soy sauce and is typically served over a bed of rice. Sometimes kai jeow includes vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and chili peppers, but in my experience it’s usually served without.
Although kai jeow is less saturated in the flavor department than the other Thai entrees on this list, it’s a simple and healthy way to start a beautiful day in Thailand. It’s also extremely budget-friendly!
Thai curries are a true delight to the senses. From the slightly sweet and peanutty flavor of Panang curry to the subtle heat and herbaceousness of green curry, for me, each bowl is nostalgic of the bustling streets of Bangkok.
Internationally, Indian curry tends to be the more popular option for curry-lovers. And, although I’d never turn down a steaming bowl of butter chicken, I actually prefer Thai curries for their coconut milk base. This gives Thai curry a richer, sweeter flavor compared to Indian curry, which uses yogurt or cream. Additionally, the spices used in Indian curry tend to be much harsher and more of a challenge to the taste buds.
Not only are Thai curries delicious, but they’re also a great way to incorporate a variety of vegetables and spices into your diet. So go ahead, grab a spoon and dive into the wonderful world of curry in Thailand.
Gaeng Panang (Panang Curry)
This creamy and spicy Thai curry dish is made with panang curry paste, which adds a unique and complex flavor to the dish. The curry typically includes chicken or beef, kaffir lime leaves, peanuts and coconut milk. Locally, it’s known as gaeng panang and it’s a staple in many Thailand households.
One bite of this rich and flavorful dish, and you’ll understand why panang curry has become so popular around the world. Whether you’re a fan of spicy food or simply looking to try something new, panang curry is definitely worth a taste on your tour of Thai food in Thailand.
💅 Pro Tip for Eating Thai Curry in Thailand:
Never order shrimp curry and attempt to eat it with a freshly done white manicure. Your nails WILL turn yellow immediately.
Gaeng Daeng (Red Curry)
Gaeng daeng, also known as red curry, is another of Thailand’s ridiculously delicious curry specialties.
Red curry is famous for its spicy and aromatic combination of flavors. The secret behind its distinct taste lies in the red curry paste, which is made up of a specific blend of fragrant herbs and spices. Whether made with chicken, beef or tofu, gaeng daeng is a perfect hearty meal for dinner in Thailand. For those who love a little spice in their meals, gaeng daeng is an excellent choice that will definitely leave you wanting more.
And babe, you’re on vacation – so have more 😉
Gaeng Keow Wan (Green Curry)
Gaeng keow wan, more commonly known as green curry, is a true representation of the perfect balance of flavors Thai cuisine is known for. After panang curry, green curry is my second favorite of the Thai curry quartet.
Thai green curry is made using green curry paste. This is a blend of aromatic herbs and spices like lemongrass, green chilies, kaffir lime leaves and galangal. These ingredients come together to create a spicy, tangy and slightly sweet paste that is then cooked with coconut milk and your choice of meat or vegetables. The result is a creamy, flavorful, and fragrant curry that is enjoyed by millions across Thailand and the world.
The bowl of green curry shown below was enjoyed at one of Bangkok’s most “charming” themed restaurants – Cabbages & Condoms. Seriously – look it up. It’s hilarious.
Kaeng Kari (Yellow Curry)
Kaeng Kari, yellow curry, is a flavorful Thai dish that won’t set your mouth on fire.
This curry is the mildest of all the Thai curries, perfect for those who want to experience the unique flavors of Thai cuisine without overwhelming their taste buds. Made with a blend of traditional spices and coconut milk, Kaeng Kari is a comforting Thai meal that is easy to make and always satisfying.
Thai Desserts in Thailand
If you have ever had the pleasure of trying Thai desserts, then you know that they are a sweet and satisfying way to end any meal.
From the classic mango sticky rice to the more adventurous flavors of durian, Thai desserts offer a wide array of textures and flavors. One of the reasons why Thai desserts have become so popular is because they often use ingredients like coconut milk, pandan leaves and palm sugar – which give them a distinct, tropical taste.
