How much do you love Thai food? Enough to try the stinkiest most luscious fruit on the planet? Or can you humble yourself enough to try food made for simple home dinners? After 34 years of eating from my families’ Thai kitchens, I’ve put together a short list of some of the best Thai dishes that foodies can find. Plenty of people will disagree with the fame of some of these dishes. But for my large family, they represent iconic Thai cuisine.
Serious Thai Dishes for Food Lovers
Foi Tong– an insanely sweet dessert that my sister loves. The recipe starts with egg yolks and sugar and ends up becoming decadent golden threads that you eat delicately with a fork. Many people in my family will horde this treat for themselves.
Durian- One of the only foods that Andrew Zimmern can’t handle. But I love it. The texture is like custard. The aroma is like garbage. It’s 100% Thai and 1000% worth the bragging rights. Be warned. Durian fruit is not allowed in most hotels unless you want to stink up the place and pay a fine.
Egg Omelet- a dish “for the people”, egg omelets in Thailand are seasoned simply with fish sauce and scallions then pan fried in vegetable oil. It’s not unusual for our family to have a 6-egg omelet in the middle of the table to eat with some jasmine rice during dinner.
Khanom Chun- a super classic Thai dessert made of coconut and tapioca flour formed into small cubes. When my family eats at Sri Praphai our favorite Thai restaurant in Queens, NY we order this and then each take a portion to go. It has a consistency that is thicker than jello and subtly sweet. It literally means layered dessert and kids (ok, me too!) love to peel it apart into tiny tabs of goodness.
Sa-Lim- with a similar taste to Khanom Chun, Sa-Lim looks like tri-color spaghetti. Green, pink, and white are the most common colors that you spoon into a bowl, top with shaved ice, and cover with super sweet coconut milk. Fantastic on a summer’s day, if you can find it.
Pad See Iew- Similar to Rad Na but with a world of difference. This is another one of my personal lunch time favorites. The noodles are stir fried for longer and with more sweet soy sauce. I like it with extra scallions and shrimp.
Tod Mun Pla- This one is a deal breaker for me. When ordering appetizers, most people go for the satay and spring rolls which is fine. Me? I’m ordering my own plate of fish cakes and telling everyone else to get their own. I ain’t sharing. The patties are made with mild spices and Thai green beans. A cucumber salad accompanies the dish. If you like meatballs and fish, this may be for you.
Ba Tong Go- Of Chinese origin, I believe, these crullers are doughy twists about as long as your forearm. Pick them up in the market and dunk them into Ovaltine. All the kids on the way to school will be jealous.
Duck Soup with Rice Noodles- My all-time favorite lunchtime meal. The broth is made from star anise, vegetables, thick soy sauce, and fish sauce. Roasted duck tops the fresh rice noodles called sen yai (wide noodles) then the hearty soup covers everything. I like extra scallions and my dad adds celery to the pot too.
Niea Yang Nam Tok- My brother makes this dish for Thanksgiving and it doesn’t last very long. Grilled steak is sliced thinly on the bias. Cilantro, shallots, lime, dried chillies, and fish sauce are combined to create an incredible starter. If you have sticky rice to accompany this ‘salad’, you’ll get more street cred.
Yum Pla Dook Foo– Super bragging rights. I didn’t even have this until I was in my 20s. My cousins thought for sure I was adopted when I said I’d never had this dish. It’s a “salad” of fried catfish, lime, veggies, and other spices. Over rice, it is an amazing dish.
Yum Woon Sen- When my aunt makes this dish, she has to set aside a serving for my sister because she likes it mild and the rest of us like it atomic spicy. Woon sen are glass noodles or vermicelli that are tossed with shrimp, shallots, and cilantro. It’s a very light and refreshing starter.
Kanom Guchai- like tapas, this snack is small in size but artfully created. Rice dough is rolled out and stuffed with a savory leek filling. The dumplings are steamed to translucent-white deliciousness and served with a soy sauce dressing.
Papaya Salad- You can’t leave Thailand or a Thai restaurant without trying this appetizer. Green papaya is grated into long noodle-like threads and mixed with dried shrimp, sugar, fish sauce, and lime using a mortar and pestle. Sometimes peanuts and seafood accompany it but often it’s served with hot chillies. So ask the waiter to bring it without the heat.
Nom Jeen- a cold rice noodle dish. After cooked through, the noodles are kept wet so that cooks can twirl them into little baskets and set aside to cool. As the water evaporates off the nom jeen, the noodles keep their shape. As a kid, I ate this dish with a little fish sauce. Most people dress it with a curry like sauce.
Masamun Curry- Thailand has a gamut of curries that use coconut milk as a base. There’s green, red, and brown but Masamun is one of the most popular. With a peanut base, meat and potatoes simmer away in the thick curry sauce. It’s an easy introduction to Thai curries that are very different from their Indian counterparts.
Khanom Clok- I can still hear the bells from when the khanom clok man would come down the street in Khorat City. Coconut milk is mixed with tapioca starch and sugar. On an open coal grill, the batter is poured into cast iron skillets with little divets. As the fire heats the grill, the batter firms into little warm custard cups. I’ve burned my tongue a million times and have yet to learn my lesson. It’s that good!
How many have you had?