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40 Thai foods we can’t live without
Some iconic, some obscure, these are the dishes that make Bangkok one of the world’s finest eating cities
Given that one of the first things Thais ask each other when they meet up is "Have you eaten yet?" it’s clear this is a nation that’s extremely passionate about its eats. You want to know how good a Thai restaurant is? Don’t look at the menu, the décor or even the prices. Look at the number of people inside. That’s your quality indicator.
In celebration of Bangkok’s fantastic cuisine and the restaurants that have perfected it, we’ve rounded up 40 of the Thai dishes we couldn’t imagine living without. Some are world famous, others are more obscure, but they're all worth trying, at least once. If you've got your own favorite that we missed, let us know in the comments box below.
1. Tom Yum Gung
This Thai masterpiece soup is teeming with shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. It can be ordered loaded with coconut milk (tom yum gung nam kohn) and cream or without (tom yum gung nam sai) for a slightly more sour and healthy version. This soup truly unifies a host of favorite Thai tastes: sour, salty, spicy and sweet, all in one bowl. This is an authentic Thai delicacy that many locals are passionate about and has spread around the world.
Banana Leaf Restaurant serves all around delicious food, including great tom yum gung. Silom Complex basement floor, Silom Road, Bangkok. BTS: Saladaen. Open daily from 11am to 9.30 pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 231 3124.
2. Gang Som Pak Ruam
The Thai fusion of sweet, sour and spicy are all combined into another ultra vibrant soup. This soup base can be packed with vegetables like carrots, cabbage and green beans (pak ruam) or it can be served with a deep fried omelet made from eggs and a stringy green vegetable leaf (Thai acacia leaf) called cha om (gang som cha om kai).
Tart and explosive gang som soup is served at Arhan Isan Rod Dej Restaurant, located at 3/5-6 Thanon Rangnam Road, Ratchawithi. Opposite from King Power complex. Open from 11am to 10pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 246 4579
3. Gang Keow Wan
One of the most famous and sought after Thai dishes is Thai green curry. Green curry paste, coconut milk, bamboo shoots, chicken, Thai basil, Thai eggplant and the ever present herbs and roots of Thai cuisine (lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves etc), make this curry an unforgettable blend of delights. It is usually prepared quite soupy so a plate of rice is necessary to sop up every intricate drop.
Poi-sien Restaurant serves a vibrant green curry filled with all kinds of herbs and flavors. Soi Ratchawithi 6, Boonme Building. Open from about 10am to 10pm. Tel: +66 (0)84 527 5521
4. Panang Gai
Red curry paste fried up with chicken and then doused with coconut cream creates a succulent and spicy red curry. The dish is then served with finely chopped kaffir lime leaves sprinkled on top. Panang gai is a dish that if made correctly should explode with dynamic flavors as soon as it touches the tip of your tongue.
Poi-sien Restaurant also serves a divine panang gai. The thick coconut cream sauce is crafted to perfection and the lime leaf garnish is always fresh. Soi Ratchawithi 6, Boonme Building. Open from about 10am to 10pm. Tel +66 (0)84 527 5521
5. Gang Massaman
Massaman is a sweet curry that originates from Southern Thailand as a Halal dish. The curry sauce is a mixture of curry paste, coconut milk, a strong flavor of peanuts, and a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. Massaman is usually pre-made with chicken and always a few chunks of potatoes that have delightfully soaked up the coconut milk like a sponge.
Baan Ajarn Restaurant, 107/7-8 Soi Rangnam Rd, Phaya Thai, Ratchawithi. Open from 11am to 11pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 245 2775
6. Gai Pad Pongali
Chicken, onions, tomatoes and peppers are brought alive with a delicate Thai yellow curry paste. What makes the dish spectacular is the egg that is cracked into the dish to curdle and thicken all the ingredients. A generous portion of parsley is added for extra flavor and its unique taste.
