In America when you go to a Thai restaurant, you’ll find a menu with a dozen noodle dishes and just as many curry dishes.
…but not in Thailand.
In Thailand, you’ll find families that master in ONE dish.
One dish that their family has been cooking for years with recipes passed down through generations.
They have secret recipes for their rich broth or they have a rare hook-up for the best pork belly in town.
And they cook that one dish, day after day, all day, forever.
They do one thing…and they do it the best.
We’re talking about whole steamed fish, pork knuckles braised since 3am, or juicy chicken that gushes with broth the moment it’s sliced open.
These are dishes that you just CAN’T find in America because families no longer commit their entire life to just one meal.
But in Thailand…they do.
Here are 5 Thai Dishes for you to tick off your food bucket list on your next southeast Asian adventure.
#1 – Khao Soi
If you think you’ve had Khao Soi in America…you’re wrong my friend. That is not Khao Soi. Khao Soi relies on northern ingredients with chicken that has been slow cooked for hours…and sometimes, even days!
A Chin Haw delicacy originating in northern Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, Khao Soi is a widely known treat in Chiang Mai. Visitors to Thailand will even struggle to find this noodle treat in southern regions of the country around Bangkok.
There are distinct versions of Khao Soi in northern Thailand and Laos. The recipe found solely in Thailand combines egg noodles (occasionally rice noodles) with curry sauce, shallots, and lime…plus the best “fall off the bone” chicken ever.
Khao Soi is arguably the most popular food in the northern, mountainous city of Chiang Mai. Locals and tourists can savor the rich flavors through street vendors and regular sit-down restaurants for around $1-2.
Best Place to Get It: Khao Soi Islam (Chiang Mai)
Open: Daily 8:00am to 5:00pm
Where: 22-24 Soi 1, Charoen Prathet Road, Changklan
How to get there: Take the bus to the Talad Warorot Station along the Ping River. Turn right on Wichayanon Road and continue on to Praisanee Road. Turn onto Charoen Prathet Road at the intersection and take a right onto Charoen Prathet Road Alley. Khao Soi Islam will be on the right.
The most delicious pork you’ve ever had!
Khao Kha Moo is a pot of pork leg that boils and simmers in a rich, sweet cinnamon broth all day long. Served with rice, greens, and a hard-boiled egg simmered in the same broth!
Each vendor has their own special recipe for their Khao Kah Moo with varying combinations of soy sauce, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander.
As you travel Thailand, you’ll see Khao Kha Moo all around the country, usually sold out of a street cart. Khao Kah Moo is a meal for breakfast and lunch – so to get the best cuts of meat, eat early.
Best Place to Get It: Across from the Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok
Open: Lunch through dinner
Where: The alley behind 7-Eleven. You’re looking for a food stand on the side of the road + a few tables! Follow the pin on this map.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Hua Lamphong Station. Look for the 7-Eleven across from the Train Station (the front of the station) and enter into the back alley. Turn left at the little foot-intersection. Walk about 30 seconds and you’ll see it on the left.
#3 – Khao Man Gai
You’ve never had chicken like this! When Khao Man Gai is cooking by the masters, the chicken is almost sashimi grade! It melts in your mouth like butter!
Although this chicken-based dish was developed in China, it has become a breakfast staple in Thailand.
In the morning, Khao Man Gai vendors open their shops with a small batch of whole chickens hanging in their windows. These chickens have been steamed and boiled to utter perfection. So much so, that when the vendor cuts into the chicken, it spills with broth!
The chicken is sliced and served on rice…that has also been cooked with the chicken broth. The dish is served with a small bowl of the chicken broth that the chicken was cooked inside, with a sprinkling of green onions on top and sometimes, a side of blood pudding (which I always opt out of).
The best part? The ginger sauce! Each Khao Man Gai vendor makes their own homemade ginger sauce with ginger, garlic, and vinegar. The sauces vary from vendor to vendor – but always pair beautifully with the Khao Man Gai.
This dish is great for visitors who are not fond of intense flavors as the ingredients used in Khao Man Gai are mild, hearty…and identifiable.
Khao Man Gai can be found throughout Thailand, but it is particularly common in Bangkok. It’s the quick breakfast that locals eat on their way to work for around 35 baht ($1.10) per plate.
Best Place to Get It: My personal, local, off-the-beaten-path spot in Bangkok, Thailand is a street side vendor that opens every morning next the the taxi motorbike stand! They don’t speak English! Just point to the chicken…and they’ll sort you out. They’ve got tables, stools, and free ice water!
Open: Daily from 7:00am to 11:00am…or until they run out. Closed on Sunday.
Where: Follow this link to find it on Soi 2, Bearing Road/ Soi 107.
How to get there: Take the BTS to Bearing Station. Take exit 3 and walk straight. Cross the street and turn left at the 7-Eleven. Walk to Soi 2 and you’ll see the food stand on your right.
A whole fish…served with the face and everything! Pla Kapong Neung Manao is a centerpiece dish in many seafood style restaurants in Bangkok. It is an easy recipe for locals who wish to create their own version as the preferred fish can be purchased at a nearby market.
Popular in Bangkok, this Pla Kapong Neung Manao is a whole fish steamed with lime, garlic, and chilies that give the fresh white flesh a sweet and fragrant flavor. The fish is served in its broth that is a mixture of sweet and spicy flavors.
You’ll often eat this fish with sides of morning glory, rice, pork neck and other common dinner dishes….plus lots of beer on ice.
Best Place to Get It: Kuang Seafood Restaurant (Bangkok)
Open: Daily from 11:00am to 2:00am
Where: 107/13 Soi Rangnam, Samsen Nai, Phaya Thai, Bangkok 10400
How to get there: Take the bus stop to the station located on Ratchaprarop Rd across the street from Malee Club. Turn right onto the road and Kuang Seafood will be on your right.
#5 – Laab
The national dish of Laos, Laab is a salad that combines meat with juices and sauces for rich flavor. A craving for the meat salad migrated from Laos to the Isan region of northern Thailand!
The dish is extremely popular across the region, but there is a distinct version only found in northern Thailand. Its recipe includes a different variety of spices including cumin, cloves, cinnamon, and others. The meat used is typically chicken or pork and it is served with vegetables, rice, and herbs.
Laab is widely popular in the Chiang Mai region of the country and can be found in various eating establishments on city streets.
Best Place to Get It: Sorn Chai (Chiang Mai)
Open: Daily 11:00am to 9:00pm
Where: 25-27, Kotchasarn Road, Tambon Si Phum, Chang Wat Chiang Mai, 50300, Thailand
How to get there: Take the bus to the Tha Phae Gate Old City Bus Station. Turn right on Mun Mueang Rd. Go straight through the roundabout on the left. Turn left once exiting the roundabout and Sorn Chai will be on the right.
Pro Tip: Plan your days in Thailand around food. Work out from there.
Have some food challenges for me? Shoot me a message!