On a boat in the thick jungles of Borneo, Indonesia, I once was asked by a fellow travel writer “Which country has the best food in Asia”? Without hesitation, I exclaimed “Thai food is the gold standard for all Asian cuisine!”— all while completely disregarding that I was on a boat in Indonesia with people who live in Indonesia. Fortunately, the locals didn’t take offense to my honesty, and I was not thrown into the murky black waters of the Sekonyer River. Instead they were interested to learn why my tastebuds craved Thai so much.
If you know me at all, you know that I have an affection for Thai food that goes far beyond my love affair with the country of Thailand. As someone who travels the world, I am constant searching for new foods to top the tastes that Thai cuisine provides. The complexity of the combinations of flavors in Thai dishes create memorable meals that are unmatched by all others.
Take a look at the quintessential noodle soup, often served for breakfast. It has all of the flavors, sour, salty, sweet, spicy and umami (fish sauce). This is what Thai food is. Complex, exciting, challenging, and comforting all at once. It’s no surprise that Thai food has been becoming more popular all over the world–– all reaffirmed by my recent trip to Thailand to explore more about the culture.
I was recently invited by the Thai Trade Center and Royal Thai Government to explore Thai cuisine deeper at the Thai Rice Convention 2019 and THAIFEX Bangkok, Thailand. THAIFEX is considered the most important meeting point for the food and beverage industry… especially Asian food and you guessed it, Thai food.
During my experience at THAIFEX and the Rice Convention, I learned how new trends in food are having an effect on traditional Thai dishes in Thai culture. I also was able to experience just how much more popular Thai food has become around the globe.
Thailand is creating innovative dishes. For example it is taking traditional dishes, such as Tom Kha soup and turning them into innovative experiences for you tastebuds with ice cream that has the flavors of Tom Kha.
According to the Director General of Thai International Trade, the 5 most important Thai dishes to try are Massaman, Green Curry, Papaya Salad (known as Som Tum), Tom Yam soup, and Pad Thai–– my favorite being the papaya salad.
Obviously, it’s best if you can experience these dishes while visiting Thailand, but if you aren’t able to make it to Thailand, the Thai government has set up an incredibly unique program to help you ensure that all Thai food you try at home is authentic with Thai Select. Thai Select is a rating system for authenticity of Thai cuisine. Earning a Thai Select certificate means that a particular Thai restaurant has proved to serve authentic Thai dishes, approved by the Thai government.
3 Thai Dishes to Try in Bangkok
Perhaps the best place in Thailand to taste authentic Thai cuisine is Bangkok. Each region of Thailand has a unique perspective on Thai food, and you can find all regions represented in the cuisine in Bangkok… including innovative new takes on classic Thai recipes. There are so many incredible restaurants and even Michelin star street food vendors in Bangkok, but a few great options are:
IceDea is a creative ice-cream shop located in the arts and culture building in Bangkok. IceDea’s owner Prima has a design degree and loves to show-off traditional Thai treats in a new way. Prima has turned the Thai favorite, Mango Sticky Rice into an ice cream dish that not only tastes just like mango sticky rice, but looks exactly like a mango sticky rice! It’s the perfect way to experience how the old and new are merging together–– a new trend in food.
With the increasing trends to incorporate traditional Thai foods with new creations, street food is still king in Bangkok. This street food vendor earned a Michelin star, for their delicious crab omelet, but also serves up extremely traditional Thai dishes. Just be sure to make a reservation, because ever since landing a spot in the Michelin guide and a star, this food-stall-turned-hot-spot has extraordinary wait times.
Thai Iced Tea in Talat Noi
There is no drink more refreshing on a hot day in Bangkok than a Thai iced tea, also known in Thai as Cha Yen. The complexity of the flavors delivers a creamy sweet treat to the tastebuds, that is sure to satisfy! It’s made of cardamom, black tea, and condensed milk, and will stand out with it’s bright orange coloring. My favorite place in Bangkok for traditional street foods, such as Thai Tea, is an area outside of Chinatown known as Talat Noi. Talat Noi is a unique area of the city, and will take you back to a different era, when the Chinese merchants began to settle here!
To learn more about where your Thai food is coming from, on your visit to Thailand, be sure to head to the Lifestyle and Spirit