Kun Su Restaurant, located on Phaya Thai, Soi Rangnam, across the street from Century Mall, fries up a light, less oily, and delicious pad pongali. Best to eat here for lunch, but open from 11am to 9 pm. Tel: +66 (0)81 883 5487, 081 666 2901
7. Gang Jued
One of the more healthy Thai foods is a clear vegetable soup filled with a combination of carrots, cabbage, onions, minced pork, tofu, glass noodles, and garnished with fresh parsley. Gang jued is a colorful medley of garden vegetables that compliments a spread of other dishes and can easily make up for the greasier ones.
Poi-sien Restaurant creates a perfect gang jued. Soi Ratchawithi 6, Boonme Building. Open from about 10am to 10pm. Tel: +66 (0)84 527 5521
8. Jim Jum
A fantastic way to relax over dinner is to enjoy Jim Jum with a few friends. A small clay pot filled with an outstanding porky aromatic broth sits over a bed of charcoal. The host brings an assortment of raw morning glory, cabbage, meats (usually pork and liver), beat eggs, glass noodles, and the all important holy Thai basil. The vegetables and meats are thrown into the pot to slowly boil into a nourishing and hearty soup.
A herb filled jim jum is served at Larb Yasothorn Restaurant, 1/37 Ratchawithi Soi 2, Din Daeng Road, Samsaen Nai, Phaya Thai. Open from 4pm to 4am. Tel: +66 (0)84 709 9880
9. Kao Na Phet
Roasted duck is a specialty throughout Asia as the meat is fattier and has a more distinct flavor than chicken. The Thai Kao na phet is served on a plate of rice with a selection of duck parts cut and then drizzled with duck stock. A simple but exuberant duck soup is served along with the rice. It's easy to distinguish a duck and rice/noodles eatery as the ducks will be hung from their necks in a glass cabinet.
In Yaowarat (Chinatown) head to Hua Seng Hong Restaurant. 371-373 Yaowarat Road. Tel: +66 (0)2 220 635
10. Kai Jiew Moo Saap
A real Thai comfort food and something everyone can cook is the Thai style omelet. Eggs are beat up with a dash of fish sauce and soy sauce and then minced pork is added. The egg mixture is then quite literally deep fried into an omelet that pleases a palette of rice. It is best eaten with a squirt of chili sauce (sauce prik).
Every single restaurant in Bangkok that serves rice can provide a great omelet. Try Kun Su Restaurant, located on Phaya Thai, Soi Rangnam, across the street from Century Mall. Tel: +66 (0)81 883 5487, 081 666 2901
11. Kao Niew Moo Yang
Grilled pork skewers and sticky rice in little bags are available in all the nooks and crannies and at all hours in Bangkok. Quick, easy, delicious, available, and filling are all reasons to grab a sack while you're on the go. Kao niew moo yang are available everywhere you look and can't be missed. In Silom near the Sala Daeng BTS station, take a stroll on Soi Convent where a fantastic street stall grills up large skewers of juicy pork. Best to head there around lunch hour.
12. Moo Dad Diew
Small bites of deep fried pork are marinated in a dark sweet soy sauce and then deep fried to accentuate the flavors. The succulent pieces of pork are served with the all-important chili sauce (jim jao) full of green onions. Sticky rice is also a necessity.
Ta Bun Tum, at Pin Ngen Market block R28-R29 next to Major Pinklao, serves a mouthwatering moo dad diew. Open from 12 noon to 9pm. Tel: +66 (0)847 070 2950
13. Yam Khor Moo Yang
This prized meat salad consists of dripping and tender pork cutlets, grilled and sliced then mixed with lemon juice, parsley, sweet onions and a copious amount of fiery chilies. This salad is a real asset to any Isaan food feast and must be eaten with sticky rice, which you should dip into the dressing.
A delightful yam khor moo yang is assembled from a street cart right outside of Tesco Lotus Express Rangnam, 104/30-34 Rangnam Road, Phaya Thai, Ratchawithi. Open from 6pm to 11pm.
