Thai Food: My Top Picks(So Far)

Shockingly I’ve been in Thailand for almost 3 months now, and I’ve had some time to sample different fare.  In the US Thai food is super trendy and sought after, especially things like Pad Thai and Tom Yum Kung.  Most of the Thai food I’ve had since landing in Bangkok has been absolutely amazing.  But some of it has been just plain weird, and some of it I haven’t really been able to decide my opinion on.  So here’s a list of some of my favorites so far. .

1.Blood Soup

The first time I had blood soup, I thought I was being super adventurous and brave.  And then I tasted it and realized that I had eaten it unknowingly 2 weeks earlier at a night market, and it was actually my second time having blood soup.  While it sounds gross, this soup made of pig’s blood is actually pretty good, with a slight perfumey flavor and pieces of pork meat.

Amusingly, originally I was going for something spicy on the menu, when the stall owner started waving his hands and going “SPICY! SPICY!”  As soon as Thai people see that you’re foreign they try to protect you from spice, it’s adorable.  I actually enjoy really spicy food and my spice tolerance has gone up greatly since arriving, but I let him point me in the direction of another option since I asked for his recommendation.  Little does he know that most foreigners would be appalled at unknowingly being served blood soup, as opposed to something with a little extra kick.

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2) Fish Balls

This dish is literally just what the name sounds like.  It’s just ground up fish put into a ball-shaped form and served with a sauce.  At first when I tried them at a random restaurant at Victory Monument, I thought they were repulsive.  The texture was weird, they were almost flavorless aside from a rancid fishy taste, and they were this heinous grey color that just added to their lack of appeal.  Then I tried them again at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, and I fell in love.

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Fish balls(when they’re done right) are fried up right in front of you upon order and put in a little bag with a stick to eat them with, like a lot of street food in Thailand.  In Thailand food is always cut up to be bite-sized ahead of time, so you rarely need a knife.  Then they put a little sweet sauce on the fish balls, along with some kind of green spicy substance that resembled salsa verde.  Throw it all together and it’s heaven in a bag.  I’ve also seen them done in this style in Chinatown, Bangkok; and I’m sure you can find them on the street anywhere.  Currently on a mission to find them in Dan Chang, but it’s probably better for my waistline that I don’t.

2) Khao Men Gai

“Khao Men Gai” literally means “chicken with rice.”  I know, it sounds boring.  But in Thailand, everything is served with some kind of a sauce, which is what really makes this one stand out.  It always comes with a ginger sauce, which vary greatly depending on which vendor you buy it from.  The rice also varies from vendor to vendor, along with the quality of the cut of chicken that you are served.  Sometimes the rice is ginger rice, sometimes it’s cooked with chicken broth, and I’ve heard that sometimes chicken fat is added for flavor.  It also comes with a broth, which varies from vendor to vendor, and sliced up cucumbers to cut the spiciness.  Depending on your vendor it also might come with a couple nice slices of dark brown coagulated blood.  I enjoy blood soup but I do draw the line somewhere.

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The stuff on top in the picture on top is a chili sauce that I add to it.  So spicy, SO good.

My personal favorite Khao Men Gai in Thailand is right at work, served in the canteen at Banhanjamsaiwittaya3 school.  It’s only 20 baht for 15 minutes of happiness every day.  And I mean every day, I eat it almost every day.  It’s like Thai comfort food.  I really should work on being more adventurous in my school cafeteria, but the Khao Men Gai is sooooo good, and a lot of the other options are fried or unidentifiable.  The canteen at Banhan really kicks the hell out of US cafeterias health-wise; I can see my chicken getting chopped up in the back of my Khao Men Gai lady’s stall right before she gives it to me.  Real organic pesticide free cage-free additive free hormone free steroid free non-vegan chicken.  What a luxury.

You can order Khao Men Gai with pork or duck as well.  I mostly order chicken in Thailand, but it’s worth it to note that the pork is REALLY good, along with the duck.  Pictured below is the duck version of Khao Men Gai.

