Before we decided on moving to Thailand, I’d eaten Thai food at restaurants quite a few times. But once we found out we were definitely going to be moving there, we got more interested in trying out the different foods that would be awaiting us upon our arrival. Living in London there are no shortages of good Thai restaurants and places to get Thai food, even pubs often have a Thai family working in basement serving up Thai food on demand.
As the date of departure drew closer, we could hardly wait to be in the land of green coconut curries and Pad Thai. However, upon arrival in Bangkok, we quickly realised that the Thai food served back home was the same in name only, and was really very different to what is served up on the streets and in restaurants around Thailand. At first I was a bit disappointed but it wasn’t long before the local versions of the dishes I’d been eating back home grew on me, and I discovered a whole host of other Thai food that I’d never even heard of. Here is some of the must-try dishes of Thailand that you won’t have had back home:
Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
This is the archetypal Thai dish and is immensely popular in Thailand. Despite being claimed by Lao, the Thai people have made it their own and added their own unique twist. Som Tam is a salad whose main ingredient is shredded unripe papaya. Sour lime, hot chilli and salty fish sauce are added to provide the distinctive taste and flavour of this dish.
While this might not sound all that impressive, this is a dish that has to been eaten to be understood. It is often served with grilled or deep fried chicken although it is just as often eaten as a single dish as part of a bigger Thai food meal. The fresh, crisply, zingy taste of this dish is the perfect antidote to the hot and humid weather of Thailand and is the ideal refreshment, no matter what the time of day. The only problem with this dish is that the Thais like to eat it very spicy so be warned!
Moo Grob (Crispy Pork)
This is a dish that can be served with rice or on its own. Sometimes the crispy pork belly is coupled with broccoli or Chinese kale. As the name suggests it is a slab of pork that is cooked to crispy perfection and often comes with a decent layer of crackling. This dish isn’t something you are likely to find back home, probably due to the potentially fatty nature of the pork and the simplicity of the dish. However, it is definitely something you should search out in Thailand, although you won’t have to look far! When cooked correctly the crunchiness of the crispy edges, combined with the succulently cooked pork meat is something that can’t be beat.
Khao Soi (Crisply Noodles in Curry Sauce)
This might be my favourite Thai dish but perhaps that is down to its short supply in Bangkok. As this is a Northern Thai dish, originating from Myanmar, it is more commonly found in the northern cities of Thailand such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. For just 30 baht ($1/65p) you can get a freshly cooked dish of deep-fried crisply noodles, boiled noodles, and meat of your choice, all covered in a coconut curry sauce, topped off with some pickled cabbage, chillies and lime. The curry sauce of the Khao Soi is similar to that of the Massaman curry but it isn’t quite a as thick, and the extra ingredients of the Khao Soi set it apart from the Massaman.
Despite not being served widely outside of Thailand, Loas and Myanmar, it is the Thai curry that reminds me most of the curries served in Thai restaurants back home, which is no bad thing. If you do find this dish outside of the North of Thailand, count yourself lucky as the places where it is served are few and far between down south.
Chicken with Cashew Nuts
Maybe I just didn’t notice this one back home but I’d never had it before coming to Thailand and I think it was one of the first dishes I ate upon arrival. Chicken with cashew nut is a staple dish and whenever you are presented with a strange menu of dishes such as blood tofu soup, pork intestines with rice or anything containing fermented meat, your get out of jail free card is chicken with cashew nuts or gai pad met ma muang.
The chicken is usually fried with a nice crisply coating and it is serviced with a variety of vegetables although common choices are peppers, onions and mushrooms. It isn’t often very spicy so it is also a safe dish if you want to keep your taste buds intact. Chicken with cashew nuts is closely related to the Chinese dish Kung Pao chicken but the Thais have given it their own distinctive interpretation.
Mango with Sticky Rice
I don’t recall any specific Thai desserts from back home but this is perhaps the most popular one served in Thailand, where it is called khao niaw ma muang. It might sound strange to have rice for dessert but the Thais have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner so why not? The mango and sticky rice are topped off with some sweet warm coconut milk sauce which brings everything together to create this perfect Thai dessert.
If I’ve missed any of your favourite Thai food from this post, please leave a comment below.