14. Gai Yang
Just like moo yang, grilled chicken is everywhere to be found. It's hard to walk a few meters without detecting the scent. Grilled chicken is best complimented with a pile of tangy som tam and a dollop of sticky rice. Like many other dishes, grilled chicken is all over Bangkok and often times the best is found on mobile stands attached to bikes or pushcarts. All Isaan restaurants serve gai yang.
Have a walk down Phahon Yothin Soi 1 Lue Cha for a great selection of gai yang.
15. Kao Ka Moo
Pork boiled for hours in a sweet soy sauce base with hints of cinnamon and anise are the signature characteristics of kao ka moo. The fatty pork literally slides right off the bone and onto a plate of rice. This dish is usually quite visible with whole soy sauce stained pig legs sitting openly in large metal pans and steaming through the day.
Pa-Aou Restaurant serves sweet and salty kao ka moo. The fatty pork meat slides right off the bone and the sauce is brilliant with the rice. Located on Phahon Yothin Soi 1, 826 Soi Rucha, Phaya Thai. Tel: +66 (0)89 2010798
16. Kao Mok Gai
Kao mok gai, similar to biryani rice, is a Muslim dish of rice cooked with chicken stock and laced with saffron, turmeric, cardamom and bay leaves. The chicken is cooked with the rice and creates a recognizable yellow color. Don't forget the essential sprinkle of fried onions and cilantro on top plus the cucumber pickle garnish and the killer spicy sauce.
Head to Silom, Soi Convent for a street cart that sells wonderful kao mok gai. This dish is slightly more difficult to locate than many others. Look for a big pot of noticeable yellow rice. Open around lunch hours.
17. Kao Moo Dang
Another popular comfort food that is widely available is kao moo dang. A plate of rice is covered with Thai barbecued thinly sliced pork, a few slices of Thai sausage and half a hard-boiled egg. A thick red barbecue sauce or gravy is smothered all over the rice and pork and then sprinkled with cilantro and green onions. The result is an un-spicy but very sweet dish that is a great late night treat.
Ran Guay Jab Jaedang (nickname: Microphone), located on Ratchawithi Road, close to Soi 6, right by Siam Computer and Language School. The carts roll onto the street at about 5pm and stay open till around 2am.
18. Kao Man Gai
The chicken rice of Thailand may not be as famous as Singapore's, but it is still a popular comfort food. Boiled chicken is chopped onto a plate of rice made from the fatty chicken stock. The garlic chili vinaigrette to accompany is incredible and the dish is always served with a light chicken soup. It can often be ordered with fried chicken as well (kao man gai tod).
Kao Man Gai Ton Jaewa in the morning and at lunch is always packed with hungry guests. 465/7 Opposite Center One, Ratchawithi Road. Open from 7am to 7pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 640 9891
19. Nam Tok Moo
Nam tok in Thai literally means waterfall. Grilled tender juicy pork is mingled with generous portions of lemon juice, green onions, chili, mint sprigs, fish sauce and toasted rice, making the meat taste fresh. The blood from the meat along with the dressing inspired someone to name this brilliant food waterfall meat, and rightfully so.
You can't go wrong ordering from Tida Esarn Restaurant, 1/2-5 Rangnam Road, Phaya Thai, Ratchawithi. Open from noon to 10pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 247 2234
20. Larb Moo
A famous Isaan dish of minced pork and liver dressed with lime juice, fish sauce, mint leaves, onions, chilies and the essential toasted rice crunch. All the components of this fresh Thai meat salad are key for an astounding sticky rice dipping liquid.
For a vibrant larb, head straight to Tam Lai Restaurant, Pin Tong Plaza, located in the clothes market next to Major Pinklao. Open from 11:30am to 8:30pm. Tel: +66 (0)88 018 5700
21. Pad Ga Pow Moo Kai Dow
If a local Thai doesn't know what to order, it almost certainly comes down to pad ga pow. A stir fried dish that can be trusted to turn out delicious and satisfying every time and at almost every eatery. Chicken, pork or minced meat is stir fried in oil with garlic, chilies, small green vegetables like green beans and the vibrant basil that gives the dish its flavor. It's fashionable to eat it over a pile of rice accompanied by a fried egg. Neighborhood eateries tend to serve the best pad ga pow, though it's available almost anywhere.
