YOU’VE NOT TASTED THAILAND UNTIL YOU’VE TRIED THESE DISHES…
Thailand is the land of smiles. And partly that’s because the people are so happy, and probably partly because they’ve just eaten something damn tasty. Thailand’s food is world-renowned, and the flavours and depth of dishes reflect the dramatic beauty and scenery of the country. Thailand, is colour, sweet, salty, savoury, spicy, and just…tropical! Some of the key flavours are lime juice, fish sauce, chili, garlic, lemongrass, coriander, sugar, and galangal.
There are so many great things about teaching, living, and travelling in Thailand, but food has to be up there. I just love it. So here we’ve picked our top five dishes that you have to try in Thailand, whether you’re there for a week or five years, these should be top of your ‘to try’ list. Each of these dishes I feel is an excellentt reflection of the five fundamental tastes of Thai cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty. Is your mouth watering yet?
1. Som Tam (Papaya Salad)
I hate salad. At least, I hate any salad that isn’t Thai. Thai salads can be served as appertisers, main courses, or desserts! But for me, a Thai meal isn’t complete without a beautiful, tangy papaya salad. Fresh ingredients like fish sauce, sugar, chili and lime are smushed together with a pestle and mortar, combined with sliced unripe papaya – tantalisingly sour and acidic, it meshes beautifully with the heat of the chilli and saltiness of the fish sauce. Light, refreshing, and healthy, this is one of the best things about life, and eating, in Thailand.
2. Pad Thai
Right now I’m based somewhere in Asia that’s not Thailand. And the idea of Pad Thai is making me seriously consider if I have enough money for a weekend trip. Seriously.
I’ve had this dish in Europe, and in Asia, and nowhere is it quite like it is in Thailand. Fat, thick noodles in a sticky sweet sauce, mixed veggies, chicken or shrimp, and peanuts all fried up in a boiling-hot wok. Then the finishing touch – they crack an egg over the top and let it fry until it’s just right. The mix of savoury, umami flavour is incredible, and unlike other street food dishes, this one is high in protein and keeps you full.
I remember the first time I visited Thailand. I was 18, on my own, and thoroughly culture-shocked. I’d never left Europe before, and I was stressed. I bought a Pad Thai from a guy on the street, he smiled, talked to me in English, made the dish the way I liked, and asked for my preferences. His kindness and that dish really put me at ease. I sat on the sidewalk and ate it, and then Thailand didn’t seem as scary. I’ve had a thousand since then in Thailand, and each one is unique, tasty, and reminds me of the first.
3. Geng Kheaw Wan (Green Curry)
If my first memory of Pad Thai is a little bittersweet, my memory of Green Curry is much better. Sitting on a beach in Koh Tao, empty, just on the tail end of sunset. I ordered a curry and a Singha, and went to work. It was HOT. I also had a bowl of sticky rice, and I poured fish sauce on it, thinking it was soy. That wasn’t so delicious. But the curry was.
The heady mix of spices, coconut milk, chicken, lemongrass, and bamboo shoots is something that always takes me back to Koh Tao. I still make this dish often, and once you get it down, it’s not so hard to replicate. Thai Green Curry isn’t a complex dish, but the flavour is rich and enthralling. It’s a simple dish, with depth. Thai culture was heavily influenced by India, and with a green curry, you can almost taste that history.
4. Tom Yam Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Shrimp is so characteristic of South East Asian, and Thai cuisine. There’s something about the briny, savoury flavour that goes so well with the flavourings that the Thai people have added over the centuries. It tastes of the beach! Tom Yam Goong is made with kefir lime leaves, herbs, and lemon grass. It’s an aromatic, warming dish, perfect for summer or winter to warm you up. If you’re stuck in England or the US and it’s a cold winter, make a Tom Yam Goong and get reminded of the tropical beaches of Hua Hin.
5. Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Soup)
If you’re not up for spice and have a sensitive stomach, maybe you should sub out the Tom Yum for Tom Kha Kai. Similar ingredients, without the spice and with extra coconut milk helps mellow out Tom Kha Kai. The result is a sweet, rich soup that has a lot of flavour without the need for a late night bathroom break (if you’re like me).
6. Thai Tea
Forget Singha or Chang, the best beverage in Thailand is the red Thai tea. Strong black tea, sometimes oolong, is mixed with star anise, cardamom, and tamarind. Then it’s topped with ice and milk, or condensed milk, and sugar. Weirdly, I had this one for the first time in Korea, not in Thailand. The first time I went to Thailand, I missed it entirely! Anyway, when I got back there I made it a regular drink…and yes, it was very different to the one I had in Korea, and the ones I’ve had in the UK too! Thai Tea is another example of the unique space Thailand operates in culinarily, mixing Indian cultural influence with indigenous Thai flavours, and South East Asian traditions. If you want to try making it yourself, then check out this recipe at Arbor Teas.