What is Thai Food? 40 Delicious Dishes & Drinks You Must Try!

whats thai food

What is Thai food?? We wondered the same thing before our first trip to Thailand. What we found was a cuisine bursting with spicy and delicious flavors that were completely unique to anything we had experienced before. Years later, we have been back to Thailand numerous times. We always look forward to the best Thai food, unique culture, and beautiful beaches of Southeast Asia. After seeing these 40 amazing Thai dishes and drinks, we’re sure you’ll be ready to find out for yourself!

What is Thai Food? Our Experience With the Best Food in Thailand

So what is Thai food and what should you order? One amazing about the food in Thailand is how diverse it is. You may have a general understand of the country’s most popular dishes. Still, there are so many unique things to discover.

The food in Thailand is a mix of herbs, spices, and fresh vegetables that create deep and rich flavors. It doesn’t matter if you are planning a trip to Thailand or simply looking for new things to eat at your local Thai restaurants. Our guide will help inspire your next Thai meal as we share some of our favorites.

Something important to know about Thai food is that it is very spicy! After ordering food in Thailand don’t be surprised if you’re asked about your spice tolerance. We would go for the lowest amount of chilies until you become more accustomed. 

Whats Thai Food Guide

Best Thai Food for Vegans and Vegetarians

Whether you’re looking for veggies or a straight up meat lover, the food in Thailand is extremely accommodating. As full-time travelers, we would even go as far as to say that the food in Thailand has some of the BEST options for vegetarians and vegans. 

This isn’t something that always goes for other countries in Southeast Asia  such as Vietnam. In Thailand, there is an abundance of vegetarian options. Know that most of the popular meals can be made easily with or without meat. 

That means that with the fried noodle plates, rice dishes, and different curries, you’ll have the option to make it veggie. Don’t worry meat fans! You can also pick your choice of chicken, pork, or seafood at most places.

It isn’t just the main courses either when looking for what to eat in Thailand. There are so many different salads and starters which are also vegetarian.

Due to the hot climate, perishable dairy products aren’t as commonly used. Instead, it is often replaced with thick and creamy coconut milk which gives it a vegan base.

Vegan Thai Food

Ordering Vegan & Vegetarian Thai Dishes

Obviously, while traveling through Thailand as a vegetarian or vegan it’s best to always confirm your order. If you are a vegan there are two things you’ll want to double check.

Always ask them to not include egg or fish sauce when making your Thai dishes. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for shrimp paste which is used but not nearly as common. Still, know that you’ll have more than plenty of options to fill your days.

While we’re not vegetarian or vegan, we find ourselves often eating this style while traveling in Southeast Asia. We love Thai food and have eaten everywhere and everything. As with all destinations in Southeast Asia, you do have to be cautious about the hygiene and cooking conditions. 

If we’re ever in a place where we feel like the meat might not be stored properly, we just happily order vegetarian. Most of the time you’ll be completely fine though with endless local specialties available.

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Vegetarian Thai Food

What About the Sides & Spices?

Don’t worry! Spice is not always mandatory in Thai dishes. It’s easy enough to ask for your meals to be made not spicy and then simply add your own fixings. 

On almost every single table in Thailand, it’s common to see a small tray of four different items to add to your meal. Expect to see red chili flakes, fish sauce, spicy chili soy, and sugar. 

Yes, sugar is included in most Thai dishes! Don’t be shocked when you see locals adding sugar or if a small scoop of it comes on your Pad Thai plate.

If you’re truly worried about the heat levels we recommend ordering it not spicy. From there, you can add additional spices on. There has been more than one occasion where we asked for a medium spicy papaya salad and it comes out too hot to eat.

What's Thai Food Spicy

What is Thai Food: Starters & Salads

1. Green Papaya Salad 

It’s time to get into the actual best Thai food to order! Green Papaya Salad is one of the most popular Thai dishes of all time. Also known as Som Tam, it can be found everywhere from street vendors to fine dining restaurants in Thailand. 

