5 Tantalising Thai Foods to Tickle Your Taste Buds

I’ve been living in Chiang Mai for 4 months now and within that time I’ve never cooked a meal at home. I’m not lazy. My pattern of living is in fact very normal in a sense that cooking at home here is actually more unusual. Most Thai apartments do not have a kitchen, and if they do they’re normally ill equipped. If you want a Western style kitchen to play chef in then you’ll pay a premium that, with additional purchase of ingredients, will likely work out more expensive than having someone cook for you. Unless you’re a cooking addict and don’t feel quite right without a pan in your hand, getting to eat out and sample delightful Thai foods every night is one of the best things about living in the Land of Smiles.

Everyday I eat out on the street or visit restaurants in search of my favourite dishes. Fortunately, the least expensive eats here tend to also be both the tastiest. In stark juxtaposition to the Western world, a McDonald’s is one of the most expensive meals you can buy in Thailand, yet you will always see a steady stream of a tourists flowing through the golden arches. Stop playing it safe people! Save your money, support the local community and go sit down at a street stall somewhere. Even if it doesn’t have an English menu then I’m sure that through smiles, nods and a bit of confusion you will end up with something put before you. Try it. It’ll probably rock your world.

Chiang Mai itself is renowned for its incredible selection of delicious eats. In my ambition to one day bring you this post I have forced myself to sample many. It’s ok. Don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t need your pity. ;) Just sit back and salivate whilst I present to you five tantalising Thai foods that will tickle your taste buds:

 

1. Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

Now a very famous Thai dish, Som tam actually originated from Laos. When presented before me for the first time I admittedly did not know quite what to think of Som tam. Hard-shelled dead crabs sat among an assortment of shredded papaya accompanied by a lingering fish smell. I was warned it would be spicy, but the fiery sensation that encompassed my mouth once I had drawn enough courage to chow on a spoonful was something else. I’d been thrown in at the deep end for sure and immediately wrote off the dish as something I could never enjoy. Boy was I wrong.

Som tam: Dare to ask for spicy?
Som tam: Dare to ask for spicy?

Being the stubborn person I am I was determined to try again and as it happens, nowadays Som tam is one of my favourite Thai foods. The crunchy papaya and seafood mix are a taste sensation perfectly complimented with a bamboo basket of sticky rice. As for the dead crabs, it takes a bit of knowledge about Thai cooking to appreciate them, but for the most part they are a salty contribution to the taste and smell. I recommend trying “Thai Som tam” or “Som tam tom yum” if you’re a papaya salad virgin then move on to “Laos Som tam” if you’re feeling a bit braver. This dish is best served spicy but it doesn’t have to be. Instruct “Mai ped” (not spicy), “ped” (spicy) or “ped mak” (very spicy) to your preference. I do urge caution with the latter request though!

 

2. Khao Soi

In contrast to Som tam, I’ve never met anyone that disliked Khao Soi. This beautifully crafted Burmese influenced Northern Thailand dish features a curry like coconut milk sauce giving home to both boiled and crispy egg noodles, and most commonly a chicken leg. You’ll sometimes see alternative meats offered with Khao Soi but the first timer should undoubtedly experience succulent and tender chicken which just falls off the bone upon being prodded with a chopstick.

Khao Soi: Chicken in curried coconut milk bliss!
Khao Soi: Chicken in curried coconut milk bliss!

It’s common that Khao Soi is served up with shallots, chilies, lime and pickled cabbage. Often it will all be thrown into the mix but the best eateries will provide you with a vegetable side plate to load your dish up as you see fit. Such places usually are specialist Khao Soi dining joints.

 

3. Moo Kata

Although roughly translated to ‘pork barbecue’, moo kata isn’t all about feasting on pork. Usually advertised at a set price for an all you can eat buffet, when hitting up a moo kata restaurant you can expect to find varying cuts of beef, marinated chicken, pork, offal, seafood and prawns amongst many other selections. Once your plates are loaded with raw meat, vegetables and other snacks it’s time to get cooking on your tables own personal barbecue skillet.

Moo Kata: Unlimited BBQ!? Nom nom.
Moo Kata: Unlimited BBQ!? Nom nom.

As tasty as a moo kata dinner is, its popularity can no doubt be attributed to the social side of a sit down dinner with friends whilst barbecuing the night away. It was for this reason that I chose a moo kata dinner when playing Chiang Mai tour guide to my cousin and his friends when passing through the city recently. The fact that at most establishments there is no limit to how much food you can put away also makes it a top choice for those days when you’re appetite seems unstoppable! Ensure however that you abide to the unwritten rule of moo kata: whatever you put on your plate you must cook and eat. Wasting food is not acceptable!