22. Gai Pad Met Ma Muang
Chicken is seared in a hot greased wok along with onions, dried chilies and crunchy cashew nuts. Oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar and other spices create a sauce that goes exquisitely well with rice.
Tam Lai Restaurant stir fries this dish to perfection, around noon Tam Lai is hopping with lunchtime business, located in Pin Tong Plaza, in clothes market next to Major Pinklao. Open from 11:30am to 8.30pm. Tel: +66 (0)88 018 5700
23. Plah Kah Pung Neung Manow
A whole steamed snapper swimming in a tangy lime juice sauce is served in a metal fish shaped pan with a candle lit underneath to keep it steaming. Raw cloves of garlic and green chili sauce with cilantro protrude through the lime zest as the sweet steamed fish melts in your mouth.
T & K Seafood in Yaowarat (Chinatown) serves a brilliant selection of Thai and Chinese seafood dishes. In the late afternoon the restaurant starts setting up chairs and tables street side that start to fill up by evening. 49-51 Soi Phadung Dao, Yaowarat Rd, Bangkok 10100. Open from 4:30pm to 2am, Tel: +66 (0)1 507 5555
24. Gang Som Plah Chon
A striking deep fried snake head fish is smothered in a stunning sweet, sour and spicy flaming soup. The fish is usually served on a fish shaped metal pan and sometimes comes with vegetables and various herbs piled on top. It is assured that you will be the envy of all other tables when the pungently aromatic fish exits the kitchen.
An artful and veggie-filled gang som plah chon is available at Arhan Isan Rod Dej, 3/5-6 Thanon Rangnam Road, opposite from King Power complex. Open from 12pm to 10 pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 246 4579
25. Plah Plow
A popular fish to eat with som tam and sticky rice is plain grilled and salted fish. The fish is firstly stuffed with lemongrass, lime leaves and other ingredients for flavor, and then rolled in a thick coat of salt. It is then grilled, never overcooked, to juicy perfection. The result is a soft sweet white meat fish that literally liquefies in your mouth. Chewing is almost unnecessary. Plah plow is made with all kinds of fish including snake head fish, tilapia and snapper.
Try Tida Esarn Restaurant at 1/2-5 Rangnam Road, Phaya Thai, Ratchawithi. Open from noon to 10 pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 247 2234
26. Yam Plah Duk Foo
A precious favorite among Thais is a prized yam plah duk foo. At first, it seems to be a deep fried fluffy catfish essence of grease and air. However, when the sour mango, sweet sugar, tart lime, harsh red onions, earthy cilantro, shrimp, squid and peanut sauce are applied, the fluff transforms into a crunchy bite that includes all Thai flavors and textures in a single bite.
The Krok Restaurant in Siam Square opposite Siam Paragon Mall fries an outstanding yam plah duk foo. Students and business people fill the restaurant at lunch so be prepared for a wait. Soi 2, Siam Square, Bangkok. Open from 11am to 9pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 251 9916
27. Som Tam
Som tom is perhaps Thailand's most famous salad. Garlic and chilies are first pounded with a mortar and pestle (krok). Tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, dried shrimp, tomatoes, lime juice, sugar cane paste, string beans and a handful of grated green papaya are tossed in the krok (som tam thai). The sweet, salty, and spicy flavors paired with the crisp crunch of the green papaya and sticky rice is utterly luscious. Many variations are available including one made with crab (som tam boo) and one made with fermented fish sauce (som tam plah lah).
It's hard to miss the som tam carts all over Bangkok that offer delicious salads but if you need a suggestion try Ta Bun Tum Restaurant, Pin Ngen Market block R28-R29, next to Major Pinklao. Open from 12 noon to 9pm. Tel: +66 (0)847 070 2950.
