Thai Food Favorites

chicken with cashew nuts at a Thai restaurant in Kuwait
Thailand is perhaps our most-visited Asian country, having traveled to that nation several times as part of our work. There are a lot of things to like about Thailand but one thing that immediately caught our attention was its cuisine.

Thai food is known for being hot or spicy. Accustomed to spicy dishes even before we started coming to Thailand regularly, we were quite prepared for it. But Thai cuisine is more than chili-spiked food and is a balance of sour, sweet, salty and hot tastes. As with other Asian countries, Thai cuisine varies according to region and, since there are over 40 distinct ethnic groups in Thailand, Thai food is extremely varied.

a plate of green papaya salad in an eatery in Chiang Mai
Som tam thai or green papaya salad at an eatery near Huai Kaeo waterfall, Chiang Mai.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


There is a wide variety of Thai salads to choose from but our favorite is som tam thai or green papaya salad made with peanuts, dried shrimp, palm sugar, and shredded unripened papaya. The result is a rich combination of four tastes – sour, sweet, spicy and salty (especially when fish sauce or nam pla is added to the mix). Leo also enjoys yam thale or seafood salad, usually made with cuttlefish, shelled prawns, mussels, shallots, lime juice and Thai celery.
a plate of fried jasmine rice sprinkled with vegetables
Jasmine rice is a long-grained, fragrant variety.

Rice and Noodles

Like other Southeast Asian countries, rice is a staple part of Thai cuisine. Jasmine rice is popular, even in the Philippines, for its fragrance. But an interesting rice variety which is common in north and northeastern Thailand is sticky rice. This is usually shaped into small balls by hand and then dipped into viands or side dishes before being eaten. Leo’s first opportunity to try this was with a group of Iranians who invited him to try it at a market stall in Bangkok.

Rice also comes in the form of noodles and in this form is popular among Thais as well. They dine on this either as a type of noodle soup or stir-fried with a wide mixture of vegetables and meat. The stir-fried phat thai is a famous example but we prefer the wide flat noodles or sen yai which is mixed with Chinese broccoli, egg, and some thinly sliced meat (often pork, chicken, beef or seafood) with soy sauce to produce a Chinese-influenced dish called phat si-io. We find this a lot in fast food stands at supermarkets and it’s also popular as a street food. Incidentally we find Thai street food as some of the best (and cleanest) in Asia.

bowl of tom yam kung soup over a warmer
A simmering bowl of tom yam kung.


When it comes to soups, tom yam is easily the most popular. This is a spicy and sour soup made with generous servings of lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, dried chilies and lime juice. When made with prawns it is referred to as tom yam kung and with chicken as tom yam kai. A close relative is the tom kha kai – a mild to spicy soup with coconut milk, galangal, chicken and sometimes mushrooms. Normally you would have an idea of the degree of spiciness of a tom yam just by observing its color (the more reddish, the hotter). But the hottest tom yam we had was an otherwise innocent-looking colorless version that we tried in Bangkok several years back. The first sip was truly devastating as it nearly obliterated our sense of taste. Finishing that dish was an exercise in masochism but we somehow made it and even enjoyed the experience.
a plate of beef panang curry at a Thai restaurant
Beef panang curry.


Thai curries often times (but not always) contain coconut milk. Leo’s favorite is panang curry which is a mild, creamy type made with beef, chicken, pork or seafood. It is based on coconut milk and is made with a type of curry paste, palm sugar, fish sauce, chili and kaffir lime leaves. It’s so nice we often end up sipping the sauce after finishing the meat. (Incidentally the word panang comes from a similarly named island in Penang, Malaysia where this dish is thought to have originated.) There are also green and red curries, the color coming from green and red (dried) chilis used in their preparation.
close-up of a plate of chicken with cashew nuts at a Thai restaurant
Chicken with cashew nuts – or Kai phat met mamuang himmaphan.

Stir/Deep Fried Dishes

Nothing beats our favorite Thai fried dish of chicken with cashew nuts – actually a Thai-Chinese version of kung pao chicken, a Sechuan style fried chicken. Its Thai name is Kai phat met mamuang himmaphan and is stir fried with dried chilis, sometimes with vegetables added. The best version of chicken with cashew nuts that we’ve tried in Thailand is at KT Guesthouse in Din Daeng, Bangkok, made by their cook from Isan.
tall glass of Thai iced tea
Thai iced tea.

Interesting Dishes

As we’ve mentioned earlier Thai cuisine is extremely variable depending on the region. On a visit to Hat Yai and other cities in the southern part of the country close to the Malaysian border, we were able to sample dishes obviously influenced by Malay cooking. A group of Pakistani friends who otherwise found it hard to adjust to typical southeast Asian cooking felt very much at home here.

The most interesting dishes in Thailand, however, are those reserved for the culinary adventurer. Multi-legged offerings such as grasshoppers, crickets, worms, termites, beetles, scorpions and ants abound in the country, most of them originating from Isan (in the northeast) and from the north. Most are also deep fried and often eaten as snacks. Leo was able to try the deep fried locust which tasted okay. We could only go so far, however. There were huge deep fried 4-inch long bugs that looked like cockroaches (they were probably water bugs) that we wouldn’t even dare touch.

If you do get to try the little critters don’t forget to wash them down with creamy cha yen or Thai iced tea, a drink made from strongly brewed black tea and sweetened with sugar and condensed milk. (Thais normally use beer for this purpose.)

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shoestring travelers Leo and Nina
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