Thai cuisine is intensely alluring for foodies the world over. From rich and creamy curries bathed in fragrant sauces to tasty snacks and delectable desserts, you are truly spoiled for choice.
There are five core flavors that need delicately balancing to make authentic Thai dishes:
Thai cuisine has been strongly influenced by other southeast Asian cuisines – Chinese and Indian in particular. Despite these influences, Thai is unique.
Ancient Thai food was a lot spicier than modern Thai food. Over the years, the introduction of lemongrass and galangal at the same time as a reduction in the spicier elements means contemporary Thai food is much more balanced.
20 of the Best Traditional Thai Dishes
If you have no idea where to get started but you fancy experimenting with some Thai cuisine at home, we’ve curated a bumper list of 20 great Thai recipes to get you started.
- Massaman Curry
- Noodle Soup
- Chicken Satay
- Pad Kra Prao
- Spicy Shrimp Soup
- Fried Catfish and Green Mango Salad
- Thai Green Chicken Curry
- Spicy Green Papaya Salad
- Spicy Salad
- Kao Ka Moo
- Pad Woon Sen (Stir-fried Glass Noodles)
- Pla Kapung Neung Manao
- Pak Boong (Morning Glory)
- Khao Pad (Fried Rice)
- Thai Waterfall Beef Salad
- Fillet of Fish Baked in Banana Leaf
- Kai Jeow (Thai Omelet)
- Pad See Ew
- Khao Niao
- Khao Niaow Ma Muang (Mango Sticky Rice)
1) Massaman Curry
The origins of massaman curry are unknown. Some historians contend that middle Eastern traders brought the curry to Thailand from Malaysia – the name massaman derives from an archaic Thai word for Muslim. Other historians believe that this dish originates from the royal court of Thailand.
Regardless of its origins, massaman curry is distinct from other popular Thai curries. This curry makes use of less common spices like anise, cardamom, and cinnamon.
Intensely aromatic and complex, the base mix is typically fried with some tamarind paste coconut cream to deliver a curry that’s both spicy and savory at the same time.
2) Noodle Soup
Arguably the most popular Thai everyday dish, noodle soup is ubiquitous throughout southeast Asia.
Guay teow is a term used for any form of noodle soup. This can be made with beef, pork, chicken, and with either egg noodles or rice noodles.
Most Thai cooks add meatballs or wontons to the broth. This dish is best served with condiments, including:
- Lime juice
- Fish sauce
- Dried chili peppers
Thais eat guay teow at any time of the day or night, and it is commonly consumed as a late-night snack.
3) Chicken Satay
Thai chicken satay is made from strips of chicken marinated in Thai paste then boiled or grilled on skewers.
Satay skewers also taste great with beef strips.
4) Pad Kra Prao
Pad kra prao is a classic Thai a la carte dish made from minced pork and rice, usually steamed jasmine rice. You’ll get some stir-fried minced pork with Thai basil, seasoned with chopped chili and fish sauce to complement the rice.
You also find this dish made with chicken, beef, and seafood. The dish is often topped with a fried eggs.
5) Spicy Shrimp Soup
This aromatic and bold soup has a spicy kick thanks to the infusion of chili.
The iconic tom yum goong features staple Thai ingredients from lemongrass and galangal to lime leaves and fish sauce. Fresh prawns finish this dish off wonderfully, and you can add coconut cream for an even more luxuriant taste and texture.
6) Fried Catfish and Green Mango Salad
This awesome Thai dish is a crispy and fluffy sensation, with tiny pieces of catfish fried and mixed into a lip-smacking fish salad.
The beauty of this recipe is the way the crispy fish pairs so well with the spicy, sweet, and sour green mango salad.
Yam pla dook foo works especially well as an appetizer.
7) Thai Green Chicken Curry
Few dishes are more emblematic of Thai cuisine than a traditional Thai green curry.
The chicken is cooked in some coconut milk along with basil leaves, lime leaves, onions, and a green curry paste.
8) Spicy Green Papaya Salad
Som tam comes from the Isaan province in northeastern Thailand and is one of the most popular dishes throughout Thailand.
