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Written by Grace Oktaviani

No matter where you go in the world, one of the three Asian cuisines you’ll always find is Thai cuisine (the other two being Chinese and Indian food). That’s because Thai food has always been loved by people worldwide, whether it’s their spicy Tom Yum Goong soup or their sweet and nutty Pad Thai noodles.

But is that all there is to Thai food?

For Thai food fans, you’ll be happy to know that Thai cuisine is like a treasure box. Depending on which region in Thailand you’re in, you’ll discover different flavours and styles of food.

There are 4 regional cuisines in Thailand: North, Northeast, Central and South.

Although we recommend visiting each region for the ultimate foodie experience, you can also find all these cuisines in Bangkok if you’re short on time – it’s the heart of Thailand for a reason. 😉

Here are 19 must-try dishes for a true taste of Thai food.

Read more:

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Southern Thai Food

Southern Thai food is well known to be extremely spicy, sour and strong-flavoured with many dishes using seafood and coconut oil/milk.

1. So refreshing! – Gaeng Som (แกงส้ม)

Want food that can energise you immediately? Try Gaeng Som, also known as Gaeng Leung (แกงเหลือง) in other parts of Thailand.

This spicy and sour yellow fish soup uses turmeric for its colour, as well as lime juice and tamarind paste for its sourness. They then add fish (usually seabass) at the end, making it a refreshing yet healthy side dish to eat for lunch and dinner.

Photo Via Mrsjktichen, Kippysnacks, Eatingthaifood

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best enjoyed together with steamed rice. 

2. The best curry noodles ever!! – Khanom Jeen Nam Ya (ขนมจีนน้ำยา)

One dish I dearly miss when I’m abroad is Khanom Jeen Nam Ya. Nam Ya means fish curry, hence you’ll find thin, broken pieces of fish in the orange-coloured curry. It’s a bit spicy, but also very savoury and rich due to the use of coconut milk.

Photo Via Suznaraman, Ban_madame

TripCanvas Tip: Pour the curry on top of the Khanom Jeen (white rice noodles). Add boiled egg and fresh vegetables (e.g. sliced cabbage and long bean) to the dish before mixing them together and eating it using a spoon and fork.

3. Is this Nasi Kerabu? – Kao Yum (ข้าวยำ)

It definitely looks similar, but that’s because this dish has its roots from Malaysia due to the two countries’ proximity. But mind you, this is a famous Southern Thai dish, which uses fruits, vegetables and rice.

What makes this dish better than salad is that it’s super fragrant due to toasted coconuts, dried shrimp and lemongrass, yet crunchy because of long beans, carrots, and other vegetables. With the blue-coloured (or plain) rice and a dash of dressing, you have a tasty and healthy dish.

Photo Via Akart.bistro

TripCanvas Tip: Add the dressing before you toss the various sides together. Eat this dish at room temperature.

4. Snacking on veggies can be so delicious! – Nam Prik Kapi Goong Sod (น้ำพริกกะปิกุ้งสด)

Just want something to nibble on? What about this veggie and dip, albeit Thai style? Instead of ranch dressing, you get to dip your boiled bitter melons, round eggplants, cucumbers and more in a fermented shrimp paste. The brown dip is a bit spicy though – not surprising with the number of chillies they use – giving a fiery kick to your vegetables.

Photo Via Aoychintana, Kitty_oh, Oohfarmsuanluang, Sayamolhaha

However, the best part of this dish is the chunks of boiled shrimp in the dip. Crunchy, spicy and savoury all in 1 bite? So good!!!

TripCanvas Tip: Dip your vegetable into the fermented shrimp paste dip.

5. Fireeeeee!! – Khua Kling (คั่วกลิ้ง)

Don’t let the yellow colour deceive you. This dry curry might not look spicy, especially with the small pieces of meat being completely yellow, but the chilli and white peppercorns make this dish quite fiery. The addition of kaffir lime leaves also makes Khua Kling really fragrant, so don’t be surprised if the smell causes you to gobble up your dish.

Photo Via Thaistreetsaigon, Marions kitchen

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best enjoyed together with steamed rice. 

Where to find Southern Thai Food?