Shredded green mango is combined with onions, tomatoes, and green beans. It’s then mixed with a garlic, lime juice, and fish sauce dressing. I don’t think a day went by that we didn’t order one while traveling in Thailand.

What's the Best Thai Food

2. Mango Salad

Mango salad is similar to the papaya version but with thick slices of green mango. While the typical mango you might be use it to sweet, green mango has a more tart and sour taste. 

The mango is made with different sauces, seasonings and of course chilies! Don’t be shocked when you bite into a whole chunk of garlic or roasted cashews. 

What's Thai Food - Mango Salad

3. Pomelo Salad

If you find Pomelo Salad on the menu be sure to order it! Pomelo is a seasonal fruit so it’s not abundantly found like papaya & mango salads. 

This is a fruit based salad that is made from a Pomelo. It’s mixed with a sweet and spicy dressing which goes in contrast to the natural sour taste. Typically, there is toasted coconut and fried shallots added on top for an extra burst of flavor. 

Food in Thailand Pomelo Salad

4. Thai Spring Rolls 

Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. You can find spring rolls at all the best Thai food restaurants! This famous appetizer is internationally known and it’s grown to be a staple for travelers in Thailand.

The paper-thin wrapper can be filled with a mix of delectable things. The best combinations are cabbage and bean sprouts with pork or shrimp added in. 

What's Thai Food to Try

5. Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce 

Chicken is marinated in traditional spices such as soy, garlic, ginger, and curry. Once it’s soaked in the tasty sauce it is then threaded onto long skewers and grilled.

When walking down the street, it will be hard to miss the smoky charcoal smell and long lines of skewers being grilled to perfection. While you can eat it on its own, satay is best served with a side of spicy peanut sauce.

One word of warning is that salty peanut sauce is highly addictive! After just one bite you’ll want to start adding it to every meal. Thankfully, the spicy peanut sauce is super easy to make at home. 

What to Eat in Thailand Chicken Satay

What is Thai Food: Noodle & Rice Dishes

6. Pad Thai

Pad Thai is one of the most well-known Thai dishes around the world. We wouldn’t be surprised if it came to mind when you were first thinking about “what is Thai food.” 

There is nothing quite like the sound of a metal spatula being scraped against a large wok. That’s when you know your Thai chef is cooking up a delicious plate of Pad Thai!

Flat rice noodle is mixed together with bean sprouts and traditional Thai flavors. You’ll discover the fish sauce, garlic, and chilies, then either tofu or meat of your choosing. 

When we say it’s sold everywhere in Thailand, we mean it. From the night markets of Chiang Mai to the busy streets of Phuket Old Town, you will be able to find a Pad Thai. 

What's Thai Food Pad Thai

7. Yellow Noodle 

You may find that this fried noodle dish is similar to Pad Thai. However, the thick yellow egg noodles give it a distinctly separate texture and taste. 

This is actually one of our favorite dishes in Thailand! As with all noodle plates in Thai cuisine, you can opt for it with veggie, chicken, beef, pork, or seafood.

Best Food in Thailand

8. Pad See Ew

Pad See Ew is another Thai food noodle classic made with a flat rice noodle. The dish is similar to Pad Thai and fried yellow noodle, but with a powerful soy sauce flavor.

9. Thai Fried Rice

Fried rice might seem like a simple dish, but it can be extremely flavorful and delicious. With Thai jasmine rice as the base, it’s cooked in a hot wok with vegetables, fried egg, and whatever meat you desire.

Get it piled atop your plate or try the pineapple fried rice version. This is more than just a fun presentation as the sweet fruit addition gives it a completely unique and yummy taste. 

Food in Thailand Fired Rice

10. Phuket Hokkien Mee

While this noodle dish can found all around Southeast Asia, Phuket put a spin on the classic and claimed it as their own.  

Yellow noodles are cooked in a thick sauce made from seafood and pork. Topped with an egg and served piping hot, this is a plate to try after a day at the beautiful Phuket beaches

Best Noodle Dish

What is Thai Food: Curries

11. Khao Soi 

Khao Soi is one of our favorite Thai dishes, and a meal that doesn’t get nearly enough global recognition. It comes from the city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and is a staple of the region. 

