Thai Cuisine: The Spicy Truth

by Andrea Petkovic

Bangkok is definitely one of the greatest cities in the world and it is partly because of its food. Food in Bangkok and Thailand in general, is not only delicious, but also incredibly cheap. And the best thing is that you can find food everywhere, at anytime night or day; anything you desire, from different types of rice, noodles, grilled chicken, seafood, all sort of sausages. It’s food heaven with endless street food stalls, steak houses, ice cream parlors and pastry shops, Italian diners, and trendy nouvelle cuisine restaurants. The only problem is choosing!

A typical street food stall in Bangkok, Thailand offers a wide variety of local favorites. Dont be afraid to try them!
A typical street food stall in Bangkok, Thailand offers a wide variety of local favorites. Don’t be afraid to try them! Photo by Andrea Petkovic

Delicious Obsession 

One of the very first things you’ll notice is that Thai people LOVE to eat. They traditionally eat 4 to 5 times a day and they are very passionate about their food. If you really want to experience life from the Thai point of view, walk around the city of Bangkok and think about, look for, and then eat every possible delight you come across. Don’t be afraid of street food as it is usually perfectly safe. Often times the eateries and restaurants that look the worse, have the most delicious food.

Thai’s, from the booming capital of Bangkok to rural countryside, are infatuated with food and eating and they have every reason to be. As soon as you arrive, you will understand why! 

Important Words: NOT SPICY! 

You think you like spicy food? Well, think again! You will quickly learn that spicy goes to a whole new level when in Thailand. What we call spicy, they consider bland, so one of the very first phrases you need to learn in Thai is “not spicy” or   “Maị̀ p̄hĕd.” Very few people speak English so knowing this simple phrase save you and your tongue some pain. At least until you get used to the new level of spiciness and know if you can handle it. Chilly and other spices are always on the table in Thailand so you can easily adjust food to taste.  

Spicy crab curry

Spicy crab curry

Five Must Try Meals!

1. Tom Yum Gung. This soup combines shrimps, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal. You could ask for coconut milk to be added to the meal (tom yum gung nam kohn) or some cream (tom yum gung nam sai).  The soup harmoniously unifies different tastes: it is salty, spicy, sweet, and sour at the same time – a true explosion of tastes served in one bowl. 

2. Som Tam. This is probably the most famous Thai salad and known among tourists as green papaya salad. It contains tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, dried shrimps, tomatoes, lime juice, cane paste, string beans, and grated green papaya. Crab meat of fish sauce are also common additions. Again you will enjoy a true richness of tastes from sweet, salty, and spicy. 

3. Pad Pak Bung Nam Man Hoy. Whether you like vegetables or not, morning glory in Thailand is an absolute must try! It is a stem-oriented hollow vegetable with small leaves. It is prepared with stir fried garlic, chilies, and oyster sauce. Its crispy texture and has light fresh flavor bring even non-veggie lovers to the green side. 

4 Pad Thai. Pad Thai is definitely the most popular Thai dish among foreigners both in and out of Thailand. It consists of medium sized rice noodles with tofu, peanuts, shrimp, bean sprouts, garlic, pepper, onion, eggs, fish sauce, and lime juice. You can also add a spoon of sugars, chili flakes, or vinegar. It’s a go to for both beginners and seasoned Thai cuisine aficionados. 

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Photo credit to Pasita Wanseng

5. Cha Yen. It’s actually tea and the only beverage to make the list. Although it is very sweet drink, it is also surprisingly refreshing. Its tea flavor is almost unrecognizable amidst the heavy portions of sweetened condensed milk and ice. Order a cha yen at any and all coffee stalls on the street, drink stands, or restaurants in Bangkok! 

How Brave Are you? 

There is one delicacy that Thailand is particularly famous for or perhaps infamous, depending on how adventurous you are – fried insects.  Many people in Thailand actually enjoy eating their insects. They are a popular snack food often paired with a beer. Insects are usually fried in a wok and in some seasonal sauce. So if you are up for some grasshoppers, worms, larvae … you have come to the right place!