Tom Yam is probably the most famous of Thai soups and is popular not only in Thailand but in Thai restaurants worldwide. It is voted one of the most delicious and favourite dishes among both foreigners and Thais. The words Tom Yam are derived from two Thai words. Tom refers to the boiling process, while Yam refers to a Thai spicy and sour salad. Indeed, Tom Yam is characterised by its distinct hot and sour flavours. It is a clear soup flavoured with fragrant lemongrass, fresh galangal root kaffir lime leaf, and a choice of meat and vegetables. This potent herbal mixture is well known for its medicinal properties. Tom Yam Kung is the most well-known variety of Tom Yam and adds shrimp to the soup. The soup is normally seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice and chilies. There are also optional add-ons, such as Nam Phrik Pao (chili jam), and sometimes milk or even coconut milk.
One of Thailand’s signature dishes is the Thai Green Curry, also known as Kaeng Khiao Wan. The dish has become one of the country’s most famous culinary exports. It was invented during the reign of King Rama 6 or Rama 7, between the years 1908-1926. The name of the curry is derived from the colour and flavour of the dish. In Thai, kaeng means curry, khiao means green and wan means sweet. Kaeng Khiao Wan Kai is Thai green curry served with chicken (kai). Though chicken (kai) is the most popular meat for Kaeng Khiao Wan, beef and pork are also common options. Green curry is typically eaten with rice as part of a wider range of dishes in a meal, or with round rice noodles known as Khanom Jheen as a single dish. The curry tends to be hot, similar to red curry but has a definite and desired sweetness, making the dish unique among Thai curries.
Slow-cooked, meltingly tender beef and a sprinkling of crunchy peanuts to finish – this is curry heaven. Massaman Curry is said to have originated in the 17th century in Central Thailand at the cosmopolitan court of Ayutthaya through a Persian merchant while others believe that the dish is influenced by Malay and Indian cuisine. This curry found its fame in a poem from the end of the 18th century, attributed to Prince Itsarasunthon of Siam, the later King Rama II (1767-1824), who described the curry to be fragrant of cumin and strong spices. The flavours of the Massaman curry come from spices that are not frequently used in other Thai curries. It contains cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, nutmeg and mace that were brought into Thailand from the Malay Archipelago and South Asia. Due to its Muslim roots, this curry is most commonly made with chicken, but there are also variations on this dish using duck, beef, mutton, goat, or, less commonly so, pork. Massaman is usually eaten with rice, in a meal together with other dishes.
Pad Thai is so synonymous with Thailand that it even contains the country’s name; however the famous wok-fried noodle dish doesn’t have a history as long as most would have thought. Pad Thai was actually introduced to Bangkok around 60 years ago thanks to a campaign by Luang Phibunsongkhram, the then Prime Minister who wanted to address Thailand’s rice shortages by introducing noodles into the country’s cuisine, as well as increase patriotism and nationalism. For the uninitiated, Pad Thai is a dish made of wun sen lek wok-fried noodles, mixed with tamarind paste, to which shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts and spring onion is then added. Peanuts, chili flakes and sugar are added according to personal taste. Because the original recipe is very simple, many pad Thai restaurants and street stalls add unique ingredients or condiments. If there’s one place you really need to sample the dish, then it’s Bangkok.
Chili pastes, or Nam Phrik, form one of the main pillars of a Thai meal, and of Thai cooking in general. As dip-like condiments, they incorporate easily portable protein and vegetables, and are frequently the main protein source for a Thai during the day. As the base for a dish, they build the foundation to a curry, soup or stir-fry; they also make great de facto salad dressings and marinades. Nam Phrik Pathu, which is chili paste with de-boned Thai mackerel, is a well-known chili dip. It is also very nutritious, using Thai mackerel (omega-3), fresh and blanched vegetables (fibre) and very little, if any, oil. This famous Nam Phrik is a pounded combination of mackerel fish, roasted garlic, onions and chilies, and is flavoured with lime juice, fish sauce and a bit of sugar. It’s a mild tasting chili paste that goes well with vegetables or even just plain on rice.
Kang Ped Yang is a unique dish of roast duck in a spicy red curry. It is a fusion of Thai - Chinese and also one of the popular curries in Thai restaurants. Fruits such as pineapple, grape, lychee and cherry tomatoes are commonly added to it, therefore it is usually spicy, sour and sweet. In Thai, Kang Ped Yang translates to Red Curry with Roasted Duck. Red curry is often cooked with meats such as chicken, beef, pork, duck or shrimp, or vegetarian protein sources such as tofu. This version of red curry cooked with roasted duck is a popular choice for special occasions such as a dinner party. It's quick and easy but this spicy Thai red curry will surely keep you warm and satisfied. The red colouring derives from dry red spur chillies. The main ingredients include (dried) red chili peppers, garlic, shallots, galangal, shrimp paste, salt, kaffir lime peel, coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns and lemongrass.
