Being able to call Thailand my home for the past three years has been a totally unbelievable and life-changing experience. Besides being surrounded by a beautiful and vibrant culture, I've also had the opportunity to eat some truly amazing food. Even though I was lucky enough to grow up with Thai food, actually living and eating in the country is an entirely different experience. This little guide to Thai food is all about the basics you'll need to know if you plan on eating like a local while visiting (or living) in Thailand. 

The 5 flavors of Thailand

While Western cooking typically focuses on sweet or savory flavors, Thailand actually has five categories a dish can fall under to achieve peak flavor balance: sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter. Most Thai food will have a minimum of two combinations of these flavors. For instance pad Thai is sweet, sour and salty, while som tum (green papaya salad) is an awesome combination of sweet, sour, spicy and salty. If you’re ever eating a Thai dish that doesn’t have at least two of these flavors, then odds are it isn’t authentic (or very good).


Noodles are immensely popular in Thailand. You can find them in a variety of different dishes including stir fries, soups, salads and even added to certain sausages. When ordering noodle dishes, you will often have a choice of different noodle types, as certain noodles go better with certain dishes. It's up to you to figure out your own personal preference!

The five main types of noodles are "sen yai", "sen lek", "sen mee", "sen bamee" and "wun sen". Sen yai, sen lek and sen mee noodles are all made with rice flour and come in various sizes — sen yai is the thickest while sen mee is the thinnest. Wun sen, also known as glass noodles, are made with mung beansSen bamee are thin egg noodles made with wheat flour. This type of noodle is one of my go-tos when ordering soup dishes as it's heavier and richer than other noodle types. 


Thailand is known for serving dishes with high spice levels, so if you don't have a high heat tolerance (like me,) you'd better be careful. While there are some Thai dishes that are on the mild side, most unfortunately aren't. If you can’t handle spiciness at all just tell the person making your food, “mai aow prik” (translation: "no chilis"). If you can handle some heat, but not a lot, just say, “phed nhid noi” (translation: "a little spicy"). My general rule of thumb is to order on the less spicy side and add heat on your own later — better to be safe than sorry.


Thai food is all about adjusting your dish to your own tastes — you don’t have to worry about insulting the chef if you need more salt. At any local restaurant, you can find a “kruang puang” (translation: condiment caddy) on the tables. While the condiments themselves may change based on what sort of food the restaurant serves, you can usually expect to see these things: chili powder, sugar, rice vinegar with chilies and fish sauce. These condiments help dishes achieve the Thai flavor balance. 

Regional Dishes

Thai dishes can originate from any of the four regions of Thailand. These regions are known as the North, Northeast (aka: Isaan), Central and Southern regions. Each of these places serves vastly different dishes and everyone living in Thailand has a preference for which they like best. I prefer the food from the Central Thailand (Bangkok), as it's on the milder side and includes dishes like khao pad (fried rice) and gaeng khiao wan (green curry). My boyfriend prefers food from Isaan as it's spicier and includes a lot of grilled meats. 

Now you're ready for the food-filled adventure of a lifetime. Book your flight (or at least make your reservation) and get ready to order all the Thai food you can eat.