iReport: 'My favorite Thai dish'
From steaming hot bowls of green curry to the deliciously rich khao soi, Thailand is famous for its diverse and often spicy cuisine.
In a recent iReport assignment, we asked readers to share their own favorite Thai dishes.
iReporters from all over the world rose to the challenge by providing plenty of mouthwatering photos of everything from the traditional pad Thai to wild takes on old classics, including a version of papaya salad -- som tam -- that uses zucchini instead.
Here are some of the submissions we received.
Thai fried chicken
"If there’s one thing the whole world can agree on, it’s fried chicken, and Thailand has its own variation on it," says iReporter Aaron Espana, who lives in Chiang Mai.
Interestingly, within Thailand, both regionally and family to family, you’ll find as many different recipes for it as you would in the American South, he adds.
"Some days when I need a quick fix for home, I pick up a drumstick-thigh combo or a couple of wings of Thai fried chicken (“gai tawt”) with a half kilo of fresh warm sticky rice (“khao niyao”)," says the Chiang Mai-based iReporter.
"Usually the best places are food stalls set up alongside the road with a few other stalls set next to them. That makes it easy for me to pick up a few other bits of this-and-that to eat with my chicken –- vegetable something or curry something, usually."
Aaron says the secret to Thai fried chicken is in the marinade it soaks in for anywhere from a few hours to overnight.
"The formula starts out pretty basic. There has to be some kind of salt used, usually fish sauce or light soy sauce, but sometimes it’s just plain old salt.
"Other ingredients that make it taste distinctly Thai are cracked coriander seeds and pounded lemongrass. From there on, every person adds their own variations on the theme, with differing amounts of the coriander seeds and lemongrass making a large contribution to the flavor differences between each person’s gai tawt."
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Seua rong hai -- Crying tiger beef
"Crying tiger or seua rong hai is my favorite dish," says iReporter Marta Brozyna. "It is one dish where you can find the full interplay of all the flavors that make Thai food so deliciously unique.
"It is spicy, salty, sweet, sour and umami at the same time and in perfect harmony. Sliced beef is usually used, but I've come across crying tiger made with chicken, pork or shrimp as well."
The secret behind the exquisite taste of crying tiger beef is the sauce in which the meat is marinated and cooked, she says.
"Its basis is nam pla or fermented fish sauce, which is a common condiment in Thailand. The nam pla also adds an extra umami boost to the rich flavor found in the beef. The nam pla is sautéed with minced garlic, ginger, red bird’s eye chilies, coriander and lime. Each one of these components adds to the overall medley of flavors.
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"Most Thais say the name derives from the spicy chilies used to give the sauce its kick, which are hot enough to make a tiger cry. But I have also come across other explanations.
"For example, the beef used in this dish should contain a layer of fat, which will melt on the grill. The melting fat gives the meat the appearance of weeping. The least-known explanation, but perhaps the most folksy one, is based on a legend of a tiger who smelled the roasting meat of a cow wafting over from a nearby village. The tiger knew he could not take part in the meal, so he wept."
Marta says her favorite version of the dish comes from a local, family-owned Thai restaurant.
"The tender beef strips come on a bed of romaine lettuce with lightly-cooked carrots. Chopped peanuts and green and red onions give it extra flavor, color and texture. A side of sticky rice completes the dish."
"Aside from the iconic phad Thai and tom yum, Thailand is known for aromatic and savory curry dishes, a definite feast for the senses," says iReporter Maritess Garcia-Reyes, of the Philippines.
"Thai curries vary in color. My favorite is red curry -- a delectable dish made of chicken breast fillet in a creamy red curry and crushed peanut sauce.
"As if teasing your palate, it is savory at first bite and gradually turns hot on the taste buds. The aroma itself is enough to make you crave more. Best served with steamed rice, gulp this classic Thai dish with another classic -- Thai milk iced tea."
Anyone who has not yet sampled the delicacies of the Thai kitchen is missing out on a flavorful dining experience, says iReporter Cat Troiano, of New York State.
"Thai food offers a complex woven tapestry of different flavors to keep the taste buds tantalized. Ingredients that include lime, lemongrass, curry pastes, coconut milk, fish sauce and basil are integral components in Thai cooking that infuse an amazing balance of contrasting flavors.
"The harmonious balance of multiple flavor sensations, layering saltiness, sweetness, sourness and spiciness all within a single dish, is the very essence of Thai cuisine."
One of her favorite standard Thai dishes is pad Thai.
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"This seems to be a universal craving among Thai food enthusiasts; its flavors are an accessible combination for most tastes. It graces every Thai restaurant’s menu, and while each offers slight variations, the primary ingredients are the same.
"Pad Thai is comprised of noodles that are stir-fried with seasonings of fish sauce and lime, and combined with egg, peanuts and green onion. Bean sprouts are commonly used as well, and most restaurants offer a choice of shrimp, chicken or tofu."
No papaya? No problem
iReporter Chieko Ohkuma, of Kyoto, Japan, points to som tam -- or papaya salad -- as one of his favorite Thai dishes.
"Though it is very popular in Thailand, it is is difficult to arrange in foreign countries," he says.
"One day, my old friend cooked an amazing zucchini som tam for me. Surprisingly, he used fresh vegetables all from a farm in Nagano prefecture in Japan, and imported dried or bottled seasonings from Thailand. But it was really Thai taste."
Chieko says his friend originally created the dish for a food project called "Yum Yam Soul Soup Kitchen," which was established with the aim of connecting Thailand and Japan through their cuisines.
"Their main activities involve creating original but genuine tasting Thai dishes with Japan's regional fresh ingredients."
Mad for mango
"When talking about Thai dishes, please don't forget the dessert, especially Thai fruits," says iReporter Chieko.
"One day in early spring in Japan, my friend sent me a box of seasonal 'nam doc mai' mangoes. What a surprise. He knows the best mango for me is definitely this species.
"If I were in Thailand, 'khao niao mamuang' (mango with sweet sticky rice) would be an absolute choice. My happy mango week in the middle of Kyoto's coldest season reminded me of hottest days in Thailand."
Khao man gai
"Trying to nail down my favorite Thai food dishes to anything reasonably countable is a tough assignment," says iReporter Aaron Espana.
"There are just so many things to appreciate about so many diverse dishes, that there really is no single one, nor even is there simply a handful of favorites.
"One way I determine my favorite or most-craved-dish-at-the-moment, is by mood, time of day, and where I’m headed. On a day when I’m off to an early start around Chiang Mai, one of the best places to begin the day is at a chicken over rice 'khao man gai' joint like Ouan Ocha on the south side of town.
Although khao man gai is a dish of Chinese origin that’s often translated into English as “Hainanese Chicken” on menus, Aaron points out that the Thais put a bit of their own unique spin on it with seasoning and accompaniments.
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"Chicken over rice is anything but boring. As I’ve asked around about how it’s made, I’ve found that everyone guards their recipe religiously, only disclosing a few of the obvious ingredients. For sure the boiling pot contains garlic, white pepper, daikon radish, and plenty of salt; from there it’s up to the cook. One friend of mine even brags to me that hers has about 15 'secret ingredients.'
"And then there are the accompaniments. There’s a dipping sauce ('naam jim') which sometimes comes mixed for you, and other times is left as a base with additional fresh chopped ginger and chilies available at the table to be added according to your own tastes."
Photos and text were submitted as part of a CNNGo iReport assignment asking readers to share their favorite Thai meals. For more CNNGo assignments and submissions, visit our iReport page.