Seafood is the key ingredient in a plethora of traditional Thai dishes. We explore the array of flavours from the ocean that feature in Thai cuisine, as well as honing in on a selection of the Kingdom’s favourite fish dishes.
Fresh king prawns can be found in many of Thailand’s staple dishes, including pad Thai noodles
With endless miles of coastline, Thailand is the perfect place for seafood lovers to indulge in the fruits of the ocean. The waters off the southern coasts of the Kingdom are a rich treasure trove of marine life, and many of the country’s local communities have relied on fishing as a way of life for hundreds of years. As a result, seafood is a key ingredient in many traditional Thai dishes and plays a major role in a cuisine that’s so diverse you can always find a new dish to tickle your taste buds. Whether you’re in the mood for something spicy, fried, or served in a creamy curry sauce, Thai seafood dishes are the perfect island delight.
Islands like Phuket and Koh Samui are favourite destinations for those who wish to sample the fresh local fare, and the fishing industry still forms a crucial part of local life in both destinations. You’ll find plenty of top-notch restaurants serving fresh seafood, from contemporary, high-end eateries to local, family-run joints. In fact, many establishments specialise in seafood alone, so you can take your pick of the catch of the day and personalise all the trimmings to go with it.
We take a closer look at the different kinds of seafood lavours you can expect to see on a menu in Thailand, plus a selection of the top dishes you shouldn’t leave the Kingdom without trying.
White snapper is a versatile fish that you can expect to see in many Thai dishes
One of the best things about a seafood feast in Thailand is that you know it’s going to be varied. A typical island restaurant will be serving everything from meaty white fish to crunchy King prawns, so you can be sure that there will always be something to tickle your taste buds.
White snapper is one fish you can expect to see on many menus throughout the Kingdom. This medium-flavoured fish works well in an array of dishes, and its versatility means you’ll see it in everything from fried dishes to creamy curries. Even with relatively little in terms of seasoning, this satisfying fish is a flavour to savour. Seabass is another favourite, thanks to its meaty texture. Large flakes of meat and a soft, buttery consistency mean it’s not too overpowering and make this fish an ideal ingredient for curries. For an al fresco feast cooked on the barbecue, tuna is another great choice. The full-flavoured, meaty fish tastes best when it’s fresh, and tuna steaks are available in abundance in coastal areas of Thailand.
Prawns are perhaps Thailand’s most popular fruit of the sea. High in protein, these tiny creatures also pack a powerful punch of iron, zinc and vitamin E. They’re a delicious ingredient for many staple Thai dishes, from hot and spicy soups like tom yam goong to refreshing salad dishes like yum talay. Grilled, fried or steamed, you can guarantee that prawns taste best when they’re fresh – which is rarely an issue in places like Phuket or Koh Samui.
Squid is another popular choice when it comes to Thailand’s seafood dishes. High in protein, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, copper and selenium, the firm texture and strong flavour makes it taste great in an array of dishes. It’s particularly popular deep fried and served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.
Yum talay is a refreshing dish boasts a playful mix of unmistakeably Thai flavours
Many Thai dishes are known for their refreshing, tangy taste – and yum talay is no exception. This delectable seafood salad packs in an array of mouth-watering flavours, from the sumptuous freshness of seafood to the sharpness of lime, chilli, coriander and mint.
This simple salad comprises a delicious mix of seafood that will typically include prawns, squid and mussels. This mixture is tossed in a delectable dressing made from fish sauce, chillies, lime juice and fresh herbs. It works well as a starter or as a light main course at lunch time. If you’re making the salad yourself, don’t mix the seafood with the dressing and herbs until right before serving. That way, the freshness of the dish will have maximum impact.
Tom yam goong is one of Thailand’s classic dishes, and is a firm favourite with visitors
Prawns are served in array of different ways in Thailand, and while many of the Kingdom’s most popular dishes feature cooked prawns, some local folk enjoy the flavour of raw shrimp, too. In fact, fresh raw shrimp are often served with an irresistible dressing crafted from a fragrant mix of chillies, garlic, mint and spring onions. A little fish sauce and lemon or lime juice is also sprinkled on the shrimp, before each one is eaten all in one go (apart from the tail). This is an intense dish, but those that have a sense of adventure when it comes to trying new flavours shouldn’t miss out on the chance to savour its unique, delectable flavour.
Of course, tom yam goong is undoubtedly Thailand’s most famous dish when it comes to using prawns. The spicy-sour soup is made from coconut broth, with an array of herbs including lemongrass and coriander helping to provide the tangy twist at the end. The soup often incorporates mushrooms, but it’s the indulgent soft crunch of the fresh prawns that really makes people remember it.
Explosion of flavour
Crispy and delicious, fish fried with lemon, soy sauce and chili is ideal if you’re keen to indulge in some comfort food
For an indulgent feast, fried fish is the ultimate option when it comes to a satisfying seafood feast. No Thai dishes are bland when it comes to flavour, and pla sam rod – fish fried with lemon juice, soy sauce and chilli – is no exception. Sea bass works particularly well with the seasonings used for this delectable dish, also you’ll also see white snapper or perhaps even barracuda used.
Many other popular Thai seasonings are added to give pla sam rod its unique taste, including coriander, chilli, galangal and palm sugar. If you’re dining in one of the Kingdom’s private luxuryvillas, you’ll be able to personalise the dish by explaining to the chef how much of each seasoning you’d like. The fried fish will often be served with fresh salad, coriander and cashew nuts.
Made from turmeric, cumin and yellow mustard seeds, yellow curry provides the perfect sauce to complement white fish
No selection of top Thai dishes would be complete without mentioning at least one of the nation’s sumptuous curries. When it comes to fish, the unmistakeable flavours of a yellow curry offer the perfect match. Crafted from a carefully-balanced concoction of turmeric, cumin, yellow mustard seed, nutmeg, and kaffir lime leaves, this classic Thai curry paste forms the base of a dish that will tingle your tongue and leave you hoping for more. Coconut cream helps blend the flavours together, and the meaty white fish forms the sustenance. Served with a garnish of finely sliced red chillies and chopped coriander on top, this is one fish dish that you will most likely want to learn how to cook.
Eat at the source
A short boat journey from Phuket, fishing is a key part of life in Koh Panyee
There are innumerable fabulous seafood restaurants located throughout Thailand where you can enjoy an array of flavoursome fish dishes. However, for a truly authentic experience, a trip to one of the quaint fishermen’s villages on Samui or Phuket is unbeatable.
Koh Samui’s Hua Thanon is one of the best places to chow down on fish at a local seafood restaurant. This charming Muslim village offers a true glimpse into traditional island life, and the sprinkling of beautifully-painted kor lae boats give the village a quaint, appealing vibe.
Likewise, Koh Panyee, a short boat ride from the east coast of Phuket, is another great destination to watch the catch of the day come in. This floating settlement is built on the edge of Panyee Island, and home to a community of Muslim fisher folk. All of the houses and restaurants are built on stilts over the ocean, so a meal here is likely to become one of the unforgettable highlights of your holiday.
Follow our top tips to ensure you only consume high-quality, fresh fish whilst you’re on holiday
- Avoid restaurants with seafood displays next to busy roads. There’s a lot of pollution that can contaminate the fish, plus you don’t know how long it’s been left out there
- When picking out a seafood restaurant for your lunch or dinner, go for an open kitchen style of eatery where you can see the food being prepared.
- When you’re in a foreign land the best way to find top notch food is to do what the locals do. If there’s one restaurant particularly popular in the local community, why not go there for a meal to sample the best local produce?