28. Kanom Jeen
Thin, mild tasting and very soft, kanom jeen are noodles made from fermented rice. They are serviced with a ladle of your choice of curry ranging from kanom jeen nam ya (red curry fish balls), kanom jeen nam prik (sweet chili paste), kanom jeen gang keow wan gai (green curry chicken), among others, and then topped with garnishes like cabbage and cucumbers.
To try them all go to Kanom Jeen Buffet Chao Din, which is 59 baht for all you can eat on the 5th Floor of MBK (Maboonkrong) Mall. Open 11am to 9pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 626 0177
29. Gai Pad King
Ginger is the undeniable king in this splendid recipe. Huge amounts of grated ginger, boneless chicken, various mushrooms, onions, chilies and oyster sauce are fried together in harmony. Makes a great addition to any multi-ordered table of dishes and is available at pretty much any Thai restaurant in the city.
30. Pad Pak Bung Nam Man Hoy
Even if you don't really care for vegetables, you still might like morning glory. Morning glory is a stem-oriented hollow vegetable with small leaves. It is lightly stir fried with garlic, oyster sauce, and chilies on a high heat to remain crispy and retain its fresh flavor.
Pa-Aou Restaurant can lightly sear a mean plate of morning glory to perfection. Located on Phahon Yothin Soi 1, 826 Soi Rucha, Phaya Thai, Bangkok. Tel: +66 (0)89 201 0798
31. Nam Prik Kaphi
Nam prik kaphi is an assortment of steamed vegetables and perhaps a small fish, eaten with rice, and a pungent fermented shrimp paste chili sauce. Carts around town sell steamed cabbage, eggplant, string beans, and other vegetables as well as small salted fish, like plah tu, for take away nam prik kaphi. The thick sauce with its salty and fishy taste gives everything a complex flavor. Certainly not for those who don't care for fishy-ness.
Right next door to Pa-Aou Restaurant (Phahon Yothin Soi 1, 826 Soi Rucha, Phaya Thai, Bangkok. Tel: +66 (0)89 201 0798) there's a large selection of nam prik kaphi with a choice of sauces available for takeaway.
32. Pad See Eiu
This is a great lunch dish that gives you a boost of added energy. Wide rice noodles are fried in the wok with garlic, pork and Chinese broccoli, flavored with dark soy sauce. An egg is scrambled amidst the chaos of noodles and adds extra gusto. After the dish is served, people will sometimes add a few spoons of sugar, chili flakes and a little vinegar to perfect a unique taste.
Ran Guay Jab Jaedang, located on Ratchawithi Road, close to Soi 6, right by Siam Computer and Language School. The carts roll in at about 5pm and stay open till around 2am
33. Pad Thai
Pad thai is probably the most famous dish outside of Thailand and something that tourists rave and hype about. So famous we almost didn't include it on the list. Medium sized rice noodles are stir fried with a host of ingredients like tofu, peanuts, shrimp, green onions, bean sprouts, garlic, pepper, fish sauce and lime juice. A scrambled egg mixed into the noodles seals the dish together and ensures deliciousness. Pad Thai is great to eat with a squeeze of lime and ground peanuts. Again, a spoon or two of sugar, chili flakes, and vinegar, are always an option by way of condiments.
Pad Thai is available in countless street carts around the city. A stationary street cart is located right inside the gate of the Wat Ratchaburana (temple) near the Saphan Phut market. Chakkraphet Road, Wangburapha Subdistrict, Phra Nakorn District. Open in the late afternoon to late at night.
34. Guay Teow Rhua
Guay teow rhua is known in Thai as “boat noodles,” because the bowls of noodles used to be sold from boats. The sweet pork blood broth in every bowl is sopped up by a choice of noodles sen yai (wide rice noodle), sen lek (medium rice noodle), sen mee (angel hair rice noodles) or wun sen (glass noodles). A little bit of beef, pork, liver or pork balls, and a few sprigs of morning glory, are also added to the bowl. What makes the noodles special is that the bowls are small at about three to five bites, and an average diner can eat many bowls. Tables sometimes compete to see who can stack their empty bowls the highest.