Local’s favourite restaurant for authentic Southern Thai delights @ Khua Kling Pak Sod

This popular family-owned restaurant is famous for their authentic home-style Southern Thai dishes. Some of their best dishes include Gaeng Leung and Khua Kling.

Photo Via Bic_smitasiri, Kalamare

Khua Kling Pak Sod 

Price: from 180 Baht / approx. USD $5.86
Address: 21, 32 Soi Sukhumvit 23, Khlong Toei Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand (Coordinates here)
Contact: +66 2 259 5189
Opening hours: Daily from 11am to 10:30pm


Northern Thai Food

Northern Thai food is known to be spicy and salty, with their cuisine mainly consisting of grilled or water/broth-based food (as coconut milk is sparse in the North).

6. Crispy and wet noodles in curry soup – Khao Soi Gai (ข้าวซอยไก่)

This is one dish I can always see the bottom of my bowl. That’s because the broth is rich and fragrant – very addictive mainly due to the coconut milk in the broth. The juicy chicken also complements the noodles and soup very well, whereas the addition of crispy and wet egg noodles makes this a very filling dish.

Photo Via Grubshots, Homduanbkk, Lindseyeatspnw, Pekopekobao

TripCanvas Tip: Add pickled mustard, sliced shallots, lime juice and chilli in the dish and mix it together before eating it.

7. So crunchy and spicy – Nam Prik Num Kab Kab Moo (น้ำพริกหนุ่มกับแคบหมู)

Not a fan of veggie dip? What about a Northern Thai Green Chilli Dip with Crispy Pork Rind instead? What I love about the crispy pork rinds in the North is that they’re salty and juicy (from the fat) yet crispy (because of the skin). And when eaten with the green chilli, garlic, shallots and cloves dip, you get a mildly spicy and salty combo.

Photo Via Wantanawimonkunakorn, Kitty_oh

Note: For health-conscious eaters, you can substitute the crispy pork rinds with raw or cooked vegetables instead.

TripCanvas Tip: Dip the crispy pork rinds in the green chilli dip.

8. The sausages smell so goooood! – Sai Ua (ไส้อั่ว)

Who doesn’t love sausages? They’re meaty, filling and so flavourful, just like Sai Ua. In fact, you’ll think this Chiang Mai sausage is even tastier than regular sausages. That’s because the pork in the sausage has been seasoned with herbs like kaffir lime leaves, galangal, chilli and lemongrass and mixed with red chilli paste. This aromatic snack is served grilled, baked or broiled.

Photo Via Homduanbkk, Quaffable_patrik

TripCanvas Tip: The dish can be eaten as is (like a snack), with a dip (usually Nam Prik Num), with other dishes (as a side) or with raw vegetables (e.g. cabbage).

9. Soft and juicy pork belly – Kaeng Hang Le (แกงฮังเล)

Who says only the Chinese can make great pork belly? Thailand does it well too, and they’ve made it very aromatic and rich-flavoured. This sweet stewed pork belly dish has the pork so soft and juicy that it feels the meat just dissolves as soon as you bite into it. With a mix of shallots, ginger, garlic, palm sugar, soy sauce, tamarind paste and more as its seasoning, you get this layered flavoured dish that can satisfy even the pickiest eater.

Photo Via Sethgnosis, Homduanbkk

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best enjoyed together with steamed rice. 

Where to find Northern Thai Food?

Delicious and affordable Northern food @ Hom Duan

This restaurant serves 1-person portion and Tze-Char style Northern dishes, including favourites like Khao Soi Gai and Northern Thai-style Sausages.

Photo Via Homduanbkk

Hom Duan

Price: from 55 Baht / approx. USD $1.79
Address: 31 Soi Sukhumvit 63, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand (Coordinates here)
Contact: +66 85 037 8916
Opening hours: Mon-Sat from 9am to 9pm (Closed Sundays)


Northeastern Thai Food

Northeastern Thai food is also known for their spicy and salty flavours, however the food in this area is mainly composed of grilled and fermented food.

