There are ample reasons why Thailand is such a delight for foodies. Whether it’s a wholesome bowl of kuay tiao noodles, a satisfying massaman curry or a simple chicken satay on a stick, there are countless fabulous Thai dishes to choose from. And with so many quality Thai restaurants now open in the UK and Ireland, it’s easier than ever to get your Thai fix when you are away from the Land of Smiles. Here is a quick guide to some of the most famous dishes associated with each region of Thailand.
Bangkok and central Thailand
You can find dishes from all regions of Thailand in Bangkok, but there are also some well-known local favourites which are associated with the Thai capital and the central provinces of the country. Classic Thai dishes from the central region include tom yam kung (spicy shrimp soup), tom kha gai (chicken in coconut milk soup) and the ever-popular kaeng khiao wan (green curry).
Kaeng khiao wan (green curry)
A number of different ingredients can go into a classic sweet green curry with versions including chicken, pork or beef. Add in a sprinkling of pea aubergines, a generous portion of coconut cream, a splash of fish sauce and the all important curry paste. Garnish with a handful of basil leaves and chillies and you have one of Thailand’s signature dishes. Green curry may originate from the central region, but is popular throughout Thailand and you will find it on the menu of restaurants across the country.
Learn how to make an authentic Thai green curry with this recipe and video
The north of Thailand was once the separate kingdom of Lanna and this region has its own unique culinary heritage that draws on influences from Burma, Laos and southern China.
If there is one dish above all other that is associated with north Thailand, it has to be khao soi. This is a wonderful concoction of soft egg noodles served in a curry broth together with a choice of chicken, pork or beef and topped with crispy fried noodles. If you’re heading to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son, khao soi is a must-try dish. At around 40 Baht for a bowl, this is a cheap and filling lunchtime favourite for many locals in north Thailand.
Try this khao soi recipe at home
In a country which is famous for spicy food, the north-east region of Isaan has a reputation for taking the spiciness to the next level. Of all the dishes that can be found in north-east Thailand, som tam is the most famous.
When you try this chilli-packed papaya salad for the first time, it can be overwhelming. Although som tam originates from Isaan, it can be found all over Thailand. Look for hawker stalls with a mortar and pestle and there’s a good chance they’ll be selling som tam. Unripe green papaya is at the heart of the dish and is mixed with a number of other ingredients including chillies, green beans, peanuts, dried shrimps, lime juice and tomatoes. It’s a simple dish with a rustic preparation that results in an explosion of flavours: sour, spicy, sweet, sour. For the perfect accompaniment to som tam, order it with gai yang (grilled chicken) and khao niao (sticky rice) for a classic Thai food combination.
Try this delicious som tam recipe if you’re missing Thailand
Southern Thailand: Gulf Coast
With the south of Thailand home to a long coastline and an abundance of coconut plantations, it’s no surprise that seafood and coconuts should feature so prominently in southern Thai cooking. If you visit Ko Samui or the Gulf Coast of Thailand you’ll see plenty of delicious seafood on the menu. If you’re feeling adventurous, look out too for the local southern dishes which don’t hold back on the curry paste and chillies.
This sour and spicy yellow-orange soup will tantalise those taste-buds. One of the most popular dishes in the south of Thailand, kaeng som is a mix of fish, curry paste, turmeric, bamboo shoots and green papaya. Kaeng som is a go-to dish for many southern Thais and one worth sampling if you are looking for authentic regional dishes.
Southern Thailand: Andaman Coast
The Andaman Coast region of Southern Thailand is a mix of cultures with a long history of migration from other areas of Asia. This is reflected in the diversity of the food of the region which draws on influences from China, India and Malaysia. Visitors to the Andaman Coast provinces will find a wonderful array of dishes to taste. From Chinese-style Hokkien noodles in Phuket to moo yang (crispy pork) in Trang, the local food tends to be less spicy than other areas of Thailand. And if you have a sweet tooth, the ubiquitous roti is one dish that is universally popular with visitors heading to the southern beach resorts.
Roti (Thai pancakes)
Originally introduced to Thailand by Indian immigrants, the roti can be eaten as a dessert with a sweet filling or served plain as an accompaniment to savoury curry dishes. Watching a roti being made as you wait is all part of the experience as the vendor skilfully rolls and stretches the dough. Roti carts often set up in towns and cities in the early evening alongside other food carts, but at the southern Thai beach resorts you will often see them in the daytime too. Popular fillings and toppings include banana, mango, peanut butter or chocolate. Topped with condensed milk and sugar it’s a deliciously decadent treat that will only set you back around 20 Baht.