To experience the chaotic serving of boat noodles go to Sud Yod Guay Teow Rhua (Pa Yuk) ("Best Boat Noodle"), located at Victory Monument on the boat noodle alley, on the road heading towards Phahon Yothin. Open from 11am to 9pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 271 3178
35. Guay Teow Nuaa (Sen Lek)
Sen lek or medium-sized rice noodles are one of the more popular soup noodle choices. Beef noodles or pork and pork ball noodles are a handy lunch option. Broth, boiled for hours, is poured over a bit of tender meat with noodles, some light bean sprouts and maybe a little green morning glory, which steam in a boiling caldron before being put into your bowl. Though this dish comes chili-less, by now you will have built up a tolerance and will need to add a couple spoons of chili flakes for ultimate satisfaction.
An astounding bowl of beef noodles is available at Guay Teow Lookshin Disco Restaurant, 493/18 Thanon Ratchawithi (Victory Monument), Phaya Thai. It's a great place for lunch and open from 10am to about 3pm. Tel: +66 (0)2 245 6790
36. Guay Jab
Add celebrated rolls of wide rice noodles that look like one inch cigars to a thick light brown and fatty broth and you've got guay jab. Some other floating ingredients such as crispy pork skin, lungs, tongue and green onions keep the noodles company. The crucial overpowering flavor that signifies the dish is black pepper.
There are a few great places to eat Guay Jab but for a wonderful experience head to Chinatown's Yaowarat Road, Soi Itsaranuphap (11). The street stall is open from about 5pm to midnight and always busy.
37. Guay Teow Lui Suan
Huge and thin rice noodles in the form of square tortillas are used as wrappers for these Thai style fresh spring rolls. A mixture of ground pork, carrots and lettuce are wrapped up in the noodles to create spring rolls and then eaten with lettuce leaves and holy basil. The green dipping sauce is another astounding mixture of sweet, sour and spicy flavors.
A wonderful guay teow lui suan can be found in a tent set up right outside of Tesco Lotus Hypermarket Pinklao located at 3 Baromraj-Chonnanee Road, Arun Amarin Bangkoknoi. Open from about 10am to 6pm.
38. Cha Yen
The answer to coffee and tea drinks from around the world is Thailand's very own and very sweet cha yen. We admit, it's not a food, but it's certainly deserving of a spot on our list as it's so damn refreshing. Though it is called Thai ice tea, the actual tea flavor is somewhat unrecognizable as it is overpowered by a huge portion of sweetened condensed milk and then heavily iced. Look for one of the many stalls with 'Carnation' advertising plastered all over them and there is sure to be cha yen. You can also order cha yen at all coffee stalls, drink stands or restaurants in Bangkok.
39. Kao Niew Ma Muang
Almost everyone loves yellow mango with sticky rice. A small bed of super glutinous rice is placed below some slices of super sweet, non stringy, ripened mango. Adding to the deliciousness is a drizzle of coconut cream syrup. Usually located at many makeshift stands depending on mango availability.
You can find great kao niew ma muang on Phaya Thai Phahon Yothin Soi 1 Lue Cha. Fancier Thai restaurants will all offer the dish as a prized dessert.
40. Sang Kaya Fug Tong
A medium sized pumpkin is de-seeded and filled up with the creamiest coconut cream custard imaginable. When the custard hardens, the pumpkin is sliced like a pizza. A spoonful of candied pumpkin and coconut custard is then added. Sweet nectar.
This custard takes time to make so it's usually sold in the late afternoon and night at Poi-sien Restaurant (nickname: Pumpkin Lady), Soi Ratchawithi 6, Boonme Building. Open from about 10am to 10pm. Tel: +66 (0)84 527 5521.