Up until I started university, I had spent every summer of my life in Thailand. For those of us blessed to have spent any time in this cultural melting pot, we might not have realized how truly lucky we were beyond the miles of traffic or the most humid of conditions. So in honor of the next time we’ll be back, let’s reminisce about all of the foodie essentials.
1. Khao Mun Gai (Chicken and Rice)
You really can’t go wrong with Khao Mun Gai. Its probably one of the very first foods that Thai parents feed their children and one of the most fundamental dishes to any Thai chef’s repertoire. It’s super simple to make and the flavors are subtle, yet downright delicious. Oh, how I miss waking up to this in the morning.
2. Pad Kra Pao (Basil Stir-Fry)
If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would probably be Pad Kra Pow. I’m an absolute sucker for Thai basil and this dish is just perfumed with the best flavors.
3. Khao Niew Ma Muang (Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango)
Together, fruit and rice may not seem nice, but Khao Niew Ma Muang exceeds all expectations. The sweet freshness of the mango balances the richness of the sticky rice soaked with coconut milk really well. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to make at home either.
4. Som Tum (Papaya Salad)
There is no other dish that epitomizes the four signature tastes of Thailand better than Som Tum. In one mouthful, your tastebuds are flooded with a marriage of salty, sour, spicy, and sweet flavors. This papaya salad is so good, even the pickiest vegetable hater can’t resist.
5. Pad Thai (Pad Thai)
One of the most common responses I get after telling people I am Thai is, “OMG, I love pad Thai.” But who doesn’t? There are so many layers and dimmensions of flavors that you won’t find in spaghetti, chow mein, or ramen.
When I was in middle school, I once ate four orders of roti within ten minutes. This Thai take on an originally Indian staple is basically an extra crispy pancake that can be customized like a crepe. So the next time you’re back in Thailand, order a roti with condensed milk and sugar and tell me how easy it is to resist not eating four. It’s not.
7. Kuay Tiew Reua (Boat Noodles)
This petite bowl of tastiness actually has a practical reason behind it. Before making its way to every nook and cranny of Thailand, Kuay Tiew Reua used to be prepared and served by people in boats. The small portion was deisgned for the sake of convenience and portability. Nevertheless, I’m really down for two right now.
8. Moo Bing (Grilled Pork Skewers)
Who needs Korean barbecue when you can have your meat grilled to sizzling, juicy perfection for less than a dollar per skewer? Don’t get me wrong, I love my galbi and my bulgogi but Moo Bing will always have a special place in my heart. Five or six skewers and a bag of sticky rice later always fills me up without draining my wallet or leaving me smelling like a grill.
9. Gai Yang (Roasted Chicken)
Don’t be fooled, Gai Yang isn’t your typical roasted chicken. Its irresistible allure comes from a marinade that typically consists of coriander, fish sauce, lemongrass, and a whole lot of garlic.
10. Tom Yum Goong (Thai Shrimp Soup)
I usually don’t like to eat hot soups when the weather is too warm but for Tom Yum Goong, I can always make an exception. Each vendor has their special own way to prepare the dish but its trademark characteristics are lemongrass and seafood.
11. Pa Thong Ko (Thai-style Chinese Crullers)
A cruller is a deep-fried strip of dough that’s very reminiscent of an extra-crispy doughnut. In Thailand, pa thong ko is eaten in a lot of different ways. My grandfather dips them in his coffee and my dad enjoys them with his congee but I prefer them drizzled with condensed milk.
12. Ba Mee Haeng (Dry Egg Noodles)
These egg noodles are not only my Chinese grandmother’s specialty but a classic lunchtime favorite for many. This recipe and its many variations probably best epitomizes the fusion between Thai and Chinese culture.
13. Saku Sai Moo (Tapioca Dumplings with Pork)
Seeing a cupboard full of crackers and veggie chips, I really miss Saku Sai Moo. This popular midday snack is a dumpling made out of tapioca – that’s right, the same stuff as boba – and filled with seasoned pork. Not only is it satisfying but it’s (probably) much healthier.