Must-try Thai foods you can't get at home
Although they’re internationally famous, the distinctive tastes of Thailand are always their most authentic when prepared by Thai chefs in Thailand itself. Of course, you might already know that Italy has the world’s best pizzerias and that there’s no piri-piri chicken quite like what you’ll eat in Portugal, but Thailand also has dishes that just aren’t the same back home.
It’s not all spices, curries and soups though, as anyone who’s visited and eaten in Thailand will tell you. There are certain local specialities that vary by region to region across the country, as well as delicacies that even the most authentic Thai restaurant back home doesn’t offer.
Soups, stews and succulence
The shrimp and spices of a good tom yum goong is one of the most distinctive flavours Thailand can offer. Chances are you’ve tried it before, but they do plenty more with their soups and stews than just this one signature dish. You can also buy tom yum with fried rice, which is popular with the younger generation in Thailand.
Gaeng som, also known as sour soup, is made from a mix of tumeric, chilli and garlic. It’s an example of how variations exist in even the most basic of Thai dishes, depending on region. For example, gaeng som served in Bangkok uses shrimp for extra texture and flavour, while in the south of the country, only the basic chilli and tumeric are used. The reason they keep it simple down south is because gaeng som is used with every meal, so the soup forms a base that goes well with all kinds of sides, dipping light bites and more.
A truly exclusive soup is found with kuay teow moo daeng, however. This soup hasn’t really been introduced to Thai cuisine anywhere else in the world. It’s a rich pork soup with onions, noodles and plenty of flavour, and the reason it’s always remained a homegrown favourite, not seen anywhere else, is because it’s made by letting the broth sit for quite some time. As such, it’s not feasible for a restaurant to be able to make this meal in a timely way, yet it’s found a thriving street stall community of fans.
Taste the tropics
Thailand is a tropical country, and while you might imagine the Caribbean for scenes of sipping cocktails from a coconut shell, here the coconut is used as a kind of bowl. One of the definitive Thai specialities you can try is hor mok ma prow awn, which is to say, seafood curry in a hollowed-out coconut. Diced and shredded coconut goes into the dish too, giving it a sweet aftertaste.
Thailand also loves its seafood, especially in coastal communities like those found in Phuket. Hoy tod is a superb example of their inventiveness in the kitchen – it’s an oyster omelette served on a bed of coriander and beansprouts. You’ll also find hoy kraeng, or blood cockles, served at street kiosks. Don’t let that name put you off, as they’re rich and enjoyable morsels indeed.
Save room for the sweetness
Thai chefs know how to make the most of natural flavours when it’s time for dessert. There’s a reason that iced lemon tea is the cold drink of choice here. And roti-style banana pancakes packed with cream, sugar and optional chocolate are always popular with tourists. True homegrown desserts use rice though – a portion of sticky rice is as simple as it comes, and readily available at any street stall for a quick fix for your sweet tooth.
If you want to eat the sweets that royalty once enjoyed in Thailand, check out some luk chub. Made intricately from steamed mung beans that they melt into a paste to be reshaped, they’re sculpted to look like tiny, colourful versions of fruits and other fun shapes. And for a twist on a traditional dessert, try itim, Thailand’s version of ice cream, which is less dense and served in more versatile ways, in anything from coconut shell bowls to sweetrolls.