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Thai food is world-famous for its mouthwatering and rich flavors and for good reason. Whether it’s spicy or juicy, you have to explore the unique flavors of the Land of Smiles by trying the exotic cuisine this foodie nation has to offer. Here’s a list of the 12 most iconic Thai food dishes that are loved by the locals and travelers alike.

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Som Tam (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)

Som tam hails originally from Isaan and is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. Som tam can come in a variety of different styles, however, the classic som tam is made with shredded green papaya, carrots, tomatoes, peanuts, dried shrimp, runner beans, palm sugar, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and plenty of chilies. The ingredients are pounded together using a mortar and pestle, which brings out the flavors into a blissfully delicious healthy salad. The number of chili peppers can be varied to suit your palate, we recommend being cautious and ordering it ped nit noi (meaning a little bit spicy) and starting out with no more than 2 peppers — If you’re not a connoisseur chilihead.

Papaya Salad is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand.

Pad Thai (Thai Style Fried Noodles)

Pad Thai is one of Thailand’s iconic dishes and it’s available on almost every street corner. It’s an affordable and tasty meal making it the go-to cuisine for travelers who are beginning their Thai food exploration. Pad thai is a fried noodle dish that is usually made with shrimp or chicken. The vegetarian option is popular as well and can be complemented with tofu or fried eggs. Pad Thai in its essence is a simple, cheap meal that can fuel your explorations whenever needed.

Pad Thai is affordable, tasty and convenient.

Pad Krapow (Fried Basil)

Traditional Pad Krapao is made using minced pork or chicken (we recommend ordering it with tofu!) which is stir-fried with Thai basil and plenty of chilies served with white rice and topped with a fried egg. The Thai basil has a unique strong peppery flavor that isn’t for everyone, but the locals love it for its rich and spicy taste. The chilies pack a fiery punch that you can take down a notch by asking for a less spicy version. The ingredients complement each other into an impressive taste sensation.

Basil Fried Chicken and fried egg with rice – iconic part of Thai cuisine.

Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in Coconut Soup)

It’s not surprising to see coconuts as a recurrent element in Thai cuisine. Tom Kha Gai is closely related to tom yum and offers a gentler way of enjoying those same classic flavors without the added spiciness. Tom Kha Gai is made with a rich amount of creamy coconut milk creating a warmhearted satisfying soup. The vegetarian option is easily adaptable by substituting a few ingredients.

Tom Kha Gai in a pan frying with kaffier lime leaves, lemongrass, red onion, galangal and chilli.

Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)

Perhaps the most iconic Thai dish, Tom Yum is a steaming bowl of bold and aromatic flavors delivered with a mouthwatering spicy kick. Tom Yum Goong derives its unique taste from ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, chilli, kaffier lime leaves, shallots, and fresh lime juice. Fish sauce is commonly used as well. Mushrooms and fresh prawns are added to make it more filling, with the option of coconut cream for a smoother earthy experience.

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Tom refers to the boiling process, while yam refers to a spicy and sour salad.

Guay Teow (Noodle Soup)

Guay teow is one of the most beloved Thai dishes and can be found everywhere in the country. Guay teow means simply any type of noodle soup. It’s rarely vegetarian-friendly, and variations for this affordable dish are usually made with chicken, pork, or beef. The soup is mixed with either rice or egg noodles. Street vendors love to add wontons or meatballs to the broth. Most places let you choose your own garnish, topping the dish with a selection of condiments including, sugar, dried chilli peppers, lime juice, and fish sauce. Guay teow is popular as a late-night snack and you can often see locals gathering around street diners enjoying it.

Cheap street food with variations of meat available in every corner, guay teow is beloved by the locals.

Panang (Thai Curry)

Panang curry, or red Thai curry, is a smooth well-rounded dish comparing to its other curry counterparts in Thailand. Panang curry pastes vary somewhat, but they typically include dried chili peppers, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, kaffir lime leaves, coriander root, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds. It’s a popular dish amongst tourists who want to steer away from the most burning sensations. Panang curry is commonly served with shrimp, although vegetarian options are getting more popular too.

Pork panang curry garnished with shallots.

Gaeng Keow Wan (Green Curry)

A central Thai variety, green curry is a spicy mouthwatering dish that has a sweet and earthy taste. Green curry is made from fresh green chillies, ginger, eggplant, and plenty of coconut milk. It is served with steamed rice. The vegetarian option is readily available by swapping the meat with tofu.

Green curry in a bowl with lime, red onion, lemon grass, garlic and kaffir lime leaves

Pad Phak (Fried Vegetables)

This Thai classic will leave vegetarians and carnivores alike asking for seconds. If you don’t enjoy oyster sauce make sure to ask the vendor to leave it out. Stir-fried vegetables combined with as many flavors as possible make the most noteworthy dishes, and stir-fried vegetables are no exception.

Stir-fried peas in a frying pan.

Kai Jeow (Thai Omelette)

Kai jeow is a simple protein-rich quick meal on the go or accompanying any other dish. Thai omelet is served on rice with sweet chilli sauce. If you want some vegetables added just ask for kai jeow pak. If you’re in a rush Thai omelette is a perfect option to keep you exploring!

Fried Egg with Climbing Wattle and Spicy Shrimp Paste.

Khao Pad (Fried Rice)

Fried rice, or khao pad, serves as breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper. Locals adore it and it’s their favorite on-the-go meal. Khao pad is just fried rice with some egg, onion and that’s about it. There’s always a few slices of cucumber as a garnish with plenty of condiments available.

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Fried rice with eggs is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand, but you can find variations with pork, chicken, or shrimps.

Kao Niew Ma Muang (Mango and Sticky Rice)

Hungry for dessert? Enjoy this simple-yet-perfect sweet course of mango and sticky rice. Kao niew ma muang is made with sticky rice, fresh mango slices, with lashings of condensed sweet milk.

Sweet mango with sticky rice – the most popular traditional dessert of Thailand

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