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The pink stuff is picked ginger.

4) Fried Bananas

These are my WEAKNESS.  In the US my healthy-eating Kryptonite is peanut butter.  In Thailand it’s fried bananas.  However, the quality of the banana you get again greatly depends on the vendor you buy it from.  There are 3 in town.  My favorite fried banana woman doesn’t open her stall until around 11, and is always sold out whenever I attempt to pop in after school.  Which is probably a good thing, because I can really only buy them during lunch.

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She also sells an absolutely amazingggg peanut sauce that goes with them.  I haven’t had it with the fried bananas, but one of my co-teachers brought in some with a bag of friend potatoes one day, and it was life-changing.  Apparently she also sells fried taro and fried sweet potatoes, but I have yet to try them.

5) Pad Kra Pow Gai

“Pad Kra Pow Gai” is Thai basil chicken.  Again, the quality varies highly from vendor to vendor(starting to see a pattern here)?  The best Pad Kra Pow Gai lady in town, AKA mullet lady, serves it with extra leafy green veggies and adds banana peppers.  It really makes a difference in the quality, otherwise the rice-not rice ratio gets completely off.  I usually order mine with a “Kai Dow” or a fried egg.

 

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I know this picture is like SUPER appetizing.  Most street food isn’t exactly Instagram-worthy, but the taste makes up for it.  Note the abundance of banana peppers.

6) Som Tam

Som Tam is spicy papaya salad.  If you’ve looked at any post about street food in Thailand and this didn’t pop up, you probably need glasses.  Som tam is sliced up green mango with chili peppers, palm sugar, tomatoes, raw green beans, sometimes anchovies or dried prawns, tamarind juice, and a pile of peanuts on top.  All of this(sans peanuts) is ground up with a giant mortar and pestle right before your very eyes.

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Also pictured – sticky rice and barbecued chicken.  The chicken on a stick(gai yaeng) in Thailand is also REALLY good.  Personally I’m not a big sticky rice fan, but a lot of people love it.  These are usually also found frequently at Som Tam vendors.
Also ALSO pictured – my long lost keys that now reside in the sands of Koh Phi Phi.  RIP

Vendors that sell som tam often sell sticky rice and Gai Yaeng, or barbecued chicken.  It’s all super cheap too, around 25 baht for the som tam, 20 baht for that huge piece of chicken, and 10 baht for the sticky rice.

7) Gai Pad Khing

Gai Pad Khing is ginger chicken.  It’s the same concept as Pad Kra Pow Gai, just sub ginger for basil.  The woman that was recommended by the other American teachers stopped selling us ginger chicken for some unidentifiable reason, so I’ve been on the hunt for a better one.

8) Tom Yum Kung

This is another one that DEFINITELY came up if you did a Google Search of good Thai food. “Tom Yum” is the soup base, “Kung” means “with shrimp” or “seafood.”  You can also order it with “gai” or chicken, and not that I’ve seen it but you can probably get it with pork as well.

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Tom Yum is a spicy red brothy soup, usually served in large bowls that you share in a sit-down dinner type situation.  It’s my favorite part of staff dinners, as it’s always there.  Sometimes it comes with coconut milk in it, but I’ve been told by my coordinator P’nga that this isn’t real Tom Yum, and the good stuff doesn’t have coconut milk in it.  Thank god, because coconut milk is what really packs in the calories in a lot of Thai food, ex. Massaman curry.

My one complaint about Tom Yum is that the seafood in it is always served with the shells still on them.  Thai people eat the whole shrimp with the shell, not just the meat, as gross as that is.  So it’s always a delicate act, trying not to make a fool of myself in a restaurant while also trying to pick the shells out of my Tom Yum.  Apparently the shells of fish add flavor, kind of like bones, so they actually do serve a purpose.  They also serve the soup with large pieces of sliced ginger in it, which I could do without, as much as I love ginger.

