The next-best thing to traveling? Dreaming about it. While our global travel is on pause for a bit longer, we’re bringing the culture to you. Next up in our series on some of our favorite destinations around the world: Thailand.
With its name meaning to “land of the free”—it’s the only Southeast Asian country that didn’t face European colonization—Thailand has kept its independent spirit and culture. Opulent golden temples sit next to coconut-palm fringed tropical beaches, and modern city centers contrast with sleepy fishing villages.
The juxtapositions in the country’s cuisine follow suit. A typical Thai dish balances four contrasting flavors in delicious harmony: spicy, sweet, sour, bitter. And they’re oh-so-fun to make. From street food in Bangkok to southern-style seafood in Koh Samui, we’ve shortlisted a few ways to travel through Thailand dish by dish—without leaving the kitchen. Let the culinary adventure begin.
Street Food in the (Second) City of Angels
The brightly colored tuk-tuks. The palatial Grand Palace. The street food. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Thailand’s coolest—and most populous—capital city, street food stalls take center stage. With 10 Michelin-starred stalls, including 75-year-old chef icon Jay Fai, street food in Bangkok has become world-famous.
Perhaps Thailand’s most famous dish, Pad Thai is a must. Make it traditional street-food style by using banana flour and dried shrimp. If you want to really take to the streets in local style, Pad Thai’s main competitor, a Thai crispy pancake with mussels. Or try the Khao Pad fried rice or Yen Ta Fou, noodles in red soybean paste with fish ball, squid and morning glory.
Seafood Curry on Koh Samui
For a little taste of Southern Thailand’s adventurous, seafood-rich cuisine, head to the country’s most famous island, Koh Samui. After a day trekking around Big Buddha Beach or the secluded coral reefs of Hanuman Bay, stroll around the Fisherman’s Village on the island’s east side for a range of options for fresh-catch seafood against a gorgeous, seaside backdrop.
Start with Thai Prawn Cakes or Hoi Chak Teen, a boiled shelled seafood snack. Then head into locals-love main dishes like Gaeng Som tamarind-soured curry or the famous Pla Thot—a deep-fried delicacy of whole fish spiced with turmeric and garlic. When you’re feeling a little more adventurous, try the Gaeng Tai Pla, a southern-staple curry made with strong flavors, including dried chilies, galangal, fermented fish innards, pumpkin and yardlong beans.
Spicy Noodles in Chiang Mai
Set in mountainous northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is known as much as a hotspot for modern digital nomads as it is for the 600-year-old moat surrounding it. But it may be its vibrant food scene that really puts it on the map. Head to the hip neighborhood of Nimman for a collection of cafes, bars and local restaurants featuring the “Lanna” cuisine of the north.
Perhaps the most-exported staple of the region is its Khao Soi, a thick curry soup loaded with crunchy fried noodles, pickled vegetables and tender chicken or beef. Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiao also makes the cut for northern-noodle favorites: fresh rice noodles in a spicy tomato broth with condiments like deep-fried pork skin and bean sprouts. And the Miang Kham leaf-wrapped bites are a spicy-sweet mixture of shallots, chilies, ginger, coconut and more.
The Finale: Coconut-Drenched Desserts
Wherever you (armchair) travel in Thailand, don’t forget the dessert. The country’s most popular dessert accessory? The coconut. Try after-dinner go-to’s like Mango Sticky Rice drenched in coconut milk or Bamboo Sticky Rice, with red beans, coconut cream and rice cooked into a sweet, melty concoction. Or go for the beautiful Bua Loy—meaning “floating lotus”—Thai sticky rice dumplings in sweet coconut soup. Thailand’s sweet treats can be a bit harder to perfect than the noodle and curry main dishes but give them a go. They’re worth it.
For the perfect guide for your tastebud travels, check out the Outrigger Koh Samui mini cookbook, with chef favorites and insider tips on the best Thai dishes. Hi aroi na!