Thailand is the perfect foodie destination! Its culinary scene is known across the world for its burst of tastes and aromatic delights. Thai cuisine offers a fantastic array of dishes that reflect the country's cultural diversity and regional influences. As a food enthusiast, I can assure you that every meal in Thailand is an adventure worth savoring.
Here is what you need to know about food and eating out in Thailand, including restaurant etiquette, typical food prices and, of course, which dishes you need to try when you visit!
In restaurants, it's common to wait to be seated by the staff. Complimentary bread and water are not usually served, so you must order drinks separately. Payment methods often include cash, but major cities also accept credit cards.
Tipping is not common in Thailand. However, if you want to tip, 10% of your total bill is appropriate. If the service was truly outstanding, you can tip up to 15%, which is thought of as very generous.
While there are no strict time limits on table occupancy, it's courteous to allow others to find seating during peak hours. Thai people often prefer sitting while eating, especially for formal meals, but street food vendors and fast food may have standing options.
Thai menus are usually structured to offer a wide range of dishes. Some dishes may have varying levels of spiciness, so don't hesitate to request your preferred spice level. Service charges are often included in the bill, but it's still thoughtful to leave some loose change as a gratuity.
When it comes to eating and drinking, Thailand has unique customs and practices. One unique aspect is the use of a spoon and fork instead of chopsticks, which is the norm in many Asian countries.
The fork is used to push food onto the spoon, making it easier to enjoy both the solid and liquid components of a dish. Additionally, it's common to share multiple dishes with your dining companions, allowing everyone to taste a variety of flavors during the meal.
When it comes to drinking, it's customary to toast before taking the first sip. Hold your glass slightly lower than the elder or superior person during the toast as a sign of respect. Also, during formal occasions, it is polite to offer a toast to the host to express gratitude.
Thailand's regional cuisines showcase a fascinating mix of flavors and ingredients. In the north, you'll find dishes influenced by Burmese and Lao cuisines, such as "Khao Soi" - a hearty noodle soup.
The northeastern region, or Isan, offers dishes with intense spice and herb flavors, like "Som Tum" - the iconic green papaya salad. Southern Thai cuisine boasts a rich blend of spices, with dishes like "Massaman Curry" reflecting Indian and Persian influences.
Here are some of the must-try foods in Thailand:
Pad Thai is a popular Thai cuisine that combines stir-fried thin rice noodles with a perfect balance of tangy tamarind, savory fish sauce, and fragrant herbs. It frequently contains dried shrimp or tofu for brininess and protein, as well as fresh bean sprouts, chives, and crushed peanuts for texture and nutty overtones.
Lime wedges on the side give a zesty flash of brightness. Its versatility allows for variations that cater to individual preferences, including shrimp, chicken, beef, and a vegetarian alternative with colorful veggies.
Tom Yum Goong is a traditional Thai soup that will tantalize your taste buds with its fiery and tangy flavors. This iconic dish features delicious shrimp swimming in a flavorful broth that perfectly balances spiciness and sourness.
The soup gets its aromatic richness from ingredients like lemongrass, lime leaves, and galangal, which infuse the broth with their fragrant essence. It's a must-try if you're looking for an explosion of flavors in a single bowl.
Som Tum is a delicious Thai salad with strong flavors, featuring green papaya, chili, garlic, lime, fish sauce, and palm sugar. Prepared in a mortar and pestle, it offers a perfect balance of spicy, sour, sweet, and salty tastes.
It’s also often served with tomatoes, long beans, and peanuts. This popular street food dish is a refreshing and thrilling choice for those who enjoy a kick of spice.
Green Curry, or "Kaeng Khiao Wan" in Thai, is a luscious and aromatic coconut-based curry featuring a creamy green curry paste made from fresh green chilies, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, galangal, and herbs. The paste is sautéed in coconut milk, infusing the dish with enticing flavors.
The curry can include various proteins like chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or tofu. Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves add minty and citrus flavors to the dish. This Thai cuisine is served with jasmine rice and is definitely a must-try.
Mango Sticky Rice, one of my personal favorites, is a delectable Thai dessert that combines ripe mangoes with coconut-infused sticky rice. The star of this dessert is the fragrant and glutinous sticky rice, also known as "khao niew."