 

4. Moo Jum

Cows go moo? No. Not in Thailand. In the Land of Smiles, pigs go moo. Or they did. Once upon a time. Because moo jum implies ‘dipping pork’ – and in the case of this dish in a clay pot filled with a boiling broth heated by burning coals. Again, pork isn’t the only thing on the menu here and selections are very similar to what you would find at a moo kata buffet restaurant. It is more typical however that moo jum establishments will have you order from a menu before delivering manageable, quick cooking pieces of raw meat to your table for you to cook. Throw what you want into the broth, cover it with the lid and in 5 minutes or so you should be ready to start tucking in. A more contemporary variety of moo jum is to simply cook the food in a pot heated by an electric hob. However, for the most authentic experience and arguably the best taste I advise hunting for restaurants with the traditional clay pots.

Moo Jum: A clay pot of meat, veg and broth. It’s the simple things..
Moo Jum: A clay pot of meat, veg and broth. It’s the simple things..

Both moo jum and moo kata share identical dipping sauces which are a perfect accompaniment to your cooking. They consistently come in two varieties: a red in colour sweet flavoured dip and a green coloured spicy number. Most people mix the two together to their taste. Come to terms with the fact this taste will likely stay with you for the rest of your day and beyond. It’s strong stuff! I do find that my tastebuds are sometimes still tainted with it come the morning. Thankfully it’s delicious so I don’t care!

 

5. Noodle Soup

Simple, filling and satisfyingly scrumptious – I believe we have the Chinese to thank for inspiring the dish that many fall in love with from the first time they taste it. Choose your thickness of noodle, select pork or beef meat, meatballs or both and within a few minutes a steaming bowl of noodly goodness will arrive before you. Table spices and sauces such as dried chilli, vinegar chilli and fish sauce will allow you to adjust the flavouring to your liking before digging in your chopsticks and slurping away.

Noodle soup: Noodle heaven amongst an army of meatballs.
Noodle soup: Noodle heaven amongst an army of meatballs.

Noodle soup was the first meal I had when I first arrived in Chiang Mai. I instantly fell in love with it and was stunned by the humble 30THB asking price. It was so good that the family run diner I had chanced upon many months ago is still a firm favourite and regular haunt of mine.

 

The experiences that accompany trying new cuisine are often equally as memorable as the food. How long would a place that allowed you to barbecue, or boil your own raw meats last in the UK before health and safety closed it down? Not long I bet. What’s more, all of these Thai foods are incredibly affordable and generally very healthy. There are many, many others that deserve a mention that I have neglected to list in this post. Apologies if you’re favourite doesn’t feature within these five. I’m sure I’ll be dedicating more blog space to other culinary delights in the future. It never ceases to be amaze me how well you can eat in this part of the world. If you ever find yourself any in South East Asia don’t play it safe. Avoid the big chains and sample the local stuff. It’ll be a decision you never reget.

Have you tried any of these? Do you have a favourite Thai food?

Comments

A Cook Not Mad (Nat)
Reply

Delicious article! Tim was lucky enough to have worked with a Thai lady (former cook) who thought him tons of Thai dishes. Som Tam has always been one of my favourites in the summer time but it’s not so easy to find green papaya in Canada.

Chris
Reply

I think I went about 5 days on the trot eating Som Tam the other week. Love the stuff!

Tim was lucky indeed to add Thai foods to his repertoire, but I guess you’re just as lucky that you get to eat them! :)

Franca
Reply

The papaya salad is on my top list, it tastes so fresh and so different from what I’m used to eat back home, simply delicious! :)

Chris
Reply

Isn’t it. I’m amazed how much I’ve come to love it from my initial impressions!

Charli l Wanderlusters
Reply

I love Thai food and although we’ve been nomadic for the last two years we’ve yet to make it over to the far east. I can’t wait to sample some of the delights you’ve mentioned here. Although I do love to cook I don’t think I would mind the having these meals cooked for me. Plus I wouldn’t have to wash up!

Chris
Reply

The no washing up is undoubtedly a bonus I completely neglected to even think about!

Christine |GRRRL TRAVELER
Reply

That noodle soup looks ridiculously good and I dont’ blame you for eating out each night. I’d do the same… Thai food is so good and inexpensive. Say goodbye to the kitchen, when someone else can do it better than me.

Chris
Reply

You’re right. Ridiculously simple. Ridiculously good!

jill
Reply

Thai food is way up there on my list of fave ethnic food. So lucky that you’re in Chiang Mai surrounded by plenty of cheap and awesome Thai food.

Chris
Reply

Absolutely. I’ll no doubt miss it wherever I go on my travels in the future!

Samuel Jeffery
Reply

Great recommendations! I’ve yet to try the Moo Kata; that’s now on my list of eats for CM :)

Bastiaan
Reply

I love the Papaya salad. I would go back to thailand for that! I also miss the prices now that I’m living in Australia…. Nice article!

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