10 Popular Thai Dishes To Try Before Leaving Thailand

  • Recently Updated: November 2022
Chiang mai local food

Thailand cuisine is a culinary delight with a wide range of startling Thai dishes such as curries, noodle soups, drinks and even pastries, always rich in natural flavors and has a authenticity yet refine taste.

Thai food is a mash-up of traditional dishes characterized by the use of indigenous herbal ingredients, some of which impart a variety of flavors ranging from bitter to sour.

The history of local food in the northern states is the lingering influences from former Burmese conquests and the long history of a powerful Chinese immigrant community.

When I walk around the tourist places, I get a strange sense of comfort and familiarity with its food and the numerous stalls lining up the night bazaars near popular Chiang Mai hotels.

While many visitors assume traditional food in Thailand begins with Pad Thai, you would be doing yourself an injustice if you do not allow your taste buds to try the wide range of local food available here.

While visiting the northern provinces for it’s stunning mountains and it’s beautiful vacation spots, here’s 10 fascinating Thai dishes you must try before you depart from this amazing vacation destinations.

Quick Jump Contents

Khao Niaw

Despite being the most well-known dish on the list, Khao Niaw is a Northern Thai culinary staple that had to make the cut. This gluten-free rice is a local delicacy that isn’t boiled like its counterpart.

Steam is used to prepare Khao Niaw. Many recipes recommend using a bamboo basket but in North, locals prefer to use a wooden steamer known as “Hai Nung,” which looks like a wooden bucket. In Issan though, it’s prepared in a bamboo basket.

Khao Niaw is only eaten with your hands and it’s necessary to get the most out of many of the Thai dishes listed below. Shape the sticky rice into a ball-shape with your hand, which is perfect for soaking up curries and spicy dips.

Nam Prik Ong

best thai food

This dish is made with a mixture of dried chilies, garlic, shallots, coriander roots or seeds, shrimp paste, ground pork and tomatoes and it’s served with steam vegetables

The dip (Nam Prik) itself resembles a rich Bolognese sauce sometimes with tomatoes.

It’s served in a bowl with parboiled cabbage slices, eggplants, sticky rice, and fried pork cracklings on a small basket.

This popular Thai dish has a flavor profile that is savory, spicy, tangy and salty. The tangy flavors of Nam Prik Ong comes from the tomatoes used in this dish.

Depending on the eateries, the flavor profiles might range from garlic to mild to spicy. The dip or chili paste is created without Thai fish sauce and instead uses Kapi Kung (shrimp paste) 

Nam Prik (chili paste or dip) with vegetables is the most favorable Thai food eaten by the locals for ages in the whole of Thailand. 

Nam Prik Num

Nam Prik Num is generally eaten with parboiled vegetables, pork and sticky rice but I find it complements almost any Thai dish.

The chilies are blackened on a charcoal fire in this northern Thai-style dip, giving it a distinct smoky flavor. It’s then mixed with shallots, fish sauce and garlic pounded in a mortar with a pestle.

There are also differences in ingredients; some restaurants in Chiang Mai don’t use fish sauce while others do. It goes well with Moo Yang and a variety of fried Thai dishes.

This is readily available at any local market where you can put together your own creation. If you are in a hurry, one of the best restaurants in Chiang Mai serving Prik Ong and Prik Num is Sorn Chai.

Khao Soi

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Khao soi is the most well-known coconut curry noodle and are famous in Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.

There are many version of Khao Soi that comes with boiled and crunchy fried wheat noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, sweet coconut milk usually with beef or chicken.

The pickled greens cut through the creamy sweet-sour curry (depending on where you eat), while the shallots provide their distinct flavors without overpowering the dish.

They use different textures to complement the crispy noodles. Khao soi is a dish with a lot of flavor. To this day, the flavors, texture and fragrance of this local delight always amaze me.

Until you try this dish, you won’t know what the fuss is all about. It’s ridiculous to try and figure out which Khao Soi is the tastiest in places like Chiangmai.

How about I suggest a pretty interesting Khao Soi eating experience (eco-friendly) in a Thai food restaurant with everything made of coconuts. 

It’s worth noting that all Thai dishes in the menu and drinks here comes in coconut shells.

Khao Soi Kalong Coconutland restaurant’s cutlery, water mugs, Ice tongs, bowls etc are all crafted from used coconut shells. So yeah, nothing goes to waste in this unique Chiang Mai restaurant.

Location

Khuang Pao Subdistrict, Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai (next to Wat Phra That Chom Thong)

Contact

Phone : 087-189-2619

SPECIALITY: Khao Soi Gai (chicken)
Our Hours

DAILY 06:00 – 17:00

PRICE RANGE

Less than 100฿/per person

Bottom line:

  • Thick, rich and robust are three words that comes to mind. I went for a second bowl after the initial mouthful of their lovely Khao Soi Gai.
  • The restaurant is easy to visit with a spacious carpark near to the main road. Pets are allowed and the eatery is suitable for family with kids and local guided groups.
  • Khao Soi Kalong Coconutland is an environmentally friendly coconut theme Thai food restaurant with a super affordable local menu.

Khao Ka Moo

popular thai dishes
The famous Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak

The popular Thai street food Khao Kha Moo (pork leg) is well-known all over Thailand. The pork legs are being slow cooked to tender perfection in a big pot for over a few hours.

Not far from the Old City, visit Chang Phuak Gate Night Market. When you see a Thai lady with a cowboy hat standing next to a mountain of stewed pig legs, you’ll realize that you’re in the right place.

Khao Ka Moo is pretty popular with visitors who flock to this tourist spot for a plate of the delicious local dish. Usually, it’s served with a plate of rice, Chinese broccoli and a boil egg.

