I’ve observed a lot of people tend to eat the same things over and over when they visit Thailand (PAD THAI ANYONE??). This makes sense: a lot of the restaurants catered to tourists feature the same items on the menu and a lot of tourists are absolute pussies about spicy food.
Now, I’m not especially adventurous when it comes to food — keep your deep-fried water bugs FAR AWAY FROM ME. And your chicken feet, live shrimps, and congealed pig’s blood for that matter. But. I have explored a bit in the past 2.5 non-consecutive years of living here.
So here are my favorite Thai foods you’ve probably never tried.
Thai soups and apps
Khao tom gai / Chicken and rice soup – Rice and usually chicken (or pork) meatballs in a soup. Simple and tasty.
Bamee moo daeng / Red pork noodle soup – A few slices of red [white meat] pork, egg noodles, bok choy, sometimes wontons, in a clear broth.
Jim jum / shabu shabu / Hot pot – Oo this one’s fun. You’ll see a bunch of people sitting around steaming clay pots or a massive outdoor restaurant with people sitting over mini steaming hot pots and that’s how you know. Every place does the set up a little differently but the idea is you get a bunch of ingredients and you put them into the broth or on a grill, or both, and cook it all yourself. Then you eat it.
Tom jeau salay / Seaweed soup – Clear soup with seaweed, silken egg tofu, and usually pork meatballs but I like foregoing the pork and adding rice noodles instead.
Guay tiaow gai / Chicken noodle soup – Rice noodles and chicken! Sometimes comes with congealed blood but I’m not crazy about that bit.
Gang hed / Mushroom soup – One of Thailand’s few dishes that naturally doesn’t have meat in it. Usually different types of mushrooms, pumpkin, and Thai eggplant.
Sukiyaki (soup) – Glass noodles, morning glory, cabbage, meat, egg in a broth with sukiyaki flavoring. You could also get the “dry” version which is stir-fried instead but I prefer soup because I love soup.
Bla pao / Salted grilled fish – Fish stuffed with lemongrass and other spices and salted. Grilled to tenderness and served with spicy sauces and sticky rice.
Gai yang or gai tod gap khao niaow / Grilled or fried chicken with sticky rice – Eat it northern Thai style with som tam and the best sauce ever, nam jim jayo.
Moo tod nam jim jao / Fried pork and spicy sauce – Marinated, sundried, and deep-fried pork served with the best spicy sauce ever. The meat is like jerky – it’s really good.
Gai pat pongaree / Yellow curry chicken – Made creamy with an egg added to the sauce.
Pak boong / Stir-fried morning glory – Vegetarians rejoice: you aren’t stuck with just pad pak ruam (stir-fried mixed vegetables)! There’s also this dish!
Durian – King of fruits. Everyone says it’s stinky and tastes like garbage and I’m over here like okay fine more for me. Durian’s delicious. It’s creamy and sweet. Now I want some just writing about it.
Mankut / Mangosteen – Queen of fruits. I already wrote an ode to mangosteen, you can read it here.
Khanun / Jackfruit – I prefer mine raw and uncooked. It tastes and smells like juicy fruit gum.
Sawarot / Passion fruit – Thais like to put salt on it to cut the sourness but I forego the salt for the full effect.
Gang buad fuktong / Pumpkin in coconut syrup – You would think the richness of pumpkin AND coconut at the same time would be too much but it’s not.
Khanom khrok / Mini coconut pancakes – You can find these little guys freshly cooked at night markets. Sweet, spongy, coconutty.
Sang kaya fuk tong / Pumpkin filled with custard – Like Thai pumpkin pie.
Things that are more mainstream that I still love
You’ll see these items on menus in more Westernized restaurants. I really hate most things on the tourist menus (not because I consider myself too good for it or anything but because I’m sick of eating it) but these ones still get me going. I recommend trying them Thai style, in a non-Westernized restaurant if you get the chance because you’ll find some are prepared totally differently.
Khao niaow mamuang / Mango sticky rice – Tried and true. Can’t miss this if you visit Thailand. PS the coconut sauce should be a bit salty!
Pa pia sod / Fresh spring rolls – You can also get them fried but I prefer the fresh ones. They come with a dipping sauce which differs depending on the restaurant but usually includes sweet chili sauce and peanuts in some form.
Som tam Thai / Papaya salad – Your best bet for an authentic version is to find someone with a mortar and pestle serving this on the street. I find the Westernized version lacks a certain punch.
Panang curry – All the other curries live in the shadow of Panang curry. Easily the best curry. Less soupy and less sweet than the others.
Thai food other farang get wet over (not me)
Here are some popular Thai foods other farang get really excited about that I’m just not into. You might like these dishes.
Khao soi / Northern style coconut curry chicken noodle soup – My god do foreigners nut over this dish. Too sweet and heavy for me.
Giaew wan / Green curry – The Thai name says it all: “green sweet”. Green curry is just too sweet and heavy for my liking.
Pad Thai – I used to eat it every now and then and sort of enjoy it but nowadays I avoid pad Thai as much as possible. I’m just sick of it.
Khao pad gai / Chicken fried rice – It’s boring and tasteless. Yawn.
Okay, what did I miss?? What are your favorite lesser-known Thai dishes?
More on Thai food, hand-picked by me
Thai Food: Stuff That’s Not So Awesome, by me in 2013
A list of very basic Thai food from Goats on the Road
Types of Thai noodles for beginners by the High Heel Gourmet
100 Thai Dishes to Eat in Bangkok from Migrationology, my favorite Asian food blogger