It’s no question that a visit to Thailand is incomplete until you’ve explored its vibrant and unique food culture. The country is known to be a haven for foodies and a typical Thai meal has to include five main flavours: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy. While The Land of Smiles is known for some really delicious mainstays such as som tum (spicy green papaya salad), green and red curry and stir-fried basil dishes, delve deeper and you’d find exciting new gastronomic experiences not commonly found anywhere else – with some being pretty exotic too – that will challenge your senses. Below are six unique Thai dishes you have to try the next time you’re in Thailand!
1. Phuket-style Hokkien Noodles
Inspired by Penang Chinese fare, this dish is a must-try when visiting Phuket. The main star of the dish is the thick yellow noodles that come with a unique salty aftertaste. The noodles are stir fried in a wok at high heat to produce a smoky charred taste, and is often tossed with garlic, leafy vegetables, pork and seafood and seasoned with soy sauce before served piping hot in a bowl. Locals swear by those produced by long-running restaurant Mee Ton Poe – it has been consistently serving its delicious bowls of noodles since the 1940s.
2. Mee Hun Ba Chang
Made out of vermicelli rice noodles, Phuket’s locals consider this to be one of the cities’ most iconic dishes, and is especially enjoyed at lunch. The simple yet comforting dish is prepared by stir-frying rice vermicelli noodles with black soy sauce before it is garnished with fried onions and freshly chopped chives. It’s usually served with an aromatic slow boiled pork spare rib soup and sometimes pork satay and spring rolls on the side. The best place to try this is at Lock Tien food centre near Phuket Old Town.
3. Goong Ten
The literal translation of Goong Ten is dancing shrimps and that’s exactly what this dish is. Raw baby shrimps are put into a bowl to be mixed with various spices – lime, chilli powder, fish sauce, red onions, cilantro and peanuts. They are then promptly served to preserve their freshness so it’s definitely not for the squeamish. While it may require a little courage to try, you might enjoy the delicious flavour and spicy kick. It’s usually eaten along the side of the street or in a local Thai market.
4. Pla Sai Tod Kamin
A simple but beloved dish that features on many dining tables all around Thailand, Pla Sai Tod Kamin comprises small fish deep fried with heaps of garlic and fresh turmeric until golden brown. The type of fish may differ but common ones include mackerel, mullet, red snapper and sillago. The dish originated in Southern Thailand and is a hit because of the aroma of the seasoning and crispness of the fish. It’s best paired with a bowl of warm rice and a wedge of lime to help cut the grease.
5. Gaeng Khilek
A thick curry made from khilek (Senna siamea, also known as Siamese cassod tree) leaves and flower buds, it’s a favourite wherever you head to in Thailand. As khilek is bitter, it is usually boiled for a couple of hours and drained before it is simmered in coconut milk-based curry. The result is a rich, fragrant and slightly bitter broth that is comforting on a cool day. You can find variations in different parts of Thailand – some cook it with succulent grilled pork while others add grilled mackerel or beef.
6. Larb Mote Daeng
This dish is truly for the intrepid. Made up of red ant eggs, Larb Mote Daeng is a very popular dish in Northeast Thailand. It’s highly valued thanks to the nutritional merit – the eggs are rich in sugars, vitamins, and proteins – but locals love its spicy-sour flavour and unique fluffy texture that’s similar to barley grains. The dish is usually prepared like a salad, with fish sauce, spring onions, coriander, mint leaves, various vegetables and a dash of lime juice. Sometimes eggs are added into a fried omelette. Larb Mote Daeng isn’t for the faint of heart but those with a bold palate will definitely appreciate the experience.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking and seating requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.