Thai Cuisine: Top Mouthwatering Dishes to Try While in Thailand
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Eating in a foreign country can be intimidating enough. If you happen to be wandering around Thailand, the intimidation factor is exasperated by how spicy they like their food. For most tourists in Thailand, there’s always a safe choice: Pad Thai. A noodle dish made of chicken and a variety of vegetable; it is customizable for the customer and can be intensely spicy or mild and sweet.
It’s very delicious and you can easily get ‘trapped’ into eating this meal every day during your stay in Thailand. Though I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing (because it isn’t, Pad Thai is life) it does hamper your potential culinary experience.
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One of my favorite things to do in a new city is to do a little research on the top five famous dishes in the area. Then write them all down on a piece of paper.
So when you get to your hotel, have the staff write out the names of these dishes in the native language. Ask your waiter at the next restaurant you go to for one of these dishes. Nine times out of ten, the restaurant you choose will serve a variation of this dish.
Another tactic is to wander the street markets in search of each dish. Street markets tend to be a cheap way to try tons of different foods within a couple of nights. Below is a list of my top five dishes I think you should really consider trying:
Gaeng Hang Lay-Northern Thai Dry Pork Curry
Gaeng Hang Lay is far and away one of my favorite curries in the world. A specialty in the northern territories of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, it is synonymous with authentic, unique regional Thai food. Gaeng Hang Lay is a cross between sharply-flavored Thai food and saucy Burmese Hindu food.
They marinate the pork in the curry spices and sear the meat “dry” in a pan without any sauce. Once the meat has a nice sear on it, they add a little Thai liquid nectar in the form of coconut milk and simmer for a couple of hours. When you eat the pork, it will have a nice, firm texture to it from searing the meat but be tender enough to pull apart with your fork. Pork curry is usually served with Thai sticky rice.
Sai Ua-Chiang Mai Sausage
Sai Ua is another northern regional dish famous for its bright flavors. Found throughout the Chiang Mai district of Thailand and parts of northeastern Burma, it is one of my favorite street foods in all of Thailand.
The sausage is made from rich and fatty pork pieces, kaffir lime leaves, plenty of lemongrass, and a delicate balance of galangal (Asian ginger). You can find this delicacy at many street vendors, but my favorite is from Sai Ua specialty shops. They are tiny whole-in-the-wall butcher shops specializing in one thing: Chiang Mai Sausage.
You usually order in 1/2 kilo increments, or just a couple links shoved onto a stick and grilled. Many dinners of mine consisted of a couple of sticks of Chiang Mai sausage and mango sticky rice.
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Massaman Curry is a dish that surprises me that it isn’t more wide-spread. It is a remarkably famous dish and considered to be consistently ranked in the top 10 most delicious dishes in the world (50 most delicious dishes) by CNN. But why isn’t it more wide-spread?
The answer to that question is simple-it is usually in the shadow of Pad Thai. Thai food is packed with flavor, and its influence has spread throughout the world. Pad Thai and Massaman Curry were both created in the same time-period in Thailand, but since Pad Thai is considered one of Thailand’s national dishes, Massaman Curry gets a back seat.
Massaman is made by a variety of spices and a blend of peanuts that gives it a smooth texture. There is usually potatoes, vegetables, meat, and crunchy peanuts on top. Massaman truly is the king of all curries.
Gai Tod-Thai Fried Chicken
I am convinced that Thai fried chicken is one of the world's best fried chicken dishes. It is prepared simply, tastes clean, and has a fragrance about it that you don’t get from any other fried chicken.
Thai Fried Chicken is usually pretty straight-forward. They marinate chicken thighs and legs in soy sauce, various spices and herbs, and a little fish sauce for umami. Then they dip the chicken in a thin batter of rice flour, salt, and whatever else they throw into it. Some places even add an extra layer of crunchiness by dipping it in seasoned rice flour.
Not only does Thai Fried Chicken seem to have a more tightly bound crust on the chicken, but they also cook the chicken in a vat of oil alongside various herbs like lemongrass and kaffir lime. Frying the chicken this way gives it a remarkable fragrance and aroma.
Pad Krapao (Fried Holy Basil Pork Stir-Fry)
Pad Krapao has been my go-to Thai breakfast for many years now. It is fried pork or chicken mixed with Thai chiles and herbs and mixed with crunchy fried basil leaves. The best part of Pad Krapao is that they cook the basil leaves in the oil before they add everything else into the pot. Frying the basil beforehand infuses the oil with delicious flavors you can’t get any other way.
Pad Krapao is usually served with steamed rice and a fried egg alongside your sautéed meat. The perfect burst of flavors for breakfast in a country well-known for incredible food. Pair it with Thailand’s famous iced coffee or one of their large selections smoothies.
Here is a recipe if you want to try making this delicious dish at home! It can be pretty hard trying to find holy basil in America, but any basil is fine, though you won’t get the peppery flavor that holy basil lends this Pad Kra Pao-Thai Pork Stir-Fry recipe.
I’m aware that the above is not an exhaustive list but I hope that it’ll kickstart your love for Thai food. Plus, it’s also good to know that Thai people are ultra service-oriented and usually, try to give the customer what they want.
All in all, it is not hard finding a western meal anywhere in Thailand, but I highly recommend getting out of your comfort zone. Local food is generally half the price of western food and much more flavorful. After a few days, I wasn’t craving an omelet for breakfast or a burger for dinner. Instead, I was craving Pad Krapao or Thai Fried Chicken!
Want to learn how to whip up these scrumptious Thai dishes and many more? Sign yourself up for a culinary vacation in Thailand! Your taste buds and stomach will thank you for it.