Khao Soi is made from a thick coconut cream soup and served with scrumptious yellow noodles. The noodles are boiled and put in the soup with more fried noodles used as a topping. 

Traditionally, this popular dish comes with either chicken or braised beef. Make sure to add some pickled onions and chili on top before you eat, too!

Khao Soi Thai Food

12. Thai Red Curry

There are many amazing curry options for you to enjoy on your Thai cuisine journey. Red curry gets its special bright color from a mix of different chilies used to cook it. 

Yet, it’s not always super spicy and its heat level depend on the chef. As with all Thai curry flavors, the base is coconut milk with ginger and lemongrass.

Thai cuisine Red Curry

13. Yellow Curry

This is considered to be the mildest of all the curries in Thailand. The yellow color is due to the addition of turmeric and usually has chicken and potatoes as its base. This is a great option for those who don’t like too much spice in their curry.

Thai Food Yellow Curry

14. Green Curry 

Don’t let the color fool you… Green curry in Thailand can pack a punch! It’s made from green chilies which give it its light green color. 

With the addition of spices such as lemongrass, peppercorns, and kaffir lime leaves, this is another hit to add to your Thailand food list.

Green Curry Thailand Food

15. Massaman Curry

Massaman is one that you might not have tried before unless you’ve been to Thailand. It isn’t as internationally known as the red, yellow, and green Thai curries. Still, it is absolutely delicious and one of the best Thai food creations.

The dish is a fusion between Thai and Indian cuisine with a thick bold sauce. The addition of peanuts which gives the curry a roasted salty undertone that every foodie will love.

16. Penang Curry

The orange tint of Penang may look like a standard red curry. However, once you try this incredible meal from Thailand you’ll surely taste the difference! 

The thick soup is served with rice and isn’t super spicy. Yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t add an extra kick if you’d like.

Good Thai Dishes

17. Roti Canai

This delicious roti actually hails from Malaysia. Yet, as you’ll see, the cuisine in Thailand offers a big blend of flavors from all over Southeast Asia.

Roti Canai is the normal flatbread served with dal curry on the side. The roti with lentil dipping sauce is the perfect appetizer as you dive into all the great food in Thailand. 

Roti Canai

What is Thai Food: Soups

18. Boat Noodle Soup

Boat Noodle soup should be on every traveler’s list when making a trip to Thailand! There’s even an entire street in the capital city of Bangkok named boat noodle alley. 

The sauce of this wonderful soup is brown and based in soy. Thin rice noodles are joined by meatballs and other various animal parts. There truly isn’t any other food in Thailand with a similar flavor to boat noodles!

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What's Thai Food Boat Noodle Soup

19. Tom Yum Soup

This hot and sour soup comes with a flavorful clear broth. The fresh herbs, peppers, and mushrooms then blend cleverly into the soup.

The classic version is called Tom Yum Goong and can be ordered in several ways. The best part is the large prawns which give the dish its patented seafood flavor.

What's Thai Food Tom Yum

20. Tom Kha 

Do you love Tom Yum? Then you have to try its close relative of Tom Kha. It’s actually the same dish with one not-so secret ingredient. Tom Kha is basically Tom Yum with coconut milk to make it rich and creamy.

Don’t worry though! The addition of coconut milk doesn’t anyway take away from the flavor you’ll enjoy in this seafood soup. You can also try Tom Kha Gai if you’d prefer chicken instead of fish.

Tom Yum Goong Thai Soup

21. Nai Ek Roll Noodle

If you ever make it to Chinatown in Bangkok be sure to try this one of a kind noodle dish. Nai Ek first opened its doors in 1989 on the bustling streets of Thailand’s capital city.

Similar to Kway Chap at the Hawker Centers in Singapore, this special soup is referred to as Guay Jub. Rolled rice noodles are prepared in a peppery soup with crispy pork added in. We even ordered a side of pork to go with this amazing meal!

