Eat and drink your way through Thailand

Thailand boasts one of the world's best-loved cuisines, with its rainbow of colourful curries and spicy pad thai well known around the globe. A whole world of gastronomic discovery awaits in Thailand itself, with a spectrum of flavours and regional variations both delicious and disorientating.
Pad thai. Photo: ARENA Creative/Shutterstock
Pad thai. Photo: ARENA Creative/Shutterstock

Bangkok street food

The best place to start your gastronomic adventure in Thailand is Bangkok. Not only the capital of Thailand, this teeming megalopolis has also long been considered the street food capital of the world, and for good reason. The heartland of Thai street food is Yaowarat Road in Chinatown, where street stalls sizzle with all manner of delicious dishes, some of which have become icons of Thai cuisine. A good starting point is Thailand’s national dish, pad thai – a delicious preparation of noodles stir-fried with prawns, egg, tofu, bean sprouts and taste bud-tingling flavourings such as tamarind pulp and fish sauce. Thipsamai is a Bangkok institution which claims to be the oldest pad thai restaurant in Thailand, and the constant queues are testament to its quality. 

Thipsamai’s pad thai is so good that it’s listed in the Michelin guide, but one unassuming Bangkok eatery goes one better. Jay Fai is a humble hole-in-the-wall specialising in seafood, and one of a tiny handful of street stalls worldwide to have been awarded a Michelin star. It’s been a long time coming for the head chef, Ms Fai herself – memorably described by the Bangkok Post as a ‘Mozart of the noodle pan’ – whose food has been drawing acclaim from foodies in the know for years. Her famous dishes include crab omelettes and noodles stir-fried with giant prawns; tourists now throng her open kitchen snapping pictures as she cooks, wearing ski goggles to shield her eyes from the flames.

Street food served on Yaowarat Road, BangkokStreet food served on Yaowarat Road, Bangkok. Photo: Anansing/Shutterstock 

Sample bizarre Thai delicacies

Chinatown is also a great place for adventurous foodies to come and try all manner of strange delicacies. Thailand is famous for its beautiful silk, but chances are you’ve never thought of eating silkworms; ask for hon mhai, though, and that’s exactly what you’ll get, fried and perfectly seasoned – and surprisingly delicious. If that’s awoken your inner insectivore, try larb mote daeng – a ‘salad’ of red ants and their eggs. 

Truly intrepid gastronomes may wish to brave the notorious durian. This fruit is so intensely pungent that it is banned in hotel lobbies and on aeroplanes, but those who’ve eaten it are divided into two camps: those who think it tastes as bad as it smells, and those who can’t get enough of the rich, custardy taste of the fruit’s flesh.

Red ant egg saladRed ant egg salad. Photo: sarawut saenvicha/Shutterstock

Savour delicious Thai-Lao food in the northeast

The Isan region of northeast Thailand has long been a cultural and culinary melting pot, bearing the strong influence of Laos across the Mekong River. Rice is still the staple here, but rather than the long-grain variety found in the rest of the country, meals are accompanied by sticky rice, which can be moulded into a handheld edible spoon used to scoop up spicy stews, curries and grilled meat. Isan is also the home of som tam, a spicy salad made from unripe papaya, freshwater crab, lime, chilli, palm sugar and fish sauce. It’s often blisteringly spicy, sour, salty, and sweet all at the same time – displaying the perfect balance of disparate flavours for which Thai cuisine has become so well known.

Relish ocean-fresh seafood in the south

With several thousand miles of coastline and hundreds of paradise islands to explore, it’s no surprise that Thailand comes up trumps in the seafood stakes. Southern Thailand’s seafood is particularly celebrated, and can be enjoyed all over the region, whether in a chic Patong beach club or a blissed-out backpacker restaurant on Ko Pha Ngan. In Phuket, ask for kung mangkon phat phrik phao – Andaman Coast lobster, barbecued with chilli sauce. Another delicious southern speciality is meuk op sos nei – squid, baked in butter sauce and garnished with vegetables carved into the shapes of flowers and leaves. In the deep south of the mainland, the area around Hat Yai specialises in a dish called phaneng kung makheuathet – tomatoes stuffed with prawn and coconut curry.

Phuket seafood dish – stir-fried shrimp with tamarind sauce.Phuket seafood dish – stir-fried shrimp with tamarind sauce. Photo: Casper1774 Studio/Shutterstock

Enjoy a Thai tipple

Thai food is a whole world unto itself, but when it comes to a drink, there are similarly diverse and unusual offerings to choose from. Perhaps the most famous is Krating Daeng, Thailand’s favourite energy drink and the precursor to Red Bull – right down to the red, yellow and blue colour scheme and charging bulls logo. Uncarbonated, and gloopier than its Western cousin, this is one of a range of turbo-charged energy drinks which are a key ingredient in the notorious booze buckets of Ko Pha Ngan's Full Moon parties – along with various other soft drinks, and an entire bottle of SamSong rum or Mekong whiskey. If that is your first experience of Krating Daeng, you may find yourself reaching for a bottle of the stuff when you’re in need of a boost the next morning, too. 

Fans of all things hoppy will enjoy exploring Thailand’s thriving craft beer scene, with breweries like Dirty Forty and Bannok offering some unusual, welcome alternatives to the ubiquitous Singha and Chang. For something softer, there’s no better way to cool off from the Southeast Asian sun than with a smoothie of watermelon, dragon fruit, guava, and any other number of tropical fruits, blended before your eyes at a streetside stall. Otherwise, do as the locals do and sip on chai yen, a sweet tea flavoured with tamarind and orange blossom.

Dragon fruit (pitahaya) on a street fruit stall.Dragon fruit (pitahaya) on a street fruit stall. Photo: Konstantin Zaykov/Shutterstock

Ready to take a trip to Thailand?

Insight Guides can help you plan incredible trips to Thailand. Simply get in touch to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then create a tailor-made itinerary especially, which you can amend until it's exactly how you want it. You can browse our pre-planned itineraries for inspiration, and keep in mind that they can all be tailored to suit your specific needs.