Thai food is known for its unique blend of flavors making it a favorite among foodies around the world. A wide variety of herbs and spices are added to combine spicy, sweet, sour, salty and more. Thai food is heavily influenced by its neighboring countries, such as India, China, and Malaysia, but also has its own distinct culinary traditions. Let’s explore the flavors and famous restaurants that you should note down for your next visit to Thailand.
Flavors of Thai Cuisine
Thai food is known for its use of fresh herbs and spices that contribute to the unique flavor profile. Most dishes have strong flavors which help to freshen up and regulate body’s balance under the tropical heat. Lemongrass, galangal, ginger, and kaffir lime leaves are just a few examples of the herbs and spices that give Thai cuisine its distinctive taste. Here is a few flavors unique to Thai dishes.
A secret ingredient called สามเกลอ (Sam Gluer) is added to most Thai dishes and is considered the core of Thai food. “Sam Gluer” means “3 friends” which constitutes garlic, white pepper, and coriander roots. These 3 ingredients are grounded together and added to many dishes such as in noodle soup base and to marinade meat dishes. “Sam Gluer” is easy to make and can be found in every Thai kitchen.
Thai noodle soup with beef, seasoned with chili flakes and vinegar.
In addition to “Sam Gluer”, chili peppers are also key to Thai food. A variety of chili peppers, such as bird’s eye chili and Prik Chi Fah chili, add heat and depth to dishes. Bird’s eye chili is known as one of the spiciest chilis but is loved by all Thais. Fresh green chili adds more heat, while red chilis supplement color and aroma. For a classic dish of “Pad Krapao” (stir fried chili basil with meat), simply stir fry meat with “Sam Gluer”, add holy basil leaves and finish up with grounded red and green chilis.
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Sweetness is also an important element of Thai cuisine as Thais like everything a bit sweet. It’s often achieved using palm sugar or coconut milk which gives a smoother blend of sweetness and a tropical aroma. Traditional Thai desserts such as sticky rice with coconut milk and crispy coconut rolls are the classic dishes to try when you’re in Thailand.
Lastly, sourness is achieved through lime juice, tamarind paste, and vinegar. For a sharp sourness in dishes like Som Tum (spicy papaya salad) and Yum (spicy salad), lime juice is the main ingredient. On the other hand, in sour soups like Tom Yum and Pad Thai, tamarind paste helps to blend the flavors and gives a milder sweetness.
There are many more flavors in Thai cuisine and herbs also play an important role in bringing depths to dishes. So come experience it in Thailand through popular Thai street food and local-favorite menus!
A classic Thai meal includes a variety of main dishes served with rice.
Popular Thai Dishes
ต้มยำกุ้ง (Tom Yum Goong)
Tom Yum Goong is a famous Thai soup that is known for its spicy and sour flavors. It’s made with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chilis, and shrimp, and is often served with rice. There are two versions of Tom Yum soup; a creamy version “Naam Khon” or a light version “Naam Sai”. The creamy version adds milk to the soup and is a more popular version.
A local-favorite restaurant that specializes in Tom Yum Goong is “Tom Yum Goong Banglamphu” restaurant which is near Khao San Road area. The restaurant offers affordable and delicious seafood dishes in a classic Thai street food style.
ผัดไทย (Pad Thai)
A staple of Thai cuisine is this stir-fried noodle dish called Pad Thai. It is made with rice noodles, eggs, tofu, and vegetables, and is often garnished with peanuts and lime wedges. The dish is believed to have a Chinese influence as previously, Thai people only had rice as the main carbohydrate source. Additionally, the name Pad Thai means “Thai-style stir fry” and is believed to be the Thai version of the Chinese stir-fried noodles.
A recommended authentic Pad Thai place is the Michelin-star “Pad Thai Tipsamai” which can be found around Bangkok city. Although it’s a bit pricey, the Pad Thai with shrimp oil and egg is a must-try.
แกงเขียวหวาน (Green Curry)
Green Curry is a spicy curry dish that is made with green chilies, lemongrass, and coconut milk. It’s often served with rice and a variety of meats or vegetables. Thai dishes have simple names, such as this green curry which is literally called “Gaeng Keaw Whaan” or light-green curry in Thai. The word “whaan” in Thai also means sweet so some people mistakenly think that this curry is sweet. However, the authentic green curry is as spicy as other Thai curries, such as red curry and Panaeng curry.
“Krua Kannikar” is a famous Thai food restaurant from Hua Hin that has now open its branch in Bangkok. The green curry is served with “Khanom Chin” fermented rice noodle which is the perfect pairing.
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Thai green curry usually comes with chicken or beef, served with rice.
ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง (Mango Sticky Rice)
Finish up your Thai food tour with traditional mango sticky rice. It’s simply made with sticky rice in coconut milk served with fresh ripe mango. The soft and scrumptious sticky rice perfectly complements the sweet and aromatic mango. The dish is commonly found in Thai restaurants and is the perfect sweet and refreshing end to the meal.
As awarded by Michelin as one of the best mango sticky rice in Thailand, “Kor Panit” is somewhere you do not want to miss. The restaurant has been passing down the recipe for generations and it selects the best mango in town! It’s better to visit the place in the morning before the mango runs out.
Mango with sticky rice from a famous cafe “Make Me Mango“.
Thai cuisine is delicious and the unique blend of flavors and ingredients has captivated foodies around the world. Whether you are a fan of spicy food or prefer milder dishes, there is something for everyone in Thai cuisine. There are many more Thai dishes to explore, especially those local flavors in different regions of Thailand. These flavors are also reflected in Thai snacks which are usually savory snacks with bold tastes. Experience Thailand through snacks with Heap Brand Authentic Thai Snack Subscription Box that will deliver curated Thai snack box with changing themes monthly.