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Best Thai Dishes

What is Thai Food: Meat & Seafood 

22. Hat Yai Fried Chicken

It may be hard to believe, but Thailand has some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat. We experienced this firsthand while riding our motorbike around Phuket Island. As soon as we saw that chicken sizzling in the massive wok we just about crashed our scooter!

It’s seasoned perfectly with Thai spices and the crispy exterior will have you sold from the very first bite. Be sure to get a fresh batch when you order and don’t settle for the fried chicken that’s been sitting out.

Phuket Fried Chicken

23. Laab Salad

Once you’ve had plenty of veggies in your diet, we have another salad for you to try! Laab is made with ground meat, chili seasonings, fish sauce, and lemon. This can be a nice switch up for an appetizer or full meal in Thailand.

24. Fish Balls

Did you know one of the best Thai foods is fish balls? This may sound strange, but trust us when we say how tasty they are. They come with a tasty garlic dipping sauce which blends well with the fish.

Another popular way to enjoy fish balls is in a noodle soup. We ate this many times in between exploring the temples and museums of Bangkok.

Thai Fish Balls in Thailand

25. Crispy Fried Pork & Rice

Crispy fried pork. It’s one of our favorite traditional Thai dishes and something we always have an eye out for.

The deep fried pork belly is served over rice with spicy green and red sauces on the side. The best one we’ve ever had was in Phuket Old Town, but you can find this incredible plate all over the country.

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What's the Best Food in Thailand

26. Stir Fried Basil and Pork

This dish is another stir fry edition to our “what is Thai food” post. The incredible medley features basil, bork, and a plethora of amazing spices to enjoy. 

Many places will make it with white rice, oyster sauce, and garlic with sauces to enhance the flavor.

27. Phuket Lobster

Lobster?? Yes, that’s right! Lobster is all around the islands and coastal towns of Thailand.

Typically, you can find these at the street food or night markets. Keep an eye out for the massive rainbow lobster on your Thailand food adventures!

What to Eat in Thailand Phuket Lobster

28. Whole Fish

By now you can tell that seafood is a huge part of Thai cuisine. The best way to fully embrace this part of the cooking culture is to order a whole fish.

You will find everything from cat fish to perch, and even eels when searching for what to eat in Thailand. We recommend ordering these delicacies when you’re close to the ocean to ensure the freshness. 

Thai Food Whole Fish

What is Thai Food: More Popular Dishes

29. Thai Omelette

If you’re looking for a delicious breakfast option then definitely try a Thai omelette! Also known as Kai Jeow, this Thai take on a traditional omelette is the perfect way to start your morning. 

It’s puffy and crispy texture is made by frying the whisked eggs in hot oil. We prefer our omelettes with Thai basil and peppers, but you can order them however you wish.

Thai Food Breakfast

30. Stir fried Cashew Nut 

Stir fry recipes are becoming a theme of this Thailand food blog, and for good reason! One of the best Thai foods is made with cashew nuts and red chili peppers. 

It’s great with chicken, but pork or straight veggies is also a good mixture. This can be found regularly at Thai restaurants around the United States. It’s also an easy one to whip up yourself at home.

Best Thai Food in Thailand 

31. Thai Curry with Rice

On many menus in Thailand you’ll see a curry with rice. This is actually one of our go-to Thai dishes, just know it’s not a soup. The slightly gooey look comes from the thick curry sauce mixed with egg. 

You can order it vegetarian style or with the addition of a protein. As you can see from our photo, we love getting this food in Thailand with shrimp.

What's Thai Food Curry Rice

What is Thai Food: Sweets & Treats 

32. Thai Pancake

After you’ve had the Thai Omelette, it’s time for something a bit sweeter. Thai pancakes are street food classic and are available at almost every night market. 

While the street food vendors will do any combo you want, our favorite is with bananas and mango on the inside and Nutella chocolate on top. 

