Thailand’s food has an outstanding reputation and deservingly so. Thai food is very rich in flavor, spices and variety. Cooked fresh and with quality local produce, Thai food is healthy AND delicious. Thai dishes include soups, salads, rice dishes, curries, barbecue and much more. This does not even include the multitude of Thai delicacies and fruits that you can have as a tasty snack during the work day. The Thai cuisine has enough variety to last you a lifetime and there is always something new to be tasted and explored. Thais love to eat and to talk about food. One disclaimer must be stated, though: Thai food can be very spicy, even for a strong stomach, so don’t be surprised if you need some time to adjust. Once you do, however, you can take pride in the fact that not only are you treating your palate to delicious food, but it’s good for your insides as the chili and spices kill germs and bacteria.
Street vendors are ubiquitous and delicious and, thankfully, safe. In fact, you are more likely to get sick from a restaurant than from a street vendor. Thais eat at small street restaurants all of the time, regardless of class and status. It’s well known that some of the best eating is had on the street in Bangkok.
A typical Thai meal consists of rice (Khao) and several dishes. Rice is the stable diet of Thais and is grown in many varieties throughout the country. The most popular kind is Jasmine rice, which is also one of Thailand’s main exports. Thais eat rice steamed, fried and boiled, but today most rice is steamed in rice cookers. In the north and northeast of Thailand, sticky rice (Khao Niaw) is preferred.
Thais eat using a fork and a spoon. Each person present has his or her own plate of rice, while several different dishes are placed at the middle of the table. These dishes are chosen to complement each other and offer variety. One person may order a curry dish, another a sweet and sour, a salty dish, a spicy salad and so on. The goal is to order many different dishes, so everyone gets to taste as much delicious food as possible. Everyone then digs in from the common plates. You would normally never order something for yourself, unless it’s a dish that can not be shared such as noodles or some salads.
There are 3 general types of Thai dishes:
Curry dishes or Kaeng is the most common dish in a Thai meal. The word doesn’t refer to a single dish, but to the many different types of spice combinations that make up the curries. There are green curries, red curries and yellow curries. Some are very spicy and hot, while other dishes are cooked with coconut milk to have a more mild flavor. Trying out all the different curries will be a long, enjoyable journey as each restaurant and street vendor has his own recipe. Nothing to do, but dig in and find your own favorite.
Fried Dishes (Phat):
These are dishes that are fried or stir fried in a wok. Phat in front of anything means that the dish is stir fried. These dishes usually contain one type of meat such as chicken (Kai), pork (Muu) or beef (Neua) and some vegetables or spices. There are literally hundreds of these dishes and too many to mention. As with all other Thai food, part of the fun is ordering a new dish and see how you like it.
Soups (Tom) and Salads (Yam):
Tom is the Thai word for ‘boil’ and contains all different types of soups. Yam is the Thai word for salad such as the famous Som Tam salad. Tom Yam is a soup and salad mixed together. Often a spicy seafood salad and soup.
Besides Thai food, Chinese food is very popular with Thais especially those of Chinese heritage. Chinese food can be found everywhere (such as noodle dishes), but for authentic Chinese duck or other dishes you will have to go to the Chinatown area.
Japanese food is also very popular with Thais, particularly sushi. There are several big chains that offer Japanese food, but also many smaller establishments, most of them located in the Japanese expat zones around Phrom Phong and Thong-Lor.
Western food is also available, particularly in the lower Sukhumvit area and in hotel restaurants. There are also a few good pizza parlors. A common complaint from expats is the lack of a good steak or burger. Since beef is not that common or popular in Thailand, few Thais have any idea of how to properly cook and prepare it for Western tastes. This is one reason why restaurants that serve good Western food are located in the 5 star hotels and restaurants around Sukhumvit. Western style pubs also often have good Western meals. English breakfast is served several places in town, but at the moment, consensus seems to favor ‘Eat My Cod’ restaurant at Soi Rambutri near Kao San road.