One of the many and perhaps the best thing about living in Thailand is the food. Thai people are genuinely proud of their national cuisine, as well they should be.
Distinct in Asia and perhaps even the world, every dish perfectly nails the balance of sweet, sour, spicy and bitter, truly making for a taste sensation.
We help you wrap your head (or tongue) around this explosion of flavours by giving you inside info and tips on what and how to eat while you’re here.
In order to strike that flavour balance, some staple ingredients are used time and again across the board. They include: chili, garlic, galangal or ginger, fish sauce or shrimp paste, lime, sugar and often lemongrass.
These either go in fresh or are bashed up and distilled down in a pestle and mortar, to make the paste for a “gaeng” – or curry base.
Meat and vegetable dishes are usually served with steamed jasmine rice.
Salads like “som tam” or “laab” usually come with sticky rice.
Noodle dishes are all mixed up together.
There’s rarely an occasion when Thais think a dish won’t be improved by whacking a fried egg on top. And, as usual, they’re right.
How To Eat It
In Thailand you don’t just order and eat your own dish. As with most Asian cultures, Thai food is ordered for the whole table so everyone can try a little of everything.
Always offer those sitting near you some of the dish near your elbow – pass things around, it’s a social affair.
Take a little rice and try some of that curry, then take a little more rice and try some “grapao”; when you’ve had a mouthful of that, hook some noodles onto your plate, and so on.
Thai people generally use a fork to manoeuvre a mouthful or morsel onto their spoon before chowing down.
Some use chopsticks but not as widely as in China, for example – it’s fine to ask for a fork… no one’s judging your abilities (or lack thereof!).
What To Eat
Unless you’re allergic or against eating something, try everything, especially if it looks delicious or if it’s been offered to you.
Beyond that, trying the specialty of the region is a great way to explore the diverse cultures within Thailand itself.
Down south they make particularly flavoursome and fiery yellow curries.
Up in Chiang Mai in the north they pride themselves on “Khao Soi”, a coconutty sauce with steamed and crispy noodles.
Isaan province in the northeast is famed for its “som tam” – a crispy and fresh papaya salad you can have a million different ways – and sausages packed with herbs and spices.
If you’re on an island (especially Koh Phangan, where fishing is still one of the main thriving industries), try the seafood grilled to perfection and dressed with garlic or chilli and ginger.
If you’re in Bangkok, you’ll find it’s all good.
A Word On Street Food
It may seem like everyone has a story about getting sick from street food, but cases are rarer than you’d expect.
Sampling street food is one of the most authentic ways to eat Thai food; it’s fresh and quick, outrageously cheap and there’s nothing quite like slurping a bowl of noodle soup sitting on a plastic chair by the roadside.
Give it a go!
Hungry? Tuck in and let us know your Thai food favourites! Meanwhile, if you’re in our neck of the woods and looking for somewhere to eat, check out our blog on eating out on Koh Phangan. And for more insider info on the good life in paradise, subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll even give you 5% off your next off-peak visit.