Thai Pancake Food in Thailand

33. Thai Coconut Pancakes

Ready for another type of Thai pancake? They’re prepared with coconut milk and poured into a baking sheet. It’s then put onto a hot grill in the shape of small circles.

You’ll see different toppings on these tiny street eats all with their own special flavors. Whatever you do just stay away from the ones with sweet corn!

What's Thai Food Street Snacks

34. Coconut Ice Cream 

This is a popular dessert to try at the night markets in Thailand. It’s made with coconut cream instead of dairy which is great news for vegans! 

The coconut cream gives it a very intense flavor as its only made with a couple of simple ingredients. This makes for the perfect cool-down on a hot summer day.

Best Thailand Food Coconut Ice Cream 

35. Mango Sticky Rice

Mango sticky rice is not just the most popular dessert in Thailand, but one of the most famous desserts in the world!

Now rice might not be the first thing you think of for dessert. However, like many other Thai specialties it’s made with coconut milk.

The blend of coconut and sugar gives it a thick, sweet, and creamy texture that you’re sure to love. Thai mangos are without a doubt the best in Southeast Asia. When you combine this sweet treat with sticky rice you’ll have yourself the perfect dessert.

Thailand Food Mango Sticky Rice

Best Drinks to Have With Food in Thailand

36. Ice Cold Chang Beer

There’s nothing quite like taking a break from the hot Thai sun and enjoying a nice cold beer. Hands down, the most heavily drank beer in Thailand is Chang.

When watching the sunset from any beach in Thailand, you’re sure to see countless travelers enjoying a large Chang alongside you.

Chang is the undisputed champion of Thai beer. Nevertheless, there are some other great ones to try! Make sure to have a Singha or Leo if you’re planning a visit to Thailand.

Thailand Chang Beer

37. Thai Buckets

Okay, this is a wild one! A Thai bucket is not necessarily something we recommend, but it’s a party classic nonetheless. Normally it would be something you’d see kids playing with at the beach.

However, in the certian areas of Thailand you’ll find them filled with different sodas and liquors. The most common you’d see on party islands like Koh Phi Phi is Red Bull and whiskey. Still, know this comes with a warning!

Thai Bucket Disclaimer: The Thai whiskey called Hong Thong is not to be messed with.

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Thai Buckets

38. Fruit Juices & Smoothies 

One of the best things about visiting Thailand is that you’re never far away from your next smoothie. With an abundance of fresh fruit fruits available, Thailand truly makes some of the best fruit drinks in the world. 

Obviously, the combo is up to your personal preference. Some that we can’t get enough of are mango, passionfruit, and watermelon juice.

What to Eat and Drink in Thailand

39. Thai Ice Tea 

Made from black tea, milk, palm sugar, Thai Ice tea is extremely sweet and creamy. To be honest, after tasting teas around the world this isn’t one of our favorites. Still, it can be a nice during the humid weather if you’re not ready for a Chang Beer. 

Thai Ice Tea

40. Classic Coconut 

We saved the best drink for last! In Thailand, you will never be too far away from an ice cold coconut. 

Stands along the beach are a common place to find them, and they are plentiful at bars and restaurants. Remember that staying hydrated will be key between all the best Thai foods and activities.

Thailand Classic Coconut 

Planning a Trip to Thailand?

Obviously, we wrote this post to share all of our favorite Thai dishes! After many visits to the country, we’ve explored the islands to big cities, and everywhere between. 

Some of our favorite adventures have been exploring Khao Sok National Park, riding motorbikes around Koh Lanta, and seeing the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

We have covered the country extensively on our website. So if you need any tips after reading about the best food in Thailand, be sure to check out our other work below.

