It has been a year since we moved our little family to Thailand. We want to share our experience with what we have enjoyed most in the country: Thai Food and the stories behind them.
1. Khao Mun Gai (Hainanese Chicken Rice)
This was the first meal we ever had after completing our quarantine and moving to our new home. Our kind neighbors generously gave us lunch from a nearby Hainanese Chicken Rice stall: Heng Heng Khao Mun Gai. I’ve had my share of this tasty, affordable, filling meal in Singapore. Here, it can come with either boiled or fried chicken or, if you like, a mix of both with a slice of curdled blood. It’s served with a few pieces of cucumber and broth. I prefer the juicy, crispy fried version with some sweet chili sauce.
It’s a simple dish, but I guess what makes it memorable for us (other than it being good) is that it reminds us so much of our first day. It still fills us with gratitude whenever we remember the community who kindly and generously accommodated us.
2. Khao Ka Moo
Khao Ka Moo is slow-braised pork leg with rice. It’s an easy-to-love meal when you want a tasty, meaty lunch with a slightly sweet-savory sauce.
Our first encounter with it was when we had our first hotel stay (after two years of lockdown), and we saw this long queue for a giant simmering pot of pork stew. (Food crawl hack: try stalls with long queues!) Naturally, we lined up and toted two packs of the value meal to our hotel room, which was a revelation! Since then, it has become our go-to food court meal!
3. Tom Kha Gai
Tom Kha Gai is a refreshing chicken in coconut soup with a tangy broth made of staple Thai herbs and spices: lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, shallots, lime juice, and a sprinkling of coriander leaves.
We tucked into this comforting bowl with slices of mushroom with the view of the beach from one of our favorite vacations in Ko Samed.
4. Gluay Kaek
What is not to love about these deep-fried banana slices? We usually find this sweet snack or breakfast option freshly strained from a boiling vat of oil.
These Thai banana fritters are coated with rice flour batter and fried to a crisp. Our suki gives us an extra sprinkling of crispy batter bits. For me, it’s the best part.
5. Pineapple Fried rice
Pineapple fried rice can either be a hit or miss. So on our first time ordering it, we didn’t let ourselves expect too much, even when they served a mound of it on a fancy carved pineapple and covered with pork floss. It was such a winner! The rice was soft and tasty with chunks of juicy pineapple, and they didn’t scrimp on the cashews, which adds texture and a play of flavors in the mouth. It’s a meal on its own and comes in a hefty serving.
6. Thai Milk Tea
The real deal is incredible! Thai milk tea is a common item in cafés (even outside of Thailand). Still, the best ones are those you pass by in the streets that aunties concoct like a dance, from straining the tea in stockings, pouring the brew over a mound of crushed ice, to being shaken together with evaporated and condensed milk.
7. Coconut Ice Cream
I braved buying from an ice cream lady who roves our streets one summer day as a treat for my son. I neither knew how it was supposed to taste like nor how the whole buying works, seeing she has her armada of toppings and whatnot. So I tried to capture her questions regarding options through gestures (it’s how we usually get by anyways).
I ended up with a heaping cup of coconut ice cream, sticky rice, kaong, toasted peanuts, and topped with chocolate and strawberry syrup–I was awestruck that it was only 10 baht!
Sometimes, it’s served in a coconut shell with your choice of topping, but malls and other vendors sell them in a smoothie cup with an assortment of toppings like candied squash, sweet lotus stems, rice crispies, and jellies.
8. Khao Neow Dam (Sticky red rice with pudding)
What is life without kakanin? Khanom Wan Thai (Thai desserts) can be as extensive as ours in these parts. The familiar sweet sticky rice is a welcome comfort, albeit slightly different in techniques, and the pairings can be surprising. As for me, my banana leaf-wrapped favorite is the Khao Neow Dam. It’s sweetened purple rice with a slice of coconut pudding.
9. Moo Ping (Grilled pork skewers)
Our son’s favorite is the moo ping or the pork barbecue skewers. It’s a popular street food you can eat on the go alongside steamed sticky rice. It’s packed with flavor from different spices, and its moisture is sealed with a brushing of coconut milk while grilling.
10. Khao Pad (Fried Rice)
Our ultimate comfort food is the Khao Pad or fried rice. We discovered a good one by the nearby grocery; it has been our go-to takeaway meal when we’re coming home hungry. We observed that the cook’s mise-en-place has about ten spices lined up when she cooks. No wonder it’s such a tasty meal and has a distinct smokiness.
11. Khao Khluk Kapi (Thai Fried Rice with Shrimp Paste)
I could compare Khao Khluk Kapi to bibimbap, except the rice base has shrimp paste. It’s topped with shredded mango, long beans, omelet, sausage slices, pork, and chilies. Mix the whole ensemble and dig in! If you’re not a fan of chilies, make sure to remove them before mixing, as the seeds can get very spicy.
Thai Satay is amazingly moist and flavorful. It’s eaten with a delicious peanut sauce and a quick-pickled cucumber. Its brownish-red sauce can look lethally spicy, but it’s sweet and nutty that complements the meat.
13. Pad Thai
Of course, we love Pad Thai! Fortunately, our neighbor has a stall that usually gets busy at night. Most stir-fried food comes with free veggie slices that you can bite on or mix with your dish for an extra crunch and freshness.
As for this stall, they serve their Pad Thai with a requisite bag of bean sprouts, a couple of stalks of garlic chives, or a slice of banana heart.
14. Som Tum Thai and Grilled Chicken
This signature Thai salad is made with pounded thinly-sliced papaya, long beans, tomatoes, peanuts, and spices in lime juice and fish sauce. To appreciate the salad, you should watch how the food vendors prepare them in mortar and pestle made of stone or clay.