There are many different styles of this dish. The staple version includes:
- Shredded green papaya
- Dried shrimp
- Runner beans
- Palm sugar
- Fish sauce
- Lime sauce
- Lashing of chilies
You mix the above ingredients in a mortar and pestle, intensifying the flavor further.
9) Spicy Salad
Another classic northeastern Thai dish, laab is a salad made with mushrooms or meat and mint.
Made in many guises with chicken or pork as well as mushroom, the combination of these ingredients with mint is deceptively spicy. Laab is not for the faint-hearted.
10) Kao Ka Moo
Kao ka moo is a showstopper when prepared at a Thai food cart. You’ll see the slow-braised leg of pork simmering in huge aluminum pots, bathing in five-spice powder and soy sauce.
The meat ends up so tender it literally slides off the bone. The thin strips are then served on a bed or rice with some boiled eggs, pickled veggies, and bok choi.
11) Pad Woon Sen (Stir-fried Glass Noodles)
Stir-fried glass noodles might not be the flashiest Thai dish, but it’s certainly among the most popular.
Glass noodles are made from mung beans, and they pair well with many ingredients. The noodles are pre-soaked and then stir fried in a wok with some garlic cloves, shallots, prawns, veggies, and scrambled eggs. Seasoned with oyster sauce, the finished glass noodles are usually topped with chopped coriander or some mung beans sprouts.
12) Pla Kapung Neung Manao
Pla kapung neung manao – steamed lime fish – is made from Asian seabass soaked in lime soup and garnished with chilis, cilantro, and diced garlic.
13) Pak Boong (Morning Glory)
Morning glory (Pak boong) is a remarkably healthy Thai dish.
Morning glory is a vegetable resembling spinach that’s usually fried then seasoned with chilies, garlic, soy sauce, and soybean paste. Although the dish is frequently made with oyster sauce, it’s easy to make a vegetarian version.
14) Khao Pad (Fried Rice)
Khao pad or fried rice is inescapable throughout Thailand.
The rice is simply fried with some onion and egg and then garnished with sliced cucumber and condiments to taste.
15) Thai Waterfall Beef Salad
This Thai dish is named for the splashing sound the juices make as it is grilling.
Thai waterfall beef salad is made from very thinly sliced beef served with some fresh papaya and salad greens, then laced with a special Thai dressing.
16) Fillet of Fish Baked in Banana Leaf
For fish fillet baked in banana leaf, you can use almost any type of fish. Tilapia, snapper, salmon, and cod are all common options.
You smear coconut sauce all over the fish fillet then bake it in banana leaves. If you do not have access to banana leaves, try some parchment paper or aluminum foil instead. Serve with plain rice, coconut rice, or potatoes.
17) Kai Jeow (Thai Omelet)
Kai jeow is a simple but protein-dense Thai dish that’s super-quick to prepare.
You usually find this dish served with sweet chili sauce on a bed of rice. Many people in Thailand eat this dish as a nutritious breakfast, although it can be eaten at any time of day.
18) Pad See Ew
Pad see ew is made from much larger rice noodles stir-fried with meat, tofu, egg, Chinese broccoli, and oodles of soy sauce.
19) Khao Niao
Sticky rice (khao niao) is a staple food throughout the northeastern Isaan region of Thailand. Sticky rice is also incredibly popular in bordering Laos.
The rice is glutinous and sticky, typically eaten with the hands.
Sticky rice is served with an array of dishes, from appetizers to main dishes and sweets.
20) Khao Niaow Ma Muang (Mango Sticky Rice)
The most famous of all Thai desserts, mango sticky rice couldn’t be easier to make. All you need to do is layer some freshly sliced mango over your sticky rice and then pour some coconut sauce all over. The perfect way to finish any meal!
If you’ve always fancied trying Thai food but been stuck for inspiration, we hope today’s guide has given you plenty of workable options.
Rather than being intimidated by cooking food you have never tried before, instead start with some basic Thai recipes and then watch your confidence grow!