If you haven’t been to Thailand, chances are at least a part of Thailand has come to you. There aren’t too many places where there isn’t at least one Thai restaurant, and these days, dishes such as Pad Thai and Tom Yam are almost commonplace. But these dishes, as wonderful as they are, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Thai cuisine. It has exciting regional variations that reflect the very different environments and ingredients from each province.
And traveling to Thailand itself is the only real way to truly discover the breadth of Thai cooking.
The Central: Traditional Tom Yam
The popular hot and sour soup, Tom Yam, is a central region staple, and these dishes are complemented with tangy salads. The Chinese influence is strong here, with noodles playing a big part in many dishes such as the well-known fried noodles with crabmeat coming from Chanthaburi, located on the Cambodian border.
The Mountainous North: From Sticky Rice to Curried Pork
The Thai kingdom grew out of its mountainous northern region. The altitude and coolness means vegetables are always in great supply. And for carb lovers, sticky rice prevails in this region, often rolled into balls and served with spicy dipping sauces or a papaya salad. Bordering Myanmar and Laos exert some influence, with curried pork and egg noodles remaining hugely popular. Sausages made with garlic and chili is another strong regional favorite.
The Northeast: Green Papaya Salad
Laos and Cambodia also heavily influence the remote and agricultural northeast. Green papaya salad is perhaps the region’s most famous dish, made with dried shrimp and tomatoes. Another variant uses freshwater crab, and in most dishes, the chili component is ramped up, so be sure to request plenty of sticky rice.
The South: Seafood and Indian Influence
The Indian influence is in effect here, along with Chinese dishes of thin rice noodles. Seafood is in abundance – from lobsters and crab to mussels and squid – all of which are present in the region’s curries and salads. Kaeng tai pla is the go-to curry, a hot and spicy mix of fish, green beans and bamboo shoots. Roti, similar to an Indian flatbread, is often served as a side dish, or presented with pork or vegetables as a meal in itself.
Don’t Leave Without Trying These Dishes…
Not yet hungry enough from all this talk about Thai food? Check out Vacation’s short list of favorite dishes…
Som Tam: This papaya salad dish may appear on most Thai menus, but don’t assume that this makes it boring. There are subtle variations weaving in seafood and vegetables and varying levels of spice.
Guay Teow: You’ll see everyone from cab drivers to office workers hunched over steaming bowls of quay teow along every street. Join them and order this classic noodle soup, where you get to pick the ingredients, and the type of noodle.
Thai Desserts: Asia isn’t known for its sweet dishes, but you can’t leave Thailand without eating mango sticky rice or the tasty fried bananas found at restaurants and street stalls alike.
Vacation Expert Tip: Eat Where the Top Thai Chefs Dine
Krau Apsorn: It looks like a neighborhood cafe, but the menu is meticulous in its freshness and quality. And this secret Bangkok restaurant is located on Samsen Road – home to several restaurants that are busy especially during lunch time. Why? Because local office workers know the stir-fried yellow chili crabmeat and Southern-Style yellow curry with lotus stems and shrimp are well worth the wait.
Markets: If you ask the locals for advice on the best way to explore the country’s ingredients, they’ll recommend for you to put your nose into a market stall and breath in the flavors. We recommend the Dipnoan Saduak in Bangkok or the night bazaar in Chiang Mai for the most authentic experiences.
Wherever you choose to eat, the most important thing to remember is to be bold and venture beyond the standard Thai fare – there’s a whole world of fish curries, piquant soups and spicy salads just waiting to be discovered!
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