Six of the best foods to experience in Thailand

It is often said that the best way to immerse yourself in a countries culture is by eating the local foods. When it comes to memorable dishes, Thailand has it all so, grab a mouthful of cooked bugs and start getting to know this fantastic country! 

Here's our top six foods which we feel give you the true taste of Thailand, taken straight from the latest edition of our Thailand Handbook


Isaan food

The vast populous northeast region of Thailand produces some of the most popular food in the kingdom. Spicy som tams (green papaya salads) of numerous descriptions are central to a lot of Isaan food, as is khao niaow (sticky rice) and various grilledmeats. A lot of the tastes are very closely related to Lao food with their som tam being far saltier and fishier and less zesty than Thai som tam, which normally comes filled with lime juice, dried shrimps and peanuts. Larb, a minced meat salad usually served with roasted broken rice, plenty of mint, lime and chilli is another Isaan staple. The more rustic and original version of larb is made with uncooked meat and often comes filled with blood. You should be able to find Isaan food anywhere in the country.


Aharn talay – Thai for seafood – is an essentialpart of eating in Thailand. From tom yam kungs, sour and spicy soups served with kung (fresh prawn), through to grilled pla muek (squid) served from a street stall, the range of produce is mouth-watering. If you want to avoid farmed prawn and crab head to Koh Yao Noi in Phangnga Bay, where the local Muslim fishermen have instigated an environmentally sustainable protection programme. While not strictly ‘sea’ food, pla duk (catfish) is available pretty much everywhere in Thailand and is often sold attached to a stick, kebab-style, making for healthy fast food.


One of the most anticipated times in the Thai epicurean calendar are the Thai summer months of March and April when the mango season is in full flourish. It’s then that this wonderful fruit is piled high on street stalls and the delightful dessert, khao niaow mamuang (sticky rice, served with slices of mango and a sweet coconut sauce) is enjoyed by the whole nation. Of course mamuang (mango) is available all year round but it is certainly at its best, like other fruit, when it is in season. There are several main varieties on sale but the most famous is num dok mai (water flower), a pale yellowish fruit, often with small black spots. The mango should be soft and firm to the touch and the flesh, at its best, will be delectably sweet with a slightly tart aftertaste.


The Thai relationship with rice is highly symbolic and deeply entrenched in the psyche of the nation. At times, Thailand has been the biggest rice exporter on the planet, being rightly famous for its fragrant, highquality jasmine rice. Even the Thai word for rice, khao, means eat. A question Thais often ask each other is kin khao rue yung (have you eaten)? But don’t think Thai rice stops at white jasmine rice. Head into a Thai market and you are bound to find either a shop or stall selling dozens of colours, qualities,  lengths and tastes. There’s special rice for cooking sticky rice, brown rice, black rice and red rice. And if you plan to spend a long time in one place in Thailand make sure you buy that ubiquitous and indispensable Thai culinary gadget – the rice cooker.

Street food

If you don’t eat on the street in Thailand you’ll be missing out on one of the planet’s best eating experiences. Supping on a bowl of kway tiaow (noodle soup) or dealing with some seriously pet (spicy) food while watching the world go by is quintessentially Thai. The best thing about Thai streetfood is that the seller will make it to your specifications – learn a few key phrases and you’ll get your favourite dish with just the right amount of what you like. One of the best phrases to useis mai sai which means don’t add. So try mai sai nam taan (don’t add sugar) or mai sai pong choo rod (no MSG). If you like it just a little bit hot, say pet nit noi and for a splash of fish sauce, say sai nam plaa nit noi. Look for the popular sellers and just jump in.

Weird food

Some of the things you might see on either a Thai menu or lined up on a street-side stall may strike you as a little weird. The locals have been quick to turn this to their advantage and malang (insect) sellers now proffer their overpriced grasshoppers and beetles to the tourists on Bangkok’s Khao San and Sukhumvit roads. Another common local snack is the duang, a deep-fried yellowish grub rich in protein and high in cholesterol. Teen ped (duck beak) and kob (frog) are also popular, while buffalo  embryos are sometimes glimpsed in rural markets. Much of this insect and grub eating has its roots in poverty, with the dry, vast plains of Isaan providing the focus of such culinary practices.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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