9) Pad See Ew

I’m really surprised this one hasn’t become more popular in the US.  It’s essentially the same concept as Pad Thai, fried noodles with bean sprouts and other noms in it, but with a heartier, thicker rice noodle.  Sometimes it’s served with soy sauce.  I usually eat mine with a little bit of chili oil and chili powder.  You’ll also see in the picture below that it’s served with sugar to add as well, as is included in most Thai street food condiment bars.  Thai people even add sugar to their soup.  I haven’t personally tried it yet as I don’t see a point in adding empty calories for no reason, but to each their own.

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10) Whole fish served with everything(I don’t know the Thai names but there are a million different versions of this)

Another reason I look forward to staff dinners: there’s always really good whole-cooked fish, and someone else can order it for the table so I don’t have to figure it out.  You can also buy whole-cooked fishes at the open market, but they don’t come with all the trappings so I have yet to try them.  What I mean by whole-cooked fish it that in Thailand(at sit-down restaurants not stalls) they serve you an entire cooked fish, usually with sauce and peanuts and vegetables and other stuff coming out of it.

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There’s a fish in there I swear.  Forgive my picture quality, using an iPhone in the fluorescent lighting on our porch is very unforgiving.

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A snake fish with some spicy stuff at a restaurant in Bangkok during orientation.  Specific, I know.

The best that I’ve had so far is something that P’nga carries out from a restaurant in town whenever we’ve had dinners at the house.  It’s a specialty of that restaurant, the Thai name means “broken-bellied fish.”  It’s a whole fish in some kind of sweet & sour sauce that has peanuts, onions, sliced hot dogs(not the best part) and some other stuff.  It’s SOOOO good.  I think it’s the sauce that makes the fish.  It’s my mission to figure out which restaurant she gets it from in Dan Chang.

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Pano of dinner that P’nga ordered when Nicole’s mom came to visit.  The two plates next to the soups are the broken-bellied fish.  Note everyone in the background also taking pictures of the spread.

11) Khao Soi

Khao Soi is an Isaan curry dish, meaning it’s part of Northern Thai cuisine.  It’s one of the few street food entrees that is served sans rice.  Instead, it’s a brothy soup kind of a deal, usually with chicken on the bone in it, along with some crunchy pork rind type stuff, lime juice, onions, and other goods.  Sometimes it’s served with coconut milk in it, sometimes not.  Personally I prefer my curry without coconut milk, as curry can get pretty heavy with coconut milk, especially Massaman curry.  Luckily there is at least one stall in Dan Chang to my knowledge that also serves it.

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The Khao Soi pictured is from a stall in Dan Chang, and the one in the cover photo for this blog post is from the Sunday evening market in Chiang Mai.  Note how different the two are, illustrating my point about how different street vendors do things very differently for the same dish.

12) Coconut Ice Cream

In the US, I’m really not an ice cream kind of gal.  I much prefer fro-yo, and when I do eat ice cream I’m a huge snob about it.  So yes, I’ll pay $5 to try the whiskey-bourbon-almond vegan crunch artisanal ice cream from a shop that I find in downtown Chicago, but I wouldn’t touch a pint of Breyer’s with a 9 foot pole.  However, the coconut ice cream here is DANKKKK.  It’s made from coconut milk, and sometimes comes with toppings like peanuts(my fav) and other varieties of unidentifiable colorful gelatin-like crap.  Plus the fact that it’s non-dairy and made from coconut milk just makes you feel better about your life decisions.

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The best I’ve had so far is at Chatuchak Weekend Market.  It’s totally done up for tourists there but no complaints.  For around 40 baht you can get half a coconut shell with a generous couple scoops of coconut ice cream in it, and you can top it with all the toppings your little heart desires.  If you look at the Chatuchak location on Instagram you’ll definitely stumble onto at least 50 pictures of it within the past 2 weekends, it’s super trendy and makes for a good pic.

So there you have it.  10 of my favorite foods in Thailand.  If I were to mention the other million, I might as well write a short book series instead of a blog post.

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