What to Eat in Thailand

Eating in Thailand is a wonderfully endless venture — each glorious dish ready and waiting to be discovered. The depth and variety of flavours, revealed boastfully in every bite, will set your tastebuds on fire! That is, both from the pure joy and the chilis. 

But therein lies a beautiful problem: great food is so plentiful in Thailand that it would be nearly impossible to list all of the best restaurants, even just in Bangkok. When you can turn any corner and find food ready to eat, it becomes less about where you eat and more about what you eat. 

Instead focus on 8 specific must-try dishes that are unique to Thailand. It shall be your mission to seek them out and discover the magnitude of Thai cuisine. 

It’s much more than just the Pad Thai and Green Curry you’re used to.

1. Somtum

As a born-and-raised westerner, this dish always catches me off guard. It combines a few qualities that my typical meals don’t typically mix: tangy, fishy, nutty, spicy, and cold. It’s a battleground of flavours between the fiery Thai chilis and the succulent, sweet green papaya. 

And both sides are winning. 

What’s in it: shredded green papaya, long beans, garlic, peanuts, tomato, chilis, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime.

2. Khao Soi

Translated from Thai, the name means “cut rice”; which doesn’t really make any sense considering it’s a noodle dish. That’s because this one actually originates more so from historical Burmese recipe books than the Thai ones. In Myanmar, they call it Khao swe, meaning “rice noodle”, so it’s likely that it all boiled down to a classic game of broken telephone when this dish was graciously adopted in Thailand. 

In any case, you mustn’t miss out on this one! It’s a boiled egg noodle base served in a creamy coconut broth, usually paired with chicken and shallots. To top it all off, they throw some deep-fried egg noodles on there to give it the perfect, crispy, final touch. 

What’s in it: chicken, shallots, egg noodles (crispy and boiled), chilis, coconut milk, and a curry based broth. 

3. Boat Noodles

Boat noodles are a dish with plenty of history: the original versions were sold via canoe through the canals of old Bangkok. In two-or-three-bite portions, these sought after noodles were served in deep bowls to avoid spilling over while in transit over water. Over time, these canals were filled in to make way for roads and this forced the boat noodle vendors on to dry land. But they’re still as popular as they ever were!

Today, it’s most commonly a street food but the small bowls have remained. Each bowl is about 15 baht so the expectation is that you continuously order bowl after bowl until your stack is instagram-worthy. The table will be set with pork rinds, sprouts, basil, and chilis — add these to your heart’s content.

And if you get there early enough, it typical comes with a small custard-like dessert. 

What’s in it: pork/beef, noodles, fish balls, morning glory, chilis, cinnamon, sprouts, pork rinds, basil, garlic, and most notably cow or pigs blood. But just a splash. 

4. Pad Pak Boong

Morning glory, also known as Water Spinach, is a leafy green vegetable with tender shoots for stems. In Thailand, it’s found in many dishes like boat noodles, but to really enjoy this marvellous plant is to have it all on it’s own. 

Order it seasoned with oyster sauce and you’re in for a treat! Cooked properly, it will come out crunchy, salty and sweet. 

You could serve with rice but I prefer to just eat it as is, I’m salivating just thinking about it!

What’s in it: soy bean paste, garlic, chilis, soy sauce, and oyster sauce.

5. Pad Krapow Gai

When you order certain meals, you’ll often get a giant plate full of herbs and sprouts alongside. Holy Basil is one of those herbs — it’s a Thai staple. You can rip it, bite it, eat it whole… whatever tastes best to you. My favourite? Get it cooked right into the dish. 

Particularly with Pad Krapow Gai. It’s the first meal I ever had in Thailand and it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with the country as quickly as I did. It’s not a complicated dish. They simply chop up and cook together some chicken, holy basil, and chilis. Throw it over some rice, top it with an egg and you’re good to go! 

It’s a popular meal-on-the-go due to the simplicity of the ingredients and the lack of messy sauce, so you’ll often find it sold on street side carts around lunch time. 

