Most Popular Thai Food to Order

If you are about to embark on a trip to Thailand or you are going to try your hand at some homemade cooking, you may be wondering what the top classic Thai food dishes are. Thai cuisine comprises lightly prepared, aromatic dishes that balance out the following five flavors; spicy, salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. 

assorted thai food

In Thailand, food is eaten amongst friends and family and traditional dishes usually consist of vegetables, meat, and fish. It is eaten slowly so that the taste of every bite can be appreciated and enjoyed. 

Below, we have identified several of the top classic Thai food dishes from appetizers to mains and sweet treats. Most will also be readily available from most restaurants and food-serving establishments in Thailand. 

1. Pad Thai

Shrimp Pad Thai Entree Dish
Shrimp Pad Thai

Pad Thai is a dish that is served at the majority of Thai restaurants. It is a street food style dish that consists of noodles, bean sprouts, scrambled eggs, chicken, tofu or beef, peanuts, and a few other vegetables.

All of the ingredients are combined in a wok where they will be left to saute in a pad thai sauce. Once cooked, this dish has a sweet and savory flavor with a hint of saltiness. 

2. Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong
Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum is a type of hot soup that is known for its sour taste. In Thai, ‘Tom’ refers to the process of boiling the ingredients and ‘Yum’ translates to mixed. ‘Goong’ is also the Thai term for prawns.

Typically this soup is made using lime juice, fish sauce, chili peppers, lemongrass, broth, galangal, lime leaves, and prawns, shrimp, or pork. This healthy dish can be served alone or with a side of sticky rice.  

3. Thai Green Curry

green curry chicken, thai food
green curry chicken

A classic dish in Thai cuisine, green curry is quickly becoming one of Thailand’s largest culinary exports.

It is made using fresh, aromatic ingredients such as green chilies, green curry paste, Thai basil, palm sugar, fish sauce, lime leaves, and coriander.

It is important to note that although this is a delicious dish, it has quite a kick, although coconut milk is added in most recipes to tone down the spiciness.

Whilst chicken is typically added to this curry, there are now vegetarian varieties available. Thai green curry is normally served with an accompaniment of rice. 

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4. Phat Kaphrao

Phat Kaphrao
Phat Kaphrao

Phat Kaphrao, also referred to as Pad Kaprow or Koprao is a dish that is served in many Thai A La Carte restaurants.

It is a stir-fry that is made from meat such as minced beef, chicken, or pork (seafood varieties are also popular) which is then combined with garlic and holy basil.

The recipe can differ slightly depending on where you go, but a few other ingredients such as chili peppers or shallots are often added to it. It is served alongside rice. 

5. Som Tam

som tam thai street food
Som Tam Thai street food

This is the name given to a green papaya salad. Thai salads are quite different from salads that you will find in other parts of the world.

Instead of using leafy ingredients, they use vibrant and refreshing ingredients like papaya. It is especially popular in Thailand where it is available from street vendors and in restaurants.

It balances out the different flavors well as it has sweet, sour, salty, and spicy elements. In Som Tam, the core ingredient is shredded papaya.

Typically chili peppers, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and peanuts are also added to it. As a versatile dish, it can be eaten alone or served as a main with a side of rice. 

6. Khao Pad

Khao Pad
Khao Pad

Khao Pad translates to stir-fried rice and this is a core dish in Thai cuisine. This is a simple dish that is made using Thai jasmine rice rather than long grain rice.

Usually, it contains egg, garlic, and a salty element, typically in the form of oyster sauce or soy sauce. Besides this, most recipes tend to add a source of protein such as seafood or meat.

Once all of the main ingredients are mixed together, it is seasoned with some chili, sugar, and lime juice as the combination of these three ingredients effectively balances out the different flavors. Khao Pad tends to be served as a side dish to a main meal. 

7. Massaman Curry

Massaman Curry
Massaman Curry

Massaman curry is a milder variety of Thai curry, though it is recognized for its slightly sweet and rich flavor. It is a dish that consists of a thick sauce and a blend of several spices.

Peanuts are also added to it. It differs from most other curries as it does not contain curry leaves. Common ingredients that are used to make massaman curry include chili peppers, coconut milk, massaman curry paste, onions, garlic, fish sauce, and potatoes.

It is available in meat and vegetarian varieties. A meat-based massaman curry typically uses chicken or beef. It is served with rice and normally eaten alongside other dishes. 

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8. Khao Niaow Ma Muang

Khao Niaow Ma Muang
Khao Niaow Ma Muang

This is a classic Thai dessert that is normally served as street food. It consists of sweet rice, slices of mango which are soaked in a sweet syrup, it is then finished with some coconut sauce.

This dessert can either be eaten by hand or using a spoon. When eaten by hand, it is massaged into balls and then dipped into the sauce. 

9. Pad Woon Sen

Pad Woon Sen
Pad Woon Sen

This is the Thai name given to stir-fried vermicelli. Whilst it is not the same as Pad Thai, it has existed for a similar amount of time.

It is a glass noodle dish that contains tender vegetables and egg which is then cooked in a sweet and savory sauce. Now you may be wondering what glass noodles are.

They appear translucent and are made using mung beans, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and tapioca. These noodles are versatile and they go well with a lot of ingredients. Soy sauce and oyster sauce are used to enhance the flavors of this dish. 

10. Gaeng Daeng

Thai Red Curry Gaeng Daeng

This is a popular red curry that is made from a selection of vegetables and chicken although pork, beef, shrimp, or duck can also be used.

Other ingredients include coconut milk, lime leaves, coriander, cumin seeds, lemongrass, garlic, and chili peppers. They are then cooked in a red curry paste.

Red curry is a colorful, spicy dish although the spiciness isn’t quite as intense as green Thai curry. It is enjoyed at lunchtime or dinnertime and is usually served with thin noodles or rice. 

11. Phanaeng

Phanaeng Thai red curry
Phanaeng Thai red curry

Phanaeng, also spelled Panang and Phanang, is another style of Thai red curry. Although it has a spicy kick to it, it usually tends to be milder than other varieties of red curry. Traditionally, this curry is made from ginger, dried chili peppers, galangal, lime leaves and lime zest, coriander, and cumin. Whilst this curry is garnished with peppers, it is unique from other types in the sense that it is purely meat-based and the majority of recipes do not use any vegetables. It can be made from chicken or beef and the sauce usually has a thick consistency. Similar to most other curries, Phanaeng is typically served with a side of rice. 

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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