For the first part of my life, “Asian” food mainly consisted of greasy egg rolls and bland fried rice from a local Chinese restaurant. So my whole food world completely changed when I discovered Thai food. After trying the rich taste of Pad See Ewe and the bold flavors of Panang Curry, I didn’t take a second glance at that Chinese food. I was so hooked that I used to joke with my family that I could eat it every day and never get sick of it.
Well, I finally got to test that theory.
While the food here is delicious, and has the added benefit of being unbelievably cheap, there are some days when all I want is a simple salad and sandwich. And there are other days when the monotony of meat with rice and meat with noodles is so bad that all I can think about is falafel and guacamole. But most days, the flavors of Thai food are exactly what I want. And there is still so much for me to try….even if I don’t know what half of it is called.
Here are some of my favorite dishes so far:
This rich, heavy dish was a lot to handle when I first tried it at a market at 8 in the morning, but it is still one of the best things I’ve eaten here. The complex, deep curry broth, rich egg noodles, and fried egg noodles that soak up the broth make for an amazing dish. Throw in some protein with a fall-off-the-bone tender chicken drumstick, and you have the perfect bowl.
Before I came to Thailand, I was under the impression that Pad Thai was just for clueless, unadventurous tourists– the kind of people who wear neon fanny packs and fumble with maps in the middle of the street. I also believed that there was only one “right” way to make it. I was totally wrong in both respects. Turns out that there are almost as many ways to make Pad Thai as there are Pad Thai stalls in Thailand. I’ve tried my fair share of Pad Thai since I’ve been here (for experimental purposes only), and each has had varying levels of sweetness, different vegetables, and unique sauces.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of my favorite—a perfectly sweet plate of noodles and vegetables from a beachside restaurant in Ko Samet– but I do have one from my town’s famous “Pad Thai lady.” (Saying I have a “Pad Thai lady” will never get old.) It’s a one-woman affair, and she’s clearly honed her craft over the years. Unlike most Pad Thai’s her dish contains only egg and tofu for protein. The noodles have a great bite, and the sauce has just the right amount of sweetness.
Khao Neow Ma Muang (mango sticky rice)
Mangoes are my absolute favorite fruit, so I still cant understand how I’d never tried mango sticky rice before I visited Thailand. I thought, “Rice in dessert? How can that be good?” Oh I was wrong. Take some plump, sweetened, coconut-flavored rice, layer on Thailand’s naturally delicious mango, pour on some creamy coconut sauce, and you have dessert perfection. I almost prefer it to chocolate sometimes. That’s when you know something is good.
Nameless (but delicious) noodle and mysterious pork parts soup
(I swear it tastes better than this title sounds)
In America, we’re taught to be skeptical of any food product sold in a parking lot– especially one outside a shopping mall. But in Thailand, if a food stall is busy, you’re golden. When two Thai English teachers at my school told me and another English teacher that they were taking us to dinner at Tesco Lotus, we assumed we’d end up at a food court. Instead, we found ourselves sitting at a plastic table outside the mall among a slew of other street food stands. The Thai teachers ordered, and we ended up with an amazing spicy pork noodle soup dish. I wasn’t brave enough to try the kidney’s, but everything else, down to the crispy onion strings, were seriously delicious. I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten more pork and animal parts here than I have in my entire life.
Som Tam (papaya salad)
Som Tam is everything you could want from a dish in a hot and humid country. It’s refreshing, crunchy, a little bit sweet, and seriously addicting. This Northern Thai dish containing green papaya, tomato, dried shrimp, lime juice, cane sugar, tamarind juice, fish sauce, garlic, chili peppers, and peanuts is available all over the country. It’s best eaten with sticky rice to soak up all the extra sauce goodness on your plate.
Thai food blends flavors from all over Asia, and one of my favorite fusion foods is an Indian-inspired treat called Mataba. Mataba is a thick crepe filled with either sweet or savory ingredients, and a woman at my local night market makes an insanely good version. Reminiscent of an Indian Samosa, her savory Mataba contains curried ground chicken, onions, and greens. Her sweet Mataba has a delicious mixture of pumpkin, banana, and currants– drizzled with sweetened condensed milk of course. Let’s just say it fully satisfied my pie craving. Both the sweet and savory Matabas have a perfectly buttery, flaky, and golden crust– the kind that would get your grandma’s stamp of approval.