Don’t forget to add the Prik Nam Pla. 

What's in it: chicken, holy basil, chilis, rice, egg. 

6. Prik Nam Pla

Okay, this isn’t a meal in itself but it deserves a place at the table! Which is exactly where you’ll find this staple condiment. It’s essentially just chopped chilis in a fish sauce but it adds something distinctly Thai to any dish. The taste is obviously spicy but complemented with a salty, sweet and often sour accent. It goes best with Pad Krapow Gai, in my opinion. 

7. The fruits of Southwestern Asia

Tropical countries like Thailand naturally produce the most incredible fruits in the world. They are just so full of juicy, sweet flavour. If you’re a fruit lover like I am, make a point to seek out some of Southwestern Asia’s finest fruits. 

I suggest shopping at places like Or Tor Kor Market for good quality fruits. Avoid the fruits that look unusually perfect — often they’re sprayed with chemicals to look that way. You’ll need to get out of the mindset that a perfect outside equates to perfect inside because thats usually not the case here. 

Some notable mentions:

  • Mangosteen is lauded as the greatest fruit in the world, and I happen to agree with this statement. It’s sweet and sour and so incredibly delicious. It peels like a thick orange to reveal little garlic clove sized pieces.
  • Durian is a strange one. It’s equally eyebrow-raising and yummy at the same time. It smells a little farty and has a stringy, mushy consistency but you can’t leave Thailand without trying it!
  • Plum Mangoes are very sweet and juicy and bruise easily. They are as they sound: somewhere between a messy plum and a ripe mango. 
  • Rambutans look aggressive but it’s what’s inside that counts, right? Beneath it’s high school punk phase, there’s a delicate oval lychee-type fruit.

From Top, Clockwise: Mangosteen, Rambutan, Durian, Lanzone, Plum Mango.

9. Snails, Mantis Shrimp, and other unusual creatures

Much like other coastal regions in the world, here they’ve embraced what they have plenty of: seafood. Yes, Thailand is a seafood heaven! But we’re not talking about the Red Lobster menu. This is real seafood.

In Thailand, there are creatures you’ve probably never seen before; and others you may not believe are edible. But not only are they edible, they’re delicious.

You’ll still find lobster and shrimp here, of course, but they’re going to be at least double the size you’re used to (and sometimes about half the price). 

I really encourage you to take a chance on some unusual sea creatures for dinner. Our favourite so far has been the Mantis Shrimp. 

Additional Tip! You may not know the Thai language when you visit, and it’s no problem getting by without any knowledge of it, but here are some buzzwords that will aid you along when you happen to stumble upon that menu without English translations. 

Gai = Chicken
Moo = Pork
Pla = Fish
Beef = Neiu
Kung = Shrimp
Rice = Khao
Egg = Khai
Nam = Water
Prik = Chili/pepper
Yum = Salad
Pad = Stir Fry
Ped = Spicy

Alright, you’re got everything you need to hit the streets of Thailand and fill up that belly! 

Where to Eat in Bangkok: Our Favourite Places

When one thinks about Thailand, food should be one of the first things that come to mind. And for good reason; Thailand is home to some of the greatest flavours in the world. We’ve visited this magnificent country numerous times, for numerous reasons, but above all else it’s for the food.

Here are our 5 favourite places to grab a bite in Bangkok! 

1. Street Food

Let’s get this point out on the table first and foremost: if you’re feeling hungry in Bangkok, you’re doing it wrong. There are unlimited resources for food everywhere you look in this city and in the off chance you don’t see a restaurant, there is a good chance you’ll find a street vendor. 

These folks are resourceful and smart business owners. They have a knack for turning otherwise useless spaces into money-making ventures. Offering anything from simple takeaway skewers and finger foods to full sized menus of options, complete with makeshift tables and chairs. 

But the best thing about these vendors is that they’ve been cooking the same things for years. That simple skewer of meat? They’ve got it down to a science; cooked to perfection every single time. So while the ingredients may not match the quality of a formal restaurant, the skills of the cook rival those of any chef. 