Kraphao Kai is the most wanted evergreen Thai ‘chicken in basil’ dish, relished by foreigners in Thailand. A quick and easy dish, it brings together the freshness of basil with a pungent fish sauce and deep oyster sauce to create a dish, which always makes a perfect fit on the dinner table. The goodness of basil herb medicinal properties, together with the generous use of the natural antibiotic ‘garlic’ in the recipe adds to its health benefits. The dish is at its best when spicy, but for the spice intolerant – it can be added moderately or altogether avoided. This dish is available all over in Thailand, right from the ‘made to order’ food shops on streets to the high-end restaurants and hotels. In Thailand, when you are in a strange town and a strange restaurant, you know that you can always order Kraphao Kai and it will probably be decent. It’s a simple dish that any restaurant knows how to make it right. It’s best served with rice, topped with a half-fried egg.
Khanom Jeen are fresh, thin rice noodles used in Thai cuisine that are fermented, boiled, and then made into noodles by extruding the resulting dough through a sieve into boiling water. These noodles originated from the Mon people who inhabited the region which is now central Thailand before the arrival of the Thai people from southern China. These noodles are used as a staple food in a variety of Thai dishes, and also found in Khanom Jeen Nam Ya –noodles served with a hot and spicy fish curry sauce. Khanom Jheen Nam Ya is one of the most loved dishes in southern Thailand. This fish curry is eaten over a bed of thin rice noodles and accompanied by fresh vegetables, lemon basil, and hard boiled eggs. With all of these accompaniments, it’s not your traditional Thai curry by any means, but it’s exactly these side items that make this dish so special. The curry itself calls for an herb named fingerroot, which has a slightly less spicy, more robust flavour.
Should it surprise anyone that pork neck is one of the favourite cuts among the Thai? Blessed with just the right amount of lean meat, muscle, and fat, pork neck or Kho Moo Yang is flavourful and delicious. This Thai grilled pork neck is accompanied with a dipping sauce or Nam Jim Jaew. Jaew is a north eastern Thai dipping sauce that is made using dried chilli flakes rather than fresh chilli, giving it a wonderful smoky aroma which is very addictive. As this sauce is intense in flavour, the pork doesn’t need to be elaborately seasoned at all. The beauty of the pork neck is that it retains moisture very well and hence it is great for slow cooking, roasting and grilling. Grilled pork neck with Nam Jim Jaew can be served as an appetizer or as an entrée with hot-off-the-splatter-guard sticky rice or plain steamed jasmine rice.
Laap (also spelled as lahp, larb and several other phonetic variations) is essentially a salad with a meat base, flavoured with lime, garlic, fish sauce, mint leaves and spring onion, which adds a subtle nutty flavour. It is also a popular dish in Thailand, especially in the Northeast. The meat in laap may be raw or cooked and popular options include chicken, pork, beef, buffalo, duck or fish, and some restaurants have vegetarian versions made with mushroom or tofu. Finely ground toasted rice is also an essential ingredient. Dried chillies, banana flower and raw vegetables may be placed as accompaniment on the side, and regardless of the meat (or non-meat) of choice, you’d be hard pressed to come across a bland plate of laap. Laap is often served in lettuce wraps and might be accompanied by fresh vegetables and sticky rice. Flavourful and filling, yet also refreshing, this is the perfect dish to have on a typical hot day.
There are few greater combinations than Som Tam (green papaya salad) and Kai Yang (grilled chicken). Something about the salty grilled chicken and the spicy pungent green papaya salad is a marriage that was always meant to be. Som Tam Kai Yang, popularly eaten with sticky rice is a traditional Laos and Isan combination, but now commonly eaten throughout the whole of Thailand. The dish is a standard staple of street markets and readily available at all times. It is also eaten with raw vegetables, and often dipped in spicy sauces such as Laotian jaew bong. To make the Kai Yang, a whole chicken is often halved and pounded flat. It is marinated and then grilled over a low heat on a charcoal flame for a long time, but is not cooked to be burnt or dry. The marinade typically includes fish sauce, garlic, turmeric, coriander root, and white pepper. Compared to many Laotian and Isan dishes, it is mild and somewhat sweet.
This Thai origin “Kai Ho Bai Toei” or deep fried Chicken wrapped in Pandanus Leaf appears to be a rather common dish in most Thai restaurants. It is boneless chunks of chicken meat wrapped in pandan or screwpine leaves. It is indeed a memorable dish complete with a Thai sweet chilli dipping sauce. Pandanus leaves act as both a wrapping and flavouring in this dish. These leaves are widely used in Southeast Asian cooking. This sweet smelling leaf of the Pandan, or Bai Toei, is used in various sweet snacks. The leaves are used either fresh or dried. They have a nutty, botanical fragrance that enhances the flavour of Thai foods, especially rice dishes and cakes. It is an upright, green plant with fan-shaped sprays of long, narrow, bladelike leaves and woody aerial roots. To eat, carefully unwrap the parcels and dip the chicken into the sauce.