Usually, when it comes to dessert, I’m on a strict “chocolate-only” diet. However, I fell head over heels in love with a few classic desserts during my time in Thailand. Keep reading for my favorite Thai food in Thailand to indulge your sweet tooth!
Kao Niew Ma Muang (Mango Sticky Rice)
Kao niew ma muang, better known as mango sticky rice, is a delightful combination of warm, sweet and sticky rice soaked in succulent coconut milk and topped with juicy, fresh mango slices. It provides a unique texture and flavor you won’t find in any ordinary dessert.
The sticky rice and mango slices are complemented with a dash of sesame seeds, a side of coconut cream and sometimes roasted cashews, making for a delicious treat that is best enjoyed on warm evenings (which are not hard to find in Thailand). If you’re looking to indulge in a satisfying dessert after a long day of sightseeing, be sure to try out this traditional Thai staple.
This mango sticky rice presentation – by Tikky Cafe in Chiang Mai – was one of the best I’ve seen in Thailand. We love an edible flour!
Banana Roti (Pancake)
Get ready to dive into a savory and sweet explosion of flavors with one of Thailand’s favorite street desserts – banana roti! Also known as a “Thai Pancake,” you’ll find roti available in almost every street food market in Thailand.
This traditional Thai pancake is made with lightly fried dough and stuffed with slices of ripe banana. Roti is typically served hot and drizzled with condensed milk or caramel syrup. It’s the perfect indulgence for breakfast or dessert in Thailand.
Most roti stands will offer a wide variety of fillings – not just banana. You can usually find flavors like chocolate, nutella, peanut butter, coconut and cheese.
Cha Yen (Thai Tea)
Some would consider cha yen an everyday drink instead of a Thai dessert. However, this traditional Thai beverage is so sweet I felt inclined to include it on this list.
This unique tea hails from Thailand and is made with a blend of black tea, spices and sweetened condensed milk. The result is a vibrant orange drink that is both sweet and creamy. The addition of condensed milk not only gives the tea its signature taste but also softens the tea’s bitterness. Cha yen is not only a popular drink in Thailand, its sold and consumed all over the world.
Careful: more than one Thai tea might throw you into sweetness overload.
Thai Street Food in Thailand
Thailand is a food lover’s paradise, especially when it comes to the country’s thriving street food scene.
Thailand street food is a staple in Thai cuisine history, and is an experience everyone must indulge in when visiting. From Bangkok’s vibrant street markets to the laid-back beach towns of the south, there are countless opportunities to satisfy your cravings for authentic Thai cuisine on the streets.
Street food markets are lined with vendors selling freshly-made pad thai, grilled meat skewers, noodle soups, fresh fruit smoothies, sweet roti and more. The delicious aromas of steaming hot food linger around every corner, tempting taste buds and beckoning hungry travelers.
🥭 My Favorite Street Food Markets in Thailand
Must-Try Street Food Favorites in Thailand
- Mookata Thai BBQ – BBQ pork
- Miscellaneous meat and seafood skewers
- Thai coconut ice cream
- Takoyaki – seafood grilled in wheat batter (this is technically Japanese, but you can find it in street food markets all over Thailand)
- Fried quail eggs on a stick
- Stir-fried noodle dishes like pad thai
- Fried rice dishes
- Fresh and fried Thai spring rolls
- Fried squid eggs and octopus
- Khanom khai nok kratha – deep fried potato dough balls
- Fresh fruit smoothies
- Rolled ice cream
- Assorted Thai-style sushi
Whether you’re dining in 5-star restaurants or forking over $1 for street food, getting a taste of true Thai food in Thailand is truly a mouthwatering experience.
There’s something for everyone in this beautiful country! The combination of spicy soups, savory stir-fried noodles, sticky desserts, fresh seafood and savory meats is simply irresistible to travelers. After indulging in the local cuisine, you’ll quickly understand why Thai food is internationally beloved.
