5 Must-Try Thai Dishes in Bangkok


A culinary adventure in Bangkok: 5 must-try dishes for your Thai food tour


Bangkok, the City of Angels, is a vibrant metropolis that captivates visitors with its stunning temples, rich culture, and, of course, its phenomenal Thai street food scene. Thai cuisine, known for its explosion of flavours – a delightful symphony of sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter notes – is a must-try experience for any traveler. This article explores five iconic Thai food dishes guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on your Bangkok culinary adventure.


1. Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad): A refreshing symphony of flavours in Thai street food

Som Tam, literally translating to "sour pounded," is a vibrant green papaya salad that pulsates with the essence of Thai street food. Shredded green papaya forms the base, providing a refreshing crunch. A medley of vegetables like julienned carrots, cherry tomatoes and green beans adds pops of colour and texture. The magic lies in the tangy and spicy dressing, typically a combination of lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, chilli and crushed roasted peanuts. Shrimp or dried shrimp paste can be added for an extra umami punch.

Som Tam

Som Tam boasts regional variations across Thailand. In the north, it leans towards a smokier flavour with the addition of fermented fish paste. Isaan, Thailand's northeastern region, is known for its incredibly spicy version, often incorporating fermented crab paste for a deeper complexity. Southern Som Tam incorporates fresh palm sugar and sometimes even fruits like pineapple, offering a sweeter profile.

Som Tam

Beyond its delightful taste, Som Tam offers surprising health benefits. Green papaya is a good source of vitamins A and C, vital for boosting the immune system. Its chilli is packed with antioxidants, while the lime juice aids digestion. Peanuts contribute protein and healthy fats.

 

Top Spots to Enjoy Som Tam in Bangkok:
  • Nahm: This Michelin-starred restaurant elevates Som Tam to an art form, offering variations like Som Tam with Blue Crab or Som Tam with Fermented Fish.
  • Tamjai Dit (Yaowarat): Nestled in Bangkok's Chinatown, this stall is a local favorite, renowned for its customisable Som Tam with options to adjust spice levels and additional ingredients.

Somtum Der (Ari): This popular spot offers a variety of regional Som Tam styles, including the fiery Isaan version and the sweeter southern take.


2. Pad Thai: A national treasure steeped in history and a must-try Thai dish

Pad Thai, Thailand's unofficial national dish, is a stir-fried noodle symphony boasting a rich history. Popular belief suggests it originated during World War II when the government aimed to promote rice noodle consumption and decrease reliance on imported ingredients. Pad Thai features thin rice noodles stir-fried with eggs, vegetables like bean sprouts and scallions, and your choice of protein – typically chicken, shrimp, tofu, or a combination. It's seasoned with a flavourful sauce that balances sweet, salty, and sour notes, often using tamarind or palm sugar, fish sauce and chilli flakes. A sprinkle of crushed peanuts and a squeeze of lime add finishing touches.

Pad Thai

The preparation of Pad Thai is a captivating performance. Thai street food vendors skillfully maneuver woks over high flames, tossing ingredients with rhythmic precision. Pad Thai's versatility allows for customisation. Vegetarians can opt for tofu or egg-based versions, while seafood lovers can choose the shrimp option. The addition of chilli flakes caters to those who crave a fiery kick.

Pad Thai

Best Places to Try Pad Thai in Bangkok:
  • Thip Samai Pad Thai (Pratunam): This legendary stall boasts a legacy that stretches back decades, revered for its smoky take on Pad Thai cooked over charcoal flames.
  • Shophouse by Soi Thai (Sukhumvit): This restaurant offers a sophisticated take on Pad Thai, incorporating premium ingredients like lobster and showcasing innovative plating.
  • Jay Fai (Ratchawat): This Michelin-starred stall, run by the iconic chef Jay Fai, is renowned for its giant crab Pad Thai, a decadent and visually stunning dish .

 


3. Tom Yum Goong: A fragrant journey for seafood lovers of Thai cuisine

Tom Yum Goong, translating to "spicy shrimp soup," is a world-famous Thai dish that ignites the senses with its aromatic broth and vibrant flavours. The fragrant base is built with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and chilli, simmered in a rich prawn or shrimp stock. The tangy sweetness comes from lime juice and tomatoes, while fish sauce adds a touch of umami. The star of the show is succulent shrimp, cooked to perfection and bathed in the flavourful broth. Mushrooms and sometimes even fish balls can be included for additional texture and depth.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong isn't just a culinary delight; it boasts potential health benefits as well. Lemongrass is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, while galangal aids digestion. The chilli used is rich in vitamins A and C, vital for boosting the immune system. Shrimp provides a good source of lean protein and essential minerals.