10. Everyone’s favourite papaya salad – Som Tam (ส้มตำ)

One of the most popular Southern Thai dishes, Som Tam is a favourite for both spicy and non-spicy lovers. Its freshness from lime juice and sweetness from palm sugar makes this papaya salad an addictive dish to eat during your meal or as an appetizer. It also uses peanuts, dried shrimps, long beans and tomatoes for a crunchier and fresher taste.

You can also add other things in your salad for a more complex taste, like crab, salted egg or even maeng da (water bugs).

Photo Via Jamesilesgo, Foodscape25, Bangkokkitchen, Ms

TripCanvas Tip: You can eat this dish with sticky rice or as it is. Som Tam can also be served alongside Kai Yang (grilled chicken). For less or more spice, tell the cook how many chilis you want to put in (e.g. “Ao Prik # Med” = “I want # chillies”).

11. Spicy meat salad with a zing – Laab (ลาบ)

Do you love meat and can handle your spice and sour well? If you answered yes for both then you’ll definitely want to try this. It’s full of meat and super spicy and sour when eaten, mainly attributed to the fact that they used minced meat (hence the lime juice and chilli coats the meat really easily and well). It tastes really fresh too, due to the use of fresh herbs and onions. A nice dish to have if you’re looking for more oomph to your meal.

Photo Via Iamloukchin, Partnerincarbs

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best eaten with sticky rice and/or with raw vegetables (e.g. cabbage and long beans).

12. Who loves ‘em grilled chicken? – Kai Yang (ไก่ย่าง)

Bored of eating rice or noodles? Then I highly recommend eating Isaan’s grilled chicken. It’s savoury and crisply grilled yet super juicy. The chicken meat also tastes mildly salty, and even better when you eat it with a bit of spicy sauce. The perfect dish to eat when you feel like eating something simple and filling.

Photo Via Thaistreetsaigon, Fat_eat_eat, Pakeawkaikrob

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best eaten with sticky rice and dipping sauce (for the chicken).

13. Sour sausages? – Sai Krok Isan (ไส้กรอกอีสาน)

It might look like a smaller and rounder version of Sai Ua, but the taste is vastly different. Due to the fermentation process and its ingredients – which includes pork, rice, garlic and salt –  Sai Krok Isan has this salty and sour flavour that’s quite addictive once you’re familiar with the taste. And once fried or grilled, the fermented sausage tastes crispy and soft – a nice snack to eat when chilling.

Photo Via Zlata

TripCanvas Tip: This snack is best eaten with raw cabbage, chilli and sliced ginger and/or with sticky rice.

14. Locals’ other favourite meat salad – Nam Tok Moo (น้ำตกหมู)

“Wait… How is this different from Laab?” is what you might wonder since both are spicy and meat-oriented salads. However, Nam Tok Moo is wetter and uses sliced pork or beef instead of minced meat in the salad. As such, you’re able to taste a stronger meat flavour with the “sauce mixture” – made of lime juice, fish sauce, chopped shallots, chilli powder and ground roasted rice – coating the meat.

Photo Via Nnan_kk, Lecker_thai_essen, Foodgallery

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best enjoyed with sticky rice or as it is.

Where to find Northeastern Thai Food?

Get your Som Tum and Laab fix here @ Zabb One Ratchada

Discover all sorts of authentic Isaan (a.k.a. Northeastern Thai) food at this restaurant, from Som Tum (Spicy Papaya Salad) to Salt Grilled Fish.

Photo Via Zabboneratchada, Jipc_jipc

Zabb One Ratchada

Price: from 50 Baht / approx. USD $1.63
Address: Ratchadaphisek Rd, Huai Khwang, Bangkok 10400, Thailand (Coordinates here)
Contact: +66 81 751 3181
Opening hours: Daily from 10am to 11pm


Central Thai Food

The flavours in Central Thai Food are more complex due to the influence from Chinese and other Thai regions. Hence, you’ll find many spicy and salty foods, as well as noodles and stir-fried dishes.