If you find yourself in Thailand anytime soon, make sure to savor every single bite!
Thai Food in Thailand FAQs:
The most popular Thai food in Thailand is Pad Thai, a stir-fried noodle dish made with egg, tofu, shrimp and/or other protein sources such as chicken or beef. It is typically flavored with fish sauce, tamarind sauce and palm sugar and often served with lime wedges on the side. Other popular dishes include Tom Yum soup (a spicy sour soup made of lemongrass) and Green Curry (a coconut milk based curry). Additionally, street food like Pad Kra Pao (stir-fried minced pork), Kao Niew Ma Muang (mango sticky rice) and Khao Pad (Thai fried rice) are widely enjoyed throughout the country.
Yes, Thai food in Thailand is generally considered to be healthy. Many dishes use fresh ingredients and feature a balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavors. Traditional Thai dishes are also typically prepared with less oil than other cuisines. Furthermore, the wide variety of street food options provides access to affordable, nutritious meals made with locally-sourced ingredients. With mindful eating habits and portion control, street food can be an enjoyable and healthy way to enjoy traditional Thai cuisine.
Thai Food is from Thailand, not Taiwan. Thai cuisine has been developed over centuries to include a unique blend of flavors and cooking techniques, making it one of the most popular cuisines in the world.
Yes, Pad Thai is a very popular dish in Thailand. It’s the national dish of Thailand and is widely available throughout the country – both in restaurants and street food markets.
When it comes to food, it’s best to avoid eating anything that is raw or undercooked. You should also be careful about eating shellfish or meat served at room temperature, since the risk of bacterial contamination is higher. Other dishes like deep-fried insects (in my opinion…🤮), fermented fish sauce (pla ra) and spicy salads may not agree with some travelers’ stomachs. Additionally, if you have dietary restrictions or allergies, make sure to tell your server ahead of time so they can accommodate your needs (you may need a handy translator app for this – depending on where you’re visiting).
Thai food in Thailand is full of delicious and culturally unique flavors. Dishes range from sweet and sour to salty and spicy (or very spicy). Most dishes feature rice – whether that’s in the traditional form, in noodle form or in rice paper form. Thai curries are also wildly popular in Thailand, but they are often richer and sweeter than Indian curries, since they are made with coconut milk vs. cream or yogurt.
Long story short – Thai food in Thailand is unbelievably delicious and excitingly diverse.
No, it is not rude to leave food in Thailand. In fact, leaving a bit of food on your plate at the end of a meal is considered polite. It shows that you were served plenty of food and that you enjoyed the meal. And, let’s be honest, when it’s Thai food on your plate, how could you not?
Yes, the street food in Thailand is generally safe to eat. Most of the food is cooked quickly and served hot, meaning harmful bacteria won’t have time to multiply. I spent two months in Thailand eating street food for almost every meal and I never got sick. Just watch out for any dubious-looking establishments and stay away from street popsicles (long story…).
American Thai food tends to be sweeter and spicier than traditional Thai food in Thailand. Generally speaking, authentic Thai cuisine is made with a balance of salty, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors. Additionally, the ingredients commonly used in American Thai restaurants – such as bell peppers or broccoli – are rarely seen on menus in Thailand. Lastly, dishes from America usually include more sauce than food in Thailand – making them oilier and creamier than one would find in a local restaurant in Thailand.
If you’re looking for traditional Thai cuisine beyond Pad Thai, consider ordering dishes like Tom Yum Soup (a spicy, sour soup with shrimp and mushrooms), Gaeng Daeng (Thai curry) or Som Tam (papaya salad). And don’t forget the dessert! Finish off your meal with a generous helping of delicious Kao Niew Ma Muang (mango sticky rice).
If you enjoyed this guide to Thai food in Thailand, you may enjoy my related Thailand travel guides below. And be sure to follow along for the adventure on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps. See you soon!