The fragrant rice is soaked in coconut milk, creating a creamy and sweet flavor that compliments the mangoes perfectly. It has a delightful crunch when topped with sesame seeds or mung beans. This beloved delicacy is found in local markets and restaurants, especially during mango season.
This is a must-try dessert when visiting Thailand, especially if you’re a sweet tooth like me!
Thai Iced Tea, also known as "Cha Yen" in Thai, is a popular and refreshing beverage made from strong black tea infused with aromatic spices like star anise and cinnamon.
The addition of sweetened condensed milk gives it a rich and creamy sweetness and its distinctive orange color. It's a refreshing drink to sip over ice in Thailand's hot weather.
Thai Iced Tea is a delightful blend of flavors that complements the diverse tastes of Thai cuisine and is popular among locals and tourists alike. This is the best pairing with Thailand’s spicy dishes!
Thai Coffee, a favorite among coffee enthusiasts, is known for its strong and robust flavor. It is brewed using a traditional drip coffee filter, and sweetened condensed milk adds a luscious sweetness.
You can enjoy it hot or iced, and it can be found in coffee shops and stalls across Thailand. Creative variations with flavors like cardamom and coconut are also available.
Thai cuisine revolves around three main meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Locals usually eat breakfast at home or indulge in traditional dishes like rice porridge or noodle soups from street vendors.
Lunch and dinner are often enjoyed outside the home, where eateries and food stalls thrive. Snacks and sweets are available throughout the day, making it easy to find food outside of the main meal times.
Eateries in Thailand range from luxurious restaurants to humble street food vendors, offering a wide variety of flavors and atmospheres. For a more immersive experience, I highly recommend heading to bustling food markets where you can try various dishes in one place.
Thailand hosts numerous food festivals throughout the year, celebrating the country's culinary diversity. One of the main events is the "Vegetarian Festival" held in Phuket, where devotees and non-devotees enjoy a wide range of delectable vegetarian dishes.
The "Songkran Festival" also stands out, as it marks the Thai New Year and is celebrated with water fights and special dishes like "Khao Chae" - rice soaked in jasmine-scented water served with various flavors.
For an exceptional dining experience, consider visiting "Gaggan" in Bangkok, a Michelin-starred restaurant that offers innovative and artistic interpretations of traditional Indian cuisine.
Another must-try is "Jay Fai," a humble street food stall in Bangkok that has been awarded a Michelin star for its renowned crab omelet and crab curry.
While Thailand is not widely known for its wine, there are a few vineyards producing notable wines in regions like Khao Yai and Hua Hin. If you’re a wine enthusiast, you can explore these areas and sample local vintages, which are often made from imported grape varieties.
Local beer brands like "Singha" and "Chang" dominate the beer scene in Thailand, offering refreshing lagers that pair perfectly with spicy dishes. When it comes to spirits, "Mekhong" is a popular Thai whiskey made from sugarcane and rice.
Vegetarian options are widely available in Thailand, especially in major tourist areas. Many dishes can be prepared with tofu or vegetables instead of meat.
However, vegans and those with gluten-free diets might encounter some challenges, especially in more traditional eateries. It's advisable to communicate your dietary restrictions clearly when ordering.
Even though there is no visible meat in the food, it is usual in Thailand for some dishes to use a meat-based broth. Many Thai soups and curries, for example, use a broth that is often made with meat or fish as the base to infuse the dish with rich flavors.
Thailand's nightlife is vibrant and diverse, catering to a wide range of tastes. In major cities like Bangkok and Phuket, you'll find bustling night markets, rooftop bars with stunning views, and lively nightclubs.
Remember to respect local customs by drinking responsibly in Thailand's vibrant nightlife. Excessive drinking could put at risk your safety and lead to rude behavior toward others.
In Thai culture, public displays of drunkenness or loud behavior are generally frowned upon. So, it's important to maintain composure and avoid causing disturbances in public places.
Simple Lunch (local eatery): 50-150 THB per person
Dinner for Two with Drinks (mid-range restaurant): 600-1200 THB
Beer/Glass of Wine at a restaurant: 60-150 THB
Coffee: 40-100 THB
Bottle of Milk: 20-40 THB
Mango sticky rice: 30-50 THB (local vendors) and 150+ THB (in a restaurant)
Last Updated 24 September 2023