Traveling around Thailand is easy. Roads are well-marked and well-maintained, transport is reliable and easy to navigate, comfortable accommodation is cheap and abundant, and English is printed alongside Thai on almost everything. The single most difficult thing about Thailand is not eating everything in sight. Street food stalls serve up everything at all hours of the day, and it’s all so cheap. Rarely does a single dish exceed 40 baht (about $1.33 US). Here is just a sampling of the best food we ate in Thailand.
Noodle soup with pork meatballs
On our first day in Bangkok, after 24 hours of flight time and airplane food, we found a noodle soup stand inside the Chatuchak Market. It was filled with market workers grabbing a quick bite before opening their stalls. I think every culture has its own version of this soul satisfying cure-all.
Moo Grob (Crispy Pork Belly)
Pork Belly (where bacon comes from, need I say more?) is all the rage right now at the fancy restaurants in Atlanta. Asians have been serving it forever, usually deep fried for luscious melt-in-your-mouth meat and succulent, crispy skin. Our favorite version was from the guy at the end of the Sukumvit Soi 38 night market on the left.
Since we’re on the topic of pork (my second favorite topic after Gator football), another hit on the Sukumvit Soi 38 night market is the stewed pork. The meat is slowly braised in a sweet fragrant liquid and served with hard boiled eggs and pickled cabbage for the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and salty.
Fresh fruit abounds all over Thailand. For about 50 cents, a local vendor will slice up chilled fresh fruit into a plastic baggie alongside a little bamboo skewer for eating. Sweet ripe watermelon in January, what a treat!
Issan Style Chicken
Seasoned with garlic and lemongrass, then spatchcocked and grilled over an open flame. The result is a bird with supremely juicy meat and crackly crispy skin. I highly recommend spatchcocking your birds at home, it’s both fun to say and the best way to grill or roast a chicken!
Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
We all know Thai cuisine is notoriously spicy, but it’s really all about the balance of four flavors: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. This dish represents that balance perfectly, with shredded unripened papaya pounded in a mortar and pestle with dried shrimp or crabs, palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and loads of chiles.
An omelette cooked in a screaming hot wok until puffy and tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, served over jasmine rice with sweet chile sauce. Unlike the eggs from factory chickens so prevalent in the U.S., these yolks were vibrantly orange. We had this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
We had no idea what these taco looking things were at first. Were they savory or sweet? As it turned out, the little shell held a marshmallow like filling topped with sweetened egg yolk or mango. Mmm these were tasty.
Cheap banana crepes are the staple of backpacker ghettos like Khao San Rd in Bangkok. But our guesthouse in Sukhothai served up an incredible puffy pancake with ripe local bananas topped with fresh honey that would knock those versions out of the park. This is Paleo, right?
Coffee is everywhere in Thailand, though usually mixed with sweetened condensed milk (ick). Over ice, though, it can be a refreshing afternoon pick-me-up. With a little more research, we were also able to find local coffee from the hills of Northern Thailand brewed in a press and served black, the way I prefer it.
I thought they only served this dish of stir fried rice noodles with egg, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chiles, peanuts, cilantro, lime, and bean sprouts at Thai restaurants in America, but it really is a national dish. It was made popular by Luang Phibunsongkhram, the prime minister during the late 1930s and 1940s, and named Pad Thai as part of his campaign to promote Thai nationalism and centralization, in an effort to reduce domestic rice consumption.
We bought these at the night market in Lampang having no idea what was in them, only that they looked and smelled delicious. The owner of our guesthouse confirmed they were fried fish cakes. Not unlike crab cakes back home, but spicier, of course.
Another staple of menus abroad, we were drawn to this restaurant in Chiang Mai by the smell of the pork kebabs, marinated in a coconut curry paste, sizzling over a charcoal flame.
Stir Fried Morning Glory
I always hit my fried chicken with loads of Tabasco sauce, and when I endeavor to make it at home I like to include hot sauce in the batter too. In Thailand, they mix spicy green chiles into a thin batter and serve it with a variety of spicy, sweet, and sour dipping sauces. No need to mess with this version!
Red and Green Curries
Tom Kha soup
Similar to the quintessential Tom Yum soup, but with coconut milk as the base instead of curry paste, this Thai soup of coconut milk, mushrooms, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, shrimp or chicken, and plenty of fresh herbs on top always satisfies.
A northern Thai specialty with Burmese influence, Khao Soi consists of soft noodles in a spicy coconut curry similar to Masaman with pork or chicken, topped with crispy wok-fried noodles. Served with pickled cabbage, chopped shallot, and lime on the side.
Street food is king in Bangkok, and the best street food we found there was on Yaowarat Road in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Just off Yaowarat, on Th. Plaeng Nam, we found the most impressive street stall yet. A sweat band clad waiter runs the large seating area, signaling the two cooks with a referee’s whistle. The guys cook over woks so hot that they even have a portable exhaust fan that they wheel onto the sidewalk. The oyster omelet I had was the single best thing I ate in Thailand, and one of the best things I have ever eaten. A crackly, crispy crust hid a moist and fluffy interior, with oysters just barely cooked so that the briny bivalves nearly melt in your mouth. I would fly to Bangkok just for this dish.
Mango Sticky Rice
There’s loads more where this came from, but I think I need a snack now.