Complimentary chilies, garlic cloves and other stuff are available on the wooden table for diners. So, you can compliment your Khao Kha Moo according to your own taste.

Bottom line:

  • The pork leg meat isn’t too sweet or salty, yet tasty, full of flavor and hearty all the same.
  • Best to request for the meaty part with less or no skin from the stall owner. 
  • I’m not saying it’s more sumptuous here than elsewhere but if you are at Chang Phuak Gate Night Market and don’t try this Thai street food at least once, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Sai Ua

thai dishes

This spicy sausage is another must-try Thai dish popular in the northern states, which is why it’s sometime referred to as Chiang Mai sausage cooked over a charcoal fire.

This unique Thai dish is another that may be found in local markets or street food stalls.

The sausage casing is made of offal, which are stuffed with juicy minced pork meat and a variety of spices.

This is a dish that takes days to create and even before it lands on the grill, it goes through a steam cooking process. The original version of this dish would be cooked on a low-heat grill.

Sai Ua is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before, full with spices and herbs, and your taste buds will thank you for giving it a try before you leave Thailand.

It has a meaty texture, thanks to the tasty minced pork and the herbal spices will entice your senses. Yellow turmeric root, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, chili and a pinch of galangal are significant flavors in this Northern Thai dish.

Bottom line:

  • Sa Ua is commonly available at most of the night bazaars in Chiang Mai in skewed form or serve together with Nam Prik Num and Khao Niaw (sticky rice)

Nam Ngiaw

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Nam Ngiaw is a stew-like broth composed of spareribs, minced meat and pork blood or curds with tomato base.

The noodle is the white fermented rice vermicelli which is very common throughout Thailand and South East Asia.

Lemongrass is added to the dish which enhances the flavor and scent. Pieces of pork blood curd are combined with spareribs and mince meat.

You can order this iconic Thai dish in a bowl without the blood curd and only have the minced pork and spareribs.

I understand that blood curd might be a frightening food for western tourists, but you wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell you.

I didn’t realize there was blood curb in this meal until I had it for the second time. It comes in square pieces just like tofu but dark brown in color. 

However, since it is thoroughly cooked with no pungent smell, there is no need to be concerned.

Bottom line:

  • Nam Ngiaw is a popular traditional food in Thailand and is pretty common in Chiangrai. Nam Ngiaw Mawdin Pa Ead is an authentic restaurant to try this Thai dish.
  • On a rainy day, this is one of the best Thai dishes that will have you repeating “Soi Mak Mak” after every spoonful, even if you order without the blood curds.

Jin Tup

traditional food in thailand

Jin Tup is a slow-cooked beef flank with a dash of kosher salt, garlic, lemongrass and black peppercorns, smashed with a metal mallet and served with Naam Phrik.

Before it reaches your plate, the meat are cooked on a coal-fired grill. Tenderize pounded beef with a concentrated smoky flavor is what you get. 

The texture of Jin Tup reminds me of beef jerky. When you bite into it, you’ll get strands of juicy tasty beef which pairs well with a Thai beer or whiskey.

Bottom line:

  • This may sound a bit odd, but my experience with this popular Thai dish among locals reminded me of beef jerky which is high in protein and minerals like zinc and iron.
  • You can find this Thai dish at places like open-air casual dining night markets especially when there is metal grill-pit behind the stalls. 

Kaeng Hang Lei

thailand dishes
A popular Thai red curry dish with Burmese influence

Kaeng Hang Lei is a Burmese (Myanmar) dish with Indian influence. This is another traditional food that became a mainstay in Northern Thailand after the Burmese captured and dominated the provinces.

The consistency of Kaeng Hang Lei is similar to that of a stew. The curry is made with a variety of spices including ginger, tamarind, turmeric and garlic (you may also add masala powder), but the star of this dish is the chunks of pork belly.

This is where the dish’s rich and fatty characteristics come from. Kaeng Hang Lei has a slight spiciness to it, which is enhanced by red chilies and shallots.

Bottom line:

  • It’s a dish that’s ideal for visitors who can’t eat spicy dishes but yet want to sample some true Northern Thai dishes. 
  • Having Kaeng Hang Lei with the world’s best-tasting rice (Thai Jasmine rice), on the other hand, offers diners an affordable, hearty and filling meal.

Jin Som

thai dishes to try

Foodies should not underestimate this traditional food in Thailand despite the fact that it is not the most visually appealing dish to try.

Jin Som is one of those Thai dishes which recipe dates back to a time when locals would try to safe on every part of the food source.

It consists of a mixture of lean pork meat, thin strips of boiled pig skin and sticky rice.

Besides, the simple dish is also seasoned using basic stuff like garlic and salt and finally wrapped in banana leaf for over two days. It’s ready when the meat is fermented. 

Jin som is normally eaten raw by the Thai locals accompanied with their favorite booze. If you’re unsure about attempting this dish start with the grilled version.

In Thailand, there are many different variations of Jin Som. If you choose to eat in the northern provinces then go for the raw deal in the wrap version.

Bottom line:

  • I’d definitely recommend ordering this popular Thai food because it’s well seasoned and flavorful, perfect for adventurous tourists on vacation in Thailand.

One of the best ways to learn about a country or city’s culture is to eat one’s way through it, and especially in Thailand where it’s affordable and exotic. 

The most popular places to find traditional food in Thailand are the Night Bazaars and Night Markets which have a very rich culture and a magnet for tourists.

I’ve seldom had this feeling about any other tourist places. But the first thing that comes to mind when traveling to Thailand has to be visiting the popular spots for the best Thai dishes to try again and again.

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