For me, one of the most exciting things about visiting Thailand was trying the different foods. Spicy and colourful, Thai cuisine is truly in a league of its own.
But having never visited the country before, I’ve always been curious about what real Thai food is—the stuff beyond the bowl of mystery noodles I usually order at larger chain restaurants serving something that hardly resembles “Thai food.”
My eyes opened and my taste buds rejoiced when I arrived in Thailand to find dishes such as the ever-famous pad Thai, tom yum soup (a type of hot, sour soup, usually cooked with shrimp), mango sticky rice (a dessert made with rice, fresh mango and coconut milk), spicy papaya salad (a chilled salad made from shredded, unripe papaya and chilis) and bitter melon in banana leaves.
The fresh fruit is plentiful here in Thailand, and it’s all sweet and juicy. Everywhere you look there are bright yellow pineapples and deep, crimson-coloured mangos, freshly cut and begging you to indulge in their sticky goodness.
I typically think of chilis when I think about Thailand, so I was surprised to find so many curry dishes. Apparently Buddhist monks from India originally brought the curry to Thailand for trading purposes, and now Thailand has many curries including green, red, yellow and panang curry! Panang curry is a dish made with meat cut into thin strips, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, panang curry paste, palm sugar and fish sauce, and is usually served over rice.
I can’t write a blog about Thai food and not mention the noodles. They’re everywhere! The relatively small town of Phimai even has its own type of noodle dish, special to that area. Usually with your meal, you will get a choice of rice or noodles—but not just any old noodles. You can choose from rice noodles, flat noodles, wide noodles, skinny noodles, egg noodles, corn noodles—the list goes on. They’re delicious, they’re handmade and they’re necessary if you’re visiting Thailand.
The rural back streets of Bangkok are filled with the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists alike, all vying for their share of authentic Thai cuisine. To understand them a little more, we met Chin, the owner of Chili Paste Tours. She introduced us to a variety of different street foods, including the best omelette I’ve ever eaten, two kinds of sticky rice mixed with a custard egg and shredded coconut, sweet and smoky barbecued chicken and a candy (that resembled a Werther’s caramel) made from the leaf sap of a coconut tree!
Chin also showed us a hidden gem called Krua Som Hom, a small restaurant tucked away on a quiet street that’s easy to miss. With white plastic patio chairs and colourfully mismatched tablecloths, this modest eatery offered up a meal well beyond our expectations.
I was shocked at what the owner, Kwang, was pumping out of her tiny kitchen—which was itself a crammed room with just a small cooktop, a wok and shelves filled with various bottles of ingredients.
We dined on tom yum soup, shrimp in tamarind sauce topped with coconut and deep-fried shallots, fried rice with vegetables and chicken, a red curry chicken omelette and bright green, stir-fried morning glory. We finished every morsel of that tasty mid-day meal.
On this trip, I learned that Thai food isn’t just pad Thai and jasmine rice: Thai food is daring, pushing the boundaries of the diner and the cook. It entices your taste buds to try something new. I can’t wait to go back one day and see what else there is to discover!