15. Dunno what to eat? Eat… – Pad Kra Pow Moo Sab (ผัดกะเพราหมูสับ)

I often joke around with my friends from abroad that they should always order Pad Kra Pow Moo Sab if they’re ever stuck deciding what to eat in Thailand. And honestly, that’s what Thais do too – for a good reason that is. This spicy minced pork with basil leaves dish is spicy yet savoury, simple yet super fulfilling to the tummy. And when you eat it with a bowl of rice, a half-done fried egg and a dash of fish sauce with chillies? Amazinggg…

Photo Via Jibjib_ns, Thaifoodshomemade, Yvonnehan206

TripCanvas Tip: Eat this dish with rice and a fried egg for a more flavourful taste. For a saltier taste, add a dash of fish sauce with chillies on top of the rice and meat.

16. Undecided between soup or omelette? Have both together! – Kaeng Som Cha Om Kai (แกงส้มชะอมไข่)

If you like juicy omelettes and tamarind-tasting sourness in your food, then you’ll love Sour Curry with Vegetable Omelette! With the soup absorbed in the omelette and shrimps, be prepared to taste a bit of zing with every bite.

Photo Via Kaewpiyawan, Ulric5

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best consumed with rice.

17. Meet Thailand’s national dish – Tom Yum Goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง)

I mean… Who doesn’t know and love this spicy soup? The lime juice used in this soup makes it really refreshing to sip, while the shrimp and mushroom give this dish some crunchiness to it. The lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves also provide the dish with a fragrant smell.

There are two types of Tom Yum Goong: clear and coconut milk-based. While the former is recommended for those wanting a clean taste, the latter is great for those wanting a more savoury and rich flavour.

Photo Via Housebook60, Duangrithi

TripCanvas Tip: Enjoy this dish with a plate of rice.

18. Sweet and nutty flat noodles – Pad Thai (ผัดไทย)

Who doesn’t love noodles, especially when it’s sweet, salty and nutty? That’s what Pad Thai is. There’s tofu, fresh and dried shrimp and eggs in the dish, which is then cooked together with fresh bean sprouts and green onions, giving a nice crunch to the noodles. Seasonings like lime, chilli powder and ground peanuts will be given at the side for those wanting a stronger taste (highly recommended!).

Photo Via Bambouparis, Dewzter, Deets.on_

TripCanvas Tip: Add lime juice, chilli powder (for those wanting a hot taste) and ground peanuts and mix the noodles together before eating it.

19. Is it Japanese curry? Nope. It’s Thailand’s meat and potato curry! – Kaeng Masaman (แกงมัสมั่น)

Eating spicy and sour Thai food all day can be too much for your tongue. Luckily, Thai Massaman Curry is none of that. Thai Massaman Curry is sweet and mildly spicy and its sauce nutty and thick – perfect to eat it with a plate of rice. You’ll mostly find it cooked with chicken, but some stalls may also serve a beef option.

Photo Via Syuenbi_123

TripCanvas Tip: This dish is best consumed with rice.

Where to find Central Thai Food?

Eat without compromising on the “true” Thai taste @ Kalpapruek

Discover authentic Thai dishes from various regions in Thailand (including Central Thailand) for the ultimate Thai food experience. Try their Chicken Wrapped in Pandan Leaf or vegetable options like Stir-fried Cabbage with Fish Sauce.

Photo Via Katrinayeohsy, Joe-Yiu, Lulur-wang, Drakam


Price: from 100 baht / approx. USD $3.20
Address: 7th floor, Rama I Rd, Khwaeng Pathum Wan, Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330 (Coordinates here) (See other branches here)
Contact: +66 2 613 1359
Opening hours: Daily from 11am to 10pm (Other branches may have different operating hours)


Useful Phrases for Ordering Food

Most locals aren’t proficient in English, so it’s best to know several key phrases in Thai for a smoother experience when ordering food. Here are some food-related Thai words you should know.

Photo Via Syuenbi_123

*Note: “I” in the Thai language is “Chan” (for female) and “Phom” (for male). 

How many dishes have you tried on this list? Feeling adventurous and more confident in trying/ordering Thai food? Remember to bring this list the next time you’re travelling in Thailand so you know which food to try next.

Happy eating! 😀

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Travel Writer

A travel enthusiast currently based in Thailand, with interests in travelling, entertainment, marketing, and Asia.