If you’re a true spice junkie, we’ve rounded up a selection of unmissable Thai dishes that you should try on your vacation to the land of the chilli connoisseurs
Thailand’s culinary repertoire is packed with hot dishes
For many visitors, Thailand’s incredible array of traditional gastronomic offerings is one of their holiday highlights. From decadent creamy curries to delicate ribbons of fried noodle, every visitor that travels to the Kingdom has a favourite and for many foodies that number one, must-have dish is also spicy.
Most Thai dishes are built on a base of four flavours: sweet, salty, sour and spicy. Although chillies make an appearance in countless Thai dishes, their fiery flavour comes to the fore in some more than others and unless you’re very familiar wit local Thai food, or have a good grasp of the language, you’re unlikely to know which dishes are the most spicy – which can be a recipe for trouble if you’re not a fan of fiery flavours.
If are a keen spice seeker, however, check out our list of the top dishes to enjoy in Thailand.
Spicy basil feast
This tasty pork dish packs in a powerful punch of flavour
Pad krapow is one of Thailand’s spicy meat dishes, and is much loved as a satisfying meal for lunch or dinner. Prepared in a flaming hot wok, this delicious dish comprises pork (or chicken), green beans, soy sauce, handfuls of holy basil leaves and, of course, plenty of chillies. Once cooked, the spicy minced meat is served with a plateful of fluffy white rice. If you’re eating this dish in a touristy area, you might not find it too spicy. However, order it in any local eatery and you’ll soon feel the exhilarating tingle of heat on your lips as you tuck in. In many local restaurants, pad krapow is served with a fried egg on top for extra sustenance, texture and flavour.
Salad with a kick
Som tam salad is perfect for a side order or light lunch
Som tam is a perfect dish when you are in the mood for a light lunch, or want to add a salad to complement your chicken satay. This Thai favourite originated from the North Eastern region known as Isaan, and is definitely a fiery favourite. A classic version of the dish would include shredded raw papaya, garlic, lime juice, green beans, cherry tomatoes – not to mention plenty of chillies. The mixture is pounded with a pestle and mortar until it reaches the desired consistency. There are plenty of regional variations to try, too, so you might find that your som tam comes served with a sprinkling of peanuts, dry shrimp or even salted crab. The unripe papaya offers a tangy flavour to offset the heat of the chillies, and in some regions, a smattering of coconut sugar introduces a sweet edge, too. Local restaurants and street food stalls will serve this one with handfuls of red hot chillies, so order with caution.
This spicy dish hails from the northeast of Thailand
Som tam is not the only version of a salad in Thailand that’s somewhat different from the norm. Laab is another hot meat-based favourite salad that can be made with pork, duck or chicken, though chicken – gai – is the most popular variation. Like som tam, laab originates from North-eastern Thailand. The dish comprises a delectable concoction of minced meat, mixed with chillies, onions, lime and sometimes mint and basil. You might make it few the first few mouthfuls without noticing how spicy this dish is – but then its fieriness hits you with an exhilarating kick. We recommend you persevere to taste the other fresh flavours as they seep through the heat.
This broth-like soup is one of Thailand’s spiciest dishes
If you’re keen to venture beyond the creamy comfort of Thai green curry, then a steaming bowl of gaeng som might provide the flavour you seek. In fact, this soup-like curry is has a reputation as being one of the Kingdom’s spiciest dishes. Unlike some of the other meals already included in this list, gaeng som comes from southern Thailand. Tamarind is used to create a satisfyingly sour base for the dish, with chillies thrown in on top to give it a unique blast of heat. Thanks to the ingredients used, this is one of Thailand’s most fragrant dishes, too, and certainly something your nose will pick up in many local Thai restaurants. The curry will usually feature a substantial helping of chicken or shrimp, making this a favourite with visitors who want to pack in plenty of protein.
Gaeng tai pla is infused with a brilliant concoction of flavours
While gaeng tai pla features the typical array of southern Thai spices – dried chillies, galangal and turmeric – its spice level is by no means standard. Often consumed by locals in need of a spicy fix, this dish isn’t for the faint of heart – especially if you’re just getting used to spicy foods. In fact, you’ll find that many waiters and waitresses will warn you about the intense heat of this dish when you order it. In addition to the classic array of Thai herbs and spices that give the dish its characteristic flavour, the sauce is also made from fermented fish, aubergine, pumpkin and noodles. Our tip would be to keep your accompanying rice separate from the curry so you have a less spicy side to fall back on.
Classic Thai taste
Tom yam goong is one of Thailand’s must-try dishes
A visit to Thailand would be incomplete without indulging in a large bowl of tom yam goong or two. Filled with freshly caught prawns and topped with a generous sprinkle of coriander, this dish is a favourite choice with many seafood lovers visiting the Kingdom. However, thanks to the fried chillies and chilli paste that form the base of the broth, it’s also a top choice for fans of spice. Galangal, lemongrass and garlic help infuse the soup with its unique refreshing zing. It is typically made with creamy coconut milk, but you can ask for a water-based version of the broth if you’d rather eat a lighter, healthier meal.
Customised to your taste buds
Your resident villa chef will be able to adapt the level of spice in each dish
If you’re lucky enough to be staying in one of Thailand’s luxury private villas, then you can look forward to sampling an array of delectable Thai dishes prepared by your won personal Thai chef. The benefit of in-villa dining is that you can customise each dish to reflect your own tastes. If you’d like to try som tam – but with a little less punch than the locals would eat it – just ask the chef. Likewise, your chef will be able to throw in a few extra chillies if you like your curry extra hot.
Here are a few top tips on how to prepare for a spicy feast:
- If possible, try not to eat very spicy foods on an empty stomach
- It’s worth building up your spice tolerance in advance of your vacation. That tingly feeling you get when you eat spicy foods is exhilarating, and your brain releases endorphins (happy hormones) when you indulge in fiery foods.
- Have a glass of milk handy if you’re concerned that a spicy dish will blow your head off. Dairy products like milk and yoghurt are actually better at calming the flames of spicy foods than water.