A stall opens on weekends near our house where we can get this and best paired with their roasted chicken.
15. Chicken Khao Soi (Noodles and Chicken in Curry soup)
We ordered from Food Panda and Grab Food on weekends during our first month here. Interestingly, you can order from the smallest food stall to the largest restaurant chain through the food delivery apps.
This Isan curry became an instant hit for us with its rich and creamy curry-based broth with noodles and tender chicken. Isan is the northern region of Thailand. It also refers to the wide variety of delicacies from there.
16. Sai Krok E-sarn
A street vendor occasionally sells grilled Sai Krok E-Sarn outside Mark’s workplace. He brought home a few of these once, and we initially thought it would taste like our longganisa or chorizo.
We were surprised to bite into a savory-sour taste that blended well with rice (inside), meat and other spices. For a better experience, pair it with freshly sliced cabbages, ginger, and chilies.
17. Mayong Chid
Is it mango or plum? Mayong Chid is Marian plum in English and tastes somewhere between a mango and a plum. The first time we saw it, we immediately thought, “we have to try that!” Living in Southeast Asia, we thought we had already tried almost every kind of tropical fruit. Mayong Chid proved us wrong, and it was an unforgettable experience. Unlike the mango, where you have to peel off the skin, you can just bite it immediately and enjoy its fleshy, juicy, and luscious meat.
18. Crab roll
Our Thai friends took us to the Savoey in Tha Marajat, a restaurant near the river. They ordered a lot of food for us to try, and the crab roll appealed to Mark’s palate. It’s deep-fried crab meat with spices packed in a spring roll wrapper.
We reencountered this meal while eating at a roadside restaurant during our trip to Hua Hin.
19. Tom Yum Goong
This classic Thai dish is another hit or miss for us. It’s either we get an extremely spicy or a bland version. One thing’s for sure, though, when you get a tom yum, you need to brace yourself for the explosion of flavors: sweet, spicy, sour, and creamy.
20. Green Curry
The first time we had Green Curry was at the quarantine hotel. We had some green curry before from Thai restaurants in the Philippines but what’s different in our experience is the circle thingies that we saw floating in the curry. It pops when you bite it and has a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Later, we learned they are eggplants! They’re called cherry eggplants and are widely used within this region.
You probably have seen Thai omelets from food vloggers. It is a seemingly simple viand that’s crispy and fluffy. Sometimes, it comes with ground pork served on top of fragrant jasmine rice. It’s an affordable meal that kids and adults enjoy.
23. Pad Kha Prao (Stir Fried Basil)
When you don’t know to say “mai phet” (not spicy), then your Pad Kha Prao will be spicy by default.
Pad Kha Prao is a mix of ground meat (pork or chicken), basil leaves, sometimes with long beans, ground chilies, and the trinity of Thai stir fry: soy sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce.
Whenever we order it online, we can hardly eat it because of the spiciness. So, we learned how to cook it at home. Maybe when we’re brave enough (or get used to the average spiciness level here), then we can try them with all the chilies.
24. After You Café
Their tagline is “there’s always room for dessert!” Our Thai friend introduced us to this popular café and mentioned that it’s a must-try if you’re looking for a Thai-based cafe (other than Amazon). We fell in love with their Kakigori: finely-shaved ice with flavored syrup and milk, topped with sliced fruits. Our favorite is their hojicha and strawberry cheesecake flavors.
25. Khao Niaow Ma Muang (Mango Sticky Rice)
Mark instantly fell in love with this classic Thai snack when he visited in 2019 that he bought the expensive smaller portion at the airport so we can try it at home. Locally called Khao Niaow Ma Muang, this dessert can be served simply by slicing the mango and putting them beside the rice on a plastic container or by elegantly arranging the mango slices to form a large rose, topped with gold paper.
You will practically see this dessert on every street food stall in Thailand when mangoes are in season. The funny thing is we had a hard time looking for it during the first few months. It must have been due to the lockdown or scarcity of ripe mangoes at that time.
It’s easy to assume how khao niaow ma muang may taste like, but once you take your first bite, it’s a different dream of sweet, salty, milky, and creamy. And oh, their mangoes taste different from Philippine mangoes.
26. Nam Tok Moo (Grilled Pork Salad)
Thailand has a wide range of inventive salads. One that took me away was Nam Tok Moo, a grilled pork shoulder salad with sliced shallots, coriander, a sweet-spicy dressing, and ground roasted rice.
This last ingredient adds a layer of smokiness to the salad. I could trace some similarities to our Filipino kinilaw, but not quite.
27. Boat Noodles
These noodles are called such because they were sold by vendors aboard a pots-laden boat. Its rich broth is pig’s or cow’s blood based, and has a strong flavor that’s tangy, spicy, and rich. It’s served with your choice of noodles, pork or beef slices, and meatballs.
28. Kra Pao Pla (Fish Maw Soup)
Kra Pao Pla translates to fish stomach. But before you squirm at the thought, the soup actually called for the “air bladder,” which helps the fish control its buoyancy. The thick broth reminds me of the Chinese hot-sour soup, and often contains blood curdle cubes and bamboo shoots.
29. Khanom Babin
Soft and sweet young coconut with a chewy rice batter toasted to form a crisp crust. This was another discovery after observing that customers frequent the stall. They serve it warm and crispy. Delicious!
30. Kha Nom Pia
This flaky pastry can be filled with so many flavors from salted egg, durian, mung beans to purple sweet potato. It’s commonly translated as moon cake, and reminds us of our favorite hopia.
Never Miss Thai Food!
If you will be visiting Thailand, do not miss the food! It plays a huge part in the experience. Plus, it’s affordable and tasty, too!