If there is one thing that is definitely and quintessentially a part of the Thai identity, it is decidedly food. And rest assured that you do not necessarily have to be an advanced foodie to enjoy every culinary gem this amazing country and city have to offer. Indeed the city of Bangkok is a foodie’s dream come true, but also truly a place of culinary discovery, filled with hundreds and hundred of food joints, eateries, local food stalls and restaurants. Complex dishes and snacks alike await at literally every street corner, food is absolutely everywhere! Here are some unmissable Thai dishes that you should definitely try during your journey through the city of Bangkok…
Our journey begins on the very first day upon arrival! Right after settling in to our hotel, we hit the streets, eager for some delicious Thai food to fill our empty stomachs. Our first choice was a local street food stall on Rambuttri Road that is particularly favoured by foreigners and locals alike, and that serves a range of delicious local dishes. The menu was rather simple and yet offered quite a decent variety of meals, including a couple of western alternatives. Street food stalls like this one are rather common in this area but we picked this one in particular for its impressive turn-over, which is, as we mentioned before, always a fairly good guarantee in terms of quality. We ordered our first unmissable dish of the list, the famed Pad Thai!
The Pad Thai is a staple of Thai cuisine, famous worldwide, it is best eaten in the streets of Bangkok! It is a dish composed of stir fried flat, wide rice noodles, a variety of vegetables such as soy bean sprouts, cabbage or chives, and meat. The ingredients are traditionally stir fried in fish sauce, garlic and tamarind in an exquisite combination, and served with crushed peanuts and hot chili on the side for the most adventurous! This unmissable Thai dish is usually served everywhere, in street food stalls and restaurants alike (prices vary accordingly, obviously). Ours came with a meat, fish or vegetarian option.
We personally tried the Chicken Pad Thai and the Tofu Pad Thai, and both were absolutely delicious, all for 50 Baht a plate! (Expect a higher price in restaurants, around 120 Bahts). If you should eat one Thai dish only during your entire stay or journey, it has to be the Pad Thai! Next on the list is something for all adventurous spice lovers out there, the Tom Yam soup!
The Tom Yam Soup is another staple Thai dish that could very easily rival with the Pad Thai for the title of ultimate Thai dish. This extremely fragrant soup is both sour and spicy. It is traditionally served with seafood and you can also have some steamed jasmine rice on the side. The broth is fantastically rich with an incredible combination of flavours with a base traditionally composed of stock, fish sauce, lime juice, lemongrass, a whole lot of crushed chilli, galangal and kaffir lime leaves, among others.
The fragrant broth then simmers for hours. Shrimp or pork is then added, along with a combination of greens and vegetables such as coriander and mushrooms. Beware though, this famed Thai dish is usually quite hot and spicy! It was deliciously served at our usual food stall for a mere 50 Bahts, with a meat, fish or vegetarian option (tofu) as well, but you can traditionally find it at most local restaurants in Bangkok with prices starting at 120 Bahts.
Mango Sticky Rice
We continue our journey with a dessert dish that will steal the heart of literally anyone with a sweet tooth, also known as the mango Sticky Rice. This dessert dish is incredibly simple, yet absolutely delicious. It traditionally is composed of sticky rice soaked in warm coconut milk, sugar and a pinch of salt; and served with a sliced, ripe mango on the side. No more, no less. One recommendation though, the mango accompanying this dish has to be ripe, and the peak of the mango season in South East Asia traditionally is between April and May, which is basically when you’ll get to devour the best Mango Sticky Rice.
The dessert is available literally everywhere in the streets of Bangkok as well as in restaurants. It was served in our local street food stall for 50 Bahts. Other street vendors sell it as well with prices ranging from 35 to 50 Bahts, while restaurant prices start between 80 and 100 Bahts. Whether you choose to enjoy it in the street or in the comfort of a restaurant, make sure to give this unmissable and staple dessert dish a try, you won’t be disappointed!
The Panang Curry
What better way to transition than with another hot and spicy Thai dish. Most countries in Asia like India, Cambodia or even Japan have their own traditional national curry dish. The Panang Curry is Thailand’s very own emblematic curry dish. Originating from the South of Thailand, this traditionally red curry is particularly thick, and sweet, hot and salty in flavour. It is actually much different from the original Indian curry, and has its very own identity with quite a nutty aftertaste due to the crushed peanuts used in the base paste that is composed of shrimp paste, coriander seeds, cumin seed, a whole lot of crushed chilli, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass, among others. The paste in then cooked in coconut milk and a choice of vegetables and meats are added.
It can be served with a choice of meat or seafood, but is traditionally best served with pork meat, as well as steamed jasmine rice on the side. Again, like many other Thai dishes, this one is particularly hot, so make sure that you can actually handle the fire! Many street food stalls will serve the Panang Curry for about 50 to 60 Bahts but it is also available in some restaurants with prices starting around 130 Bahts.
The Pad Sew
Our culinary journey then takes us to another staple dish, as well as one of my personal favourites: the Pad Sew. While similar in aspect to the Pad Thai, the Pad Sew is actually much different in flavour. The key being the sauce!
Indeed this other stir fried noodle dish is traditionally stirred in a thicker sauce, the main ingredient being Dark Soy Sauce, garlic and a whole lot of black pepper. Vegetables such as Bok Choi or broccolis are then added to the mix, along with an egg, and your choice of meat or sea food. It is commonly preferred with chicken, pork or beef, but most restaurants and street food stalls will offer a fish or vegetarian option. Another incredibly simple, yet incredibly delicious Thai dish, and once again, best devoured in a street food stall for a mere 50 Bahts.
Western and International options
Should you want to take a break from Thai Food, rest assured that culinary options from literally all over the world await. Western dishes and snacks are available everywhere in town for tourists and foreigners alike. Other Asian Foods such as Indian and Japanese are also very popular in the city of Bangkok. Make sure to try some of the Japanese restaurants in one of the numerous Megamalls of the City!
However, restaurants do not have the monopoly for foreign foods anymore! Indeed, street food stalls and trucks are now serving some great dishes and snacks as well, with a special mention to the Pasta Basta Food truck:
This little food truck sits every night at the junction of Kao San Road and Rambuttri. Owned by two extremely enthusiastic young Thai ladies, this charming food trucks serves… Italian Pasta dishes! With many pasta options (including a squid ink pasta option!), the food that they serve is simple yet delicious, rather cheap and very effective. A plate traditionally cost 149 Bahts, and some very simple Thai rice dishes are available for 40 to 60 Bahts.The service is lovely and you’ll feel very much welcome. Running until 3:30 in the morning, the Pasta Basta truck was definitely a delightful surprise before a good night’s sleep.
While Thailand and Bangkok obviously have a whole lot more of culinary wonders to offer, consider that this non-exhaustive list is yet again a perfect start for first timers, our main advice being to try everything with an open mind, and who knows where your culinary journey will take you!