The 6 Best Things to Eat in Thailand
If you think gorging on mango shakes and banana pancakes is where it’s at, you’ve still got a lot to discover. Here are the top six foods to try in Thailand whether you’re working at a school near mazes of fantastic restaurants in the alleys of bigger cities, or have just a few quiet local street markets to explore over your lunch break.
6. Pocket Toasties and other 7-Eleven Specialties
This is going to be controversial, but anyone who’s lived in Thailand for a stretch of time has succumbed to the temptation of the 7-Eleven pocket toasted sandwich. There is just nowhere else on earth that sells sandwiches with carbonara fillings, or has the guts (pun intended) to put cake, custard, and hot dogs into a sandwich form. Though it’s great as a quick carb-on-carb snack between classes, it’s really more of a 3AM meal best paired with something from the fried seaweed aisle or a nice bag of caramel cheese popcorn. For dessert look no further than the rainbow floss candy popsicles. Since 7-Elevens are just about everywhere, you can visit as much as your personal tastes and level of health will allow. It’s totally ok, and all the locals do it too.
5. Som Tam
Good Som Tam will be the spiciest thing you have ever experienced in your life. It will also be the food your colleagues are most likely to eat or bring with them to work daily and share.
It’s essentially a papaya salad with a bit of garlic and a lot of chili. If you can tear up with a smile, local friends will love you for it. If you can’t, the best way to get around Som Tam, to guarantee that you can eat it, is either to ask for the Farang version (the kind for foreigners) or to prepare it yourself. It is very healthy, not so difficult to make, and eating it is an act of solidarity. If you are female, be prepared for sexy jokes about how you handle a pestle. There is a well-known Thai joke that tells men to choose their wives based on the way they pound the ingredients.
4. Pad Kra Pao
Pad Kra Pao is the stuff that catches your olfactory sense from far away. It’s the dish that will force you to stop and eat somewhere you had intended to walk right by. The smell carries so far because it’s made from ground pork and basil, and the type of sweet basil used for cooking in Thailand is particularly pungent in a very delicious sort of way. Pad Kra Pao tastes like it smells. It is also usually one of the most inexpensive dishes sold at smaller local restaurants or in street stalls.
3. Pad Thai Hor Khai
This is the Thai food that you will be somewhat familiar with but mildly surprised by, because Thai people wrap their Pad Thai in an omelet and give you extra raw shoots, spring onions, and sugar packets on the side.
No one ever uses the sugar, but do use the extra veggies to add texture and if you have a peanut-or-no-peanut option and are free of allergies, then be sure to add a heaping teaspoon or so of those too. While you can get a good Pad Thai at some night markets, it’s best to get it on the street from someone who makes only Pad Thai every day and all day. Ask a local for whoever this is in your area.
2. Khao Niew Ma Muang (aka Sticky rice with Mango)
It’s a very simple mixture of coconut steamed sticky rice, a peeled and cut ripe mango, mung beans, and more coconut cream sauce. Just be suspicious of any seller that doesn’t top you off with the mung beans or tries to substitute condensed milk for extra coconut milk. That’s just shady. Also, don’t pay more than 80 baht ever. You can still get it for 50 somewhere in just about any city or town.
1. Khao Soi
Khao Soi is the Thai food that literally no one ever has not liked, and which most everyone will love. It’s the sort of solid bet food that you recommend both to your hippie entourage and to your intrepid grandma who is brave enough to make a Christmas visit.
It is basically two kinds of noodles, thick eggy ones and crunchy ones, thrown in a bowl with a thick savory coconut broth, chicken, and vegetables. The restaurant which claims to have invented the dish is in Chiang Mai, but you can find beautiful variations of it all over the country. The best of these are richer, browner, and a less oily, so beware if you’re handed a very orange or splashy serving. Khao Soi is often the highlight of the school lunch week in cafeterias, and frequently found at major stops if you take VIP buses between major hubs. Basically, every time you eat Khao Soi it is either a very special day or you are a very special person. It’s just that good.
If you don’t manage to try all these in your first days or weeks, take comfort in the fact that since you’ve come to Thailand almost everything you eat will be great anyway, but know also it will always be possible to venture out, just a bit, and to find some truly unique and wonderful meals.