Tom Yum Goong

Popular restaurants serving Tom Yum Goong in Bangkok:
  • Baan Khanitha (Silom): This renowned restaurant offers a classic and flavourful Tom Yum Goong, highlighting the perfect balance of sweet, sour, spicy, and savory notes.
  • Supanniga Eating (Si Phraya): Nestled by the Chao Phraya River, this restaurant offers a scenic setting to enjoy their signature Tom Yum Goong with a variety of fresh seafood options.
  • Jeh O Chuj (Sam Yan): This Michelin Bib Gourmand-recognised stall serves a comforting and flavourful Tom Yum Goong, known for its generous portions and affordable price

 

4. Khao Soi: Satisfyingly spring egg noodles in a coconut curry broth 

Khao Soi, literally translating to "cut rice," is a soul-warming curry noodle soup that originates from Northern Thailand. Burmese influences are evident in the dish's rich coconut curry broth, typically coloured yellow with turmeric. The base features egg noodles, springy and satisfying. Tenderly cooked chicken is a common protein choice, but some variations incorporate beef or even vegetarian options. Pickled cabbage adds a refreshing sourness that cuts through the richness of the curry. The pièce de résistance is a crown of crispy fried noodles perched atop the dish, offering a delightful textural contrast.

Khao Soi

Khao Soi boasts several regional variations. Chiang Mai, the cultural heart of Northern Thailand, is known for its creamy and milder version. Further north, the curry can become spicier and feature ingredients like Burmese fermented soybean paste (toe htay).

Essential Ingredients and Recipe Variations:

  • Yellow Curry Paste: This forms the base of the flavourful broth, typically featuring a blend of turmeric, chilli, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and other aromatics.
  • Coconut Milk: The creamy and rich coconut milk adds depth and a touch of sweetness to the broth.
  • Egg Noodles: Thick and springy egg noodles form the base of the dish.
  • Protein: Chicken is the most common protein, but variations include beef, pork, or even vegetarian options.
  • Pickled Cabbage: The tangy and sour pickled cabbage cuts through the richness of the curry and adds a refreshing element.
  • Crispy Fried Noodles: These add a delightful textural contrast and visual appeal to the dish.

 

Khao Soi

Where to Find the Best Khao Soi in Bangkok:
  • Krua Khun Mae (Ari): This cosy restaurant offers a delicious and authentic Khao Soi with a rich and creamy broth, following the Chiang Mai style.
  • Khao Soi Samer (Sam Yan): This Michelin Bib Gourmand-recognised stall serves a crowd-pleasing version of Khao Soi, known for its generous portions and balanced flavours.
  • Doi Suthep (Sukhumvit): This restaurant offers a refined take on Khao Soi, showcasing premium ingredients and beautifully presented variations.


5. Boat Noodles (Guay Teow Rua): A unique experience in bite-sized portions, a must-try Thai street food

Boat Noodles, also known as Guay Teow Rua (meaning "boat noodles"), is a quintessential Bangkok street food experience. The dish's name originates from the traditional method of vendors selling it from small boats along canals. Today, you'll find them served in regular bowls, but the essence of the dish remains – a symphony of flavours in bite-sized portions.

Boat Noodles

Boat Noodles feature thin rice noodles served in a flavourful broth. Variations include pork, beef, or vegetarian options. The broth itself is a complex concoction, simmered for hours with various aromatics like star anise, cloves, and cardamom. The key to Boat Noodles lies in customisation. Vendors typically offer a variety of condiments like bean sprouts, lime wedges, chilli and a sweet and savory dipping sauce. Diners can personalise their bowls to their desired level of spiciness and flavour profile.

The exact origin of Boat Noodles is unclear, but it's believed to have emerged during the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767) when vendors sold food from boats along canals, catering to boat traffic. The small portions allowed for easy consumption while navigating the waterways.

Traditional Preparation and Ingredients:

  • Thin Rice Noodles: These form the base of the dish, cooked al dente for a satisfying texture.
  • Broth: This is the heart of the dish, simmered for hours with various aromatics like star anise, cloves, cardamom, and other spices, depending on the variation. Pork or beef bones can be used to add richness.
  • Protein: Sliced pork or beef are the most common protein options, but vegetarian versions are also available.
  • Condiments: Fresh bean sprouts, lime wedges, chilli in vinegar, and a sweet and savory dipping sauce allow diners to customise their bowl's flavour profile and spice level.

 

Boat Noodles

Recommended places to try Boat Noodles in Bangkok:
  • Sukhumvit Soi 39: This street is a haven for Boat Noodles, with numerous vendors offering their unique variations.
  • Wat Pho: The area surrounding this iconic temple is known for its Boat Noodle stalls, perfect for a quick and delicious bite before exploring the temple complex.
  • Sampeng Lane: Nestled in Bangkok's Chinatown, Sampeng Lane offers a variety of street food options, including Boat Noodles with a focus on pork-based broths.

 

Conclusion

Bangkok's culinary scene is a vibrant tapestry of flavours and experiences. This exploration of five iconic Thai dishes – Som Tam, Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong, Khao Soi, and Boat Noodles – offers just a taste of the incredible diversity waiting to be discovered. So, embark on your own Bangkok food adventure, embrace the symphony of sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter notes, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

 

 

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