More Thailand Tips

Tips: Planning Thailand Trip9 Best IslandsNok Air Review – Itinerary Phuket Khao Lak & Khao Sok

Bangkok: 14 Things to DoBangkok to PhuketKhaosan RoadSkywalkChinatownWat PhoGrand Palace

Phuket: 22 Things to DoOld Town Food Guide6 Sunset SpotsRawaiElephant SanctuaryPromthep Cape SunsetSunday Night MarketPhuket Old TownBig BuddhaRenting a Motorbike 

Phuket Beaches:  15 Best Beaches Nai Harn & Yanui – Kata BeachKata NoiNui BeachKamala Beach

Koh Phi Phi:  Ferry from Phuket25 Things to KnowMaya Bay Private Tour3 Viewpoint HikeMonkey BeachPhi Phi Don Boat Tour 

Koh Lanta: 10 Things to Do8 Best BeachesOne Day Motorbike

Krabi: 10 Krabi Tips –  12 Things to Do Railey3 Epic Railey BeachesKrabi to Koh PhanganAo Nang Beach

Gulf of Thailand: Koh Phangan 10 Things to KnowBottle Beach Koh PhanganKoh Tao 12 Things to KnowFreedom Beach Koh TaoKoh Samui 

More Adventures – Chiang MaiChiang Mai Night Market – Similan IslandsKoh LipeKhao Lak

Thailand Nothing Familiar

Have any questions about what’s Thai food or want to share your own favorites? Let us know in the comments below! 

Safe Travels,
Brigitte & Jake

 Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar

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Thai Food

Thailand Travel Planning

 Transportation: While traveling through Thailand 12Go is where we find all our ferries, trains, buses, and transfers! You can find everything from island hopping speed boats to the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

 Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over Phuket! You can find everything from a James Bond island luxury sunset cruise, to Phuket Old Town 15-taster food adventure, and 5-hour island tour

 Flights: We always find our cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we found flights from Bangkok to Phuket for $12 USD, and Thailand to Vietnam for less than $50! 

 Accommodation: Compare multiple sites to get to the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also,  Hostelworld should be your go-to if you’re traveling on a budget. 

 Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without protection. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.

 Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials

Thailand Travel Guide
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12 Comments

  1. November 4, 2023 / 9:50 am

    I 100% agree that Thai food is amazing. We just came back from a trip there and I found the best Khao Soi and my favorite…the pork skewers with sate sauce. Ahmayzing! My advice…try it all.

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      November 4, 2023 / 12:37 pm

      Khao Soi is the best!! So much delicious food in Thailand

  2. November 1, 2023 / 10:02 pm

    My daughter lived in Thailand and just recently returned to the States. I pretty much only know pad Thai, so this was a great read before my next visit to her home where she always introduces me to another delicious Thai dish.

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      November 2, 2023 / 3:35 am

      Thai cuisine is one of our absolute favorites! Have tried so many new dishes over the years, but we still go back to the classic pad thai, too (-:

  3. November 1, 2023 / 11:44 am

    We love thai food, especially their soups.

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      November 1, 2023 / 1:25 pm

      Thai food is so amazing! We love all the different soups (-:

  4. October 26, 2023 / 10:45 am

    I LOVE Thai food! As a vegetarian, it’s so enjoyable to have such a broad range of dishes to choose from. Plus, I just love all the color and veggies that are incorporated into all the dishes. Saving this list so I can check off a few new dishes myself!

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      October 26, 2023 / 4:01 pm

      So many great veggie Thai dishes to enjoy! Love that you found this helpful

  5. Patty
    October 25, 2023 / 10:31 am

    These pictures are so drool worthy! I absolutely love Pad Thai and now have some new dishes to try out, those coconut pancakes really sound amazing!

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      October 25, 2023 / 10:37 am

      Glad we could tickle your taste buds with this article!! Thai food is the best.

  6. October 10, 2023 / 11:38 am

    Great article about Thailand, one of my favorite places to visit. I have visited Thailand at length for the past 20 years, and I must say, your article does it great justice and thank you for sharing so much information. We all love Thai food, and Thailand.
    Tom Yum soup is my favorite and my husband Tom Kha. I was drooling looking at all the other food.
    Thank you for a great article.

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      October 10, 2023 / 11:52 am

      You’re so welcome! Thai cuisine is one of our favorites and we love all the different dishes

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