2. The Train Markets

Originally built on an old railway line (which coined the name), the Rot Fai Train Market became so successful that they created two little baby versions of it in other parts of the city. And when you arrive, you’ll understand why. These markets are unlike the many others in the city in the way that they’re decorated and the quality of vendors it attracts. 

The decor is heavily influenced by hipster culture with ornamental antiques, tattoo shops, artsy signs, and boutiquey shops. So it feels like equal parts art gallery and traditional market place.

But then theres the food. Rows upon rows of friendly food vendors offering their signature dishes. There’s something for everyone here: Thai-staples like Khao Soi, or full seafood platters; quail egg skewer or seasoned bugs by the bag. 

It’s truly a foodie dream-come-true. You can and will spend hours here just trying to find another pocket of space to squeeze in one more bite of food. My theory is that they only allowed non-food vendors to setup here so that the food-lovers have something to look at while they burn off some calories between eating sessions. 

3. Boat Noodles at Victory Monument

Boat noodles are a must-try food in Thailand. The dish itself comes with plenty of history: the original boat noodles were served — surprise surprise — from boats! They’re served individually in two-or-three-bite portions in deep bowls to avoid spilling over while navigating the ancient canals of Thailand via canoe. Over time, these canals were filled in to make way for roads and this forced the boat noodle vendors on to dry land. 

Today, you can find the best of this tradish’ dish around Victory Monument, a popular transit hub. In fact, it has become so popular here for lunch that Boat Noodle Alley was developed. Hugging the river side, you’ll find these vendors serving up bowl after bowl to the rushing lunchtime crowd. 

Our favourite one isn’t here, though. It’s a little bit tougher to find but nearby. If you use Google Maps, locate Doy kway Teow Reua Boat Noodle, just off of Ratchawithi 18 Alley. Here you’ll get your delicious traditional boat noodles but it feels a little more authentic and local to us because it’s hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Victory Monument, near a calm school yard.  

Just be warned, they speak almost no English here. They can pretty much just ask “beef or pork” and you go with whatever they bring you. But it’s completely worth it when it arrives. Add as many herbs and sprouts as you like and top it off with some pork rinds and chilis and go to town! Order as many bowls as you’d like and stack them high! Just note that any “extras” you use, like the pork rinds, are added to the bill as well. 

Elsewhere in the Victory Monument area, you’ve got some great dine-in restaurants like Blackfish, some huge shopping centres, American franchises with uniquely Thai twists (like the DQ serving mango sticky rice ice cream), street vendors by the dozen, and wonderful alley way seafood restaurants. 

You won’t leave the area hungry.

4. Si Lom Soi 10 Food Court

Let’s pretend to be office workers for a day. Si Lom is a main business district in Bangkok so lunch time here tends to be a big deal. These business-casual folks need their lunch, and they need it quick. So of course, quick-eats have become the big thing here. 

You’ll find plenty of street vendors and chain restaurants along the main street, but that’s for amateurs! What you want to do is find a specific food court.

Travelling along Si Lom Rd, you’ll pass many small alleyways but the one you’re looking for will be shaded with blue umbrellas as far as the eye can see. When you reach the end of this umbrella alley, you’ll come to a building that appears to be a market place for just clothing and other household needs. But trust me on this one!

Follow the maze of stalls and vendors until you reach the back side of the building and suddenly it opens up into a gigantic food court with more food options that you could ever imagine! They’ve crammed these mini-stalls into this building so well that there’s barely enough room to walk side by side. But that just means more food for you, right?

It’s a little tougher to order in English here but they’re all so friendly and helpful. And most of them have photos you can point to. We had ordered the best Khao Soi of our lives here the first time we came, but these vendors seem to rotate so frequently that it was nowhere to be found the second time (at which time we ordered some of the best curries of our lives). You’re bound to be satisfied with whatever you choose here, but definitely don’t pass on this one.  

Grab your food and snag a chair before they fill up. The regulars here are used to sharing their table space so don’t be shy. But if you’re wise, you’ll arrive before noon. 

5. “The Garage” at Sukhumvit Soi 1. 

On our first visit to Thailand, we would leave our hotel in the daytime and pass a large garage selling trinkets and toys on our way. We thought nothing of this place since our sights are usually set to seek out food. But one evening we walked by after 5pm and to our bewilderment, it had transformed into a sprawling seafood restaurant — not a trinket to be found! 

Naturally, we heard our call to action on this one. It was our duty — no, our destiny — to indulge in whatever this multi-faceted business had to offer us. And boy, are we glad we did!

The garage is huge and goes much further back than the tables do. It feels more like dining in an airplane hangar than a garage. Steel tables were prepped with beat up menus and toilet-paper-napkin dispensers on top; haphazardly placed blue and red plastic chairs surrounding the bottom. Multiple fans did their best to provide a breeze, creating an environment not unlike sitting by a tropical beach in the evening. A projector screen hung from the ceiling playing a soccer game, although suspended a little too high to watch comfortably. 

After flipping through the generous amount of misspelled seafood options, like “fried cramb” and “garlic crap,” or the questionably funny ones like “duck lips in spicy condiment,” we ordered our food. The staff were incredibly friendly and despite knowing very little English, got our detailed order without a hiccup. They worked this restaurant with ease and efficiency. 

We’ve been back to Thailand twice since then and to this restaurant at least double that. It hasn’t let us down yet and while admittedly, the food isn’t the absolute best in the city, it is still delicious, nostalgic, and… rustic, so to speak. It’s our opinion that there is no better place spend a few hours chilling out over a few Big Changs.

You’ve got to experience it to fully understand it. 

Directions: If you exit Phloen Chit station, walk east and cross the busy street. At the corner of Soi Sukhumvit 1 (just over the old train track and past the Dominos Pizza), you’ll find what we have named “The Garage.” It has no name, but you’ll know it to see it. There are two identical looking buildings side by side but we’ve found the one nearest the rail tracks to be the better of the two. If you don’t want to cross the busy street, simply get out at Nana station and reverse these instructions.

6. The Helix at EmQuartier. 

One thing I never thought I'd say is how much I enjoyed my experience at an uber-luxurious shopping centre. But, this place got me! If you can look past the pretentious shops and make your way to the top floor of the mall, you'll find a magical place called The Helix.

where to eat bangkok

As you enter this area, you're greeted with what can only be described as a rainforest in the middle of Bangkok. This entire floor of the mall was turned into an indoor/outdoor dream covered in lush greenery and waterfalls. Before you stop to dine, take a slow stroll along the pathway to overlook the city and take pictures of the astounding natural beauty they've crafted up here in the sky. 

Near the end of the path, there are a series of classy outdoor upscale bars that you can relax at, but you first have to walk over a sky bridge with a glass floor to get there. I can only imagine what that's like after a few drinks!

But if you head back inside, up the escalator, you'll find 50 restaurants to dine at. Sounds great, right? Sure... but imagine those restaurants situated on a helix. Yes, the pathway along all 50 restaurants sits on a slight incline around and around and around for about five floors. It's incredible to look at! You'll almost forget you came here for food.

But you did, and you won't leave hungry because there is quite literally something here for everyone. Mexican, Thai, American, Italian, Japanese... desserts, seafood, drinks. You name it. 

I recommend dining at Kub Kao Kub Pla. The food was unbelievably flavourful and the dessert was on another level. 

You almost can’t go wrong wherever you go!

As an easy rule of thumb, go where the people go. If you see crowds waiting for food, or tables full of people, you’re probably in the right place. Avoid deserted restaurants (but not dessert-ed ones) or places using questionable ingredients. In our experience, poorly made food is more difficult to come across here than good food.

Seriously though, there’s great food everywhere. If you can’t make it to one of our favourite places to eat, then take a chance on your own garage or alleyway restaurant and I bet you’ll create a list of your own in no time.