Check out this tasty guest post from my friend Alana of Paper Planes about delicious Thai food. I’m busy with my new baby!
It seems like everyone always talks about how great Thai food is, especially when traveling through the country. It’s so flavorful! Colorful! Cheap! What’s not to love?
Beyond Pad Thai
Surprisingly, after living in the Land of Smiles for three years, I’ve also heard the complete opposite with people complaining that they’re sick of fried rice and pad thai, there’s only so much green curry they can eat, and it all just seems the same. Hearing these people, I think, ‘Of course it seems the same – you’ve been rotating eating the same three dishes for the past two weeks! The problem isn’t the food, it’s you knowing what Thai food really is (or isn’t) and what to order!’
And then I go eat some wonderful dish they never even knew existed.
Yes, there are a lot of rice and noodles in Thai food. Just like there are a lot of rice and noodles in Chinese food, or pasta and bread in Italian food, or rice and beans in Mexican food. It doesn’t mean every dish is just another version of itself with the ingredients simply rearranged however, and there are plenty of dishes that definitely are not like green curry, fried rice and pad thai…you just need to know what they are. (Although, admittedly, it can be difficult trying to find a variety authentic Thai food when you’re staying in a beach or resort area…)
Want to break out of the Thai food rut? Move beyond pad thai with these seven other Thai dishes to try:
Somtam is something that you just have to wonder who came up with – shredded green (unripe) papaya, long green beans, tomatoes, dried shrimp or fermented crab, limes, palm sugar, fish sauce and handfuls of fresh chilies all smashed up together with a mortar and pestle. This dish often becomes people’s favorite new find (you can ask for it not spicy) because the flavors and combination are unlike anything else they’ve had before. It’s best eaten with a side of sticky rice and some grilled chicken.
The word yum is meant for soups and Thai-style salads (often slices of onions, tomatoes and other vegetables or meat mixed up with a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and fresh chilies) and yum woosen is spicy glass noodle salad. Like with most Thai dishes you choose the type of protein you want mixed into the dish, usually chicken, pork, mixed seafood, squid or shrimp. It has some of the same flavors as somtam (most Thai salads do thanks to that basic dressing), but the textures are completely different.
Pad gra pow
You may have heard of this before, but chances are you weren’t eating it right… Pad grapao is stir fried holy basil with chilies, oyster sauce, garlic and your choice of meat served on rice, but the little secret is that you should really order this with an added fried egg on top – it’s almost shameful not to. The dish can often be quite spicy, but the creaminess of the fried egg helps balance the heat. Again, you choose what meat you want (most often chicken or pork) for this lunchtime staple. With chicken and a fried egg, the dish is called pad grapao gai kai dao, literally ‘stir fried holy basil, chicken, fried egg’.
Pad kee mao
If you like pad see ew (wide rice noodle stir fried with egg and soy sauce) and pad gra pow, pad kee mao is kind of like the marriage of the two with wide rice noodles stir fried with soy sauce, vegetables, basil and green peppercorns for an added kick.
Here’s some for you with no noodles or rice – in fact it’s a very, very common thing for Thais to eat, yet most foreigners will never even hear about it. Naam prik translates into ‘chili dip’ and comes prepared in a variety of ways. There’s naam prik ong with pork and tomatoes, naam prik noom with green chilies and naam prik goong sot with fresh shrimp, and are eaten with a range of fresh and steamed vegetables, include eggplant, carrots and cauliflower, hard boiled eggs and crispy pork rinds called keb moo. You’ll usually see naam prik for sale at the local fresh markets, but restaurants serving Thai specialties will also have it on their menu served with a platter of vegetables.
Khao ka moo
Slow cooked pork leg (usually dripping in fat) served over rice with a boiled egg, pickled greens and a sweet chili sauce. Yum. This is a good dish if you’re looking for something relatively plain to eat with no spice (although it’s better eaten with the raw garlic gloves and little ‘mouse shit’ chilies you’ll see in baskets on the table).
Yum bplaa duk fu
Usually yum bplaa duk fu is translated on menus as ‘crispy catfish salad’, but what comes out certainly isn’t what you’d be picturing or normally expect for a salad. The fish has been shredded and deep fried into crunchy flakes that you wouldn’t even know are fish and served with a side of mango salad (like somtam), tomato slices and peanuts leaving you with the common Thai combination of sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy along with a variety of textures when you mix everything together in one bite. The salad is often served at Thai-style bars and is a good dish shared with friends over a couple beers or Sangsom and soda.
Alana is a twenty-something traveler trying to figure out life one place at a time…and blogging about it at Paper Planes. Originally from Seattle, she’s been living, teaching, writing and traveling in Thailand and Southeast Asia for the past three years with no plans to ‘settle down’ anytime soon. Check out more of her stories, photos and experiences of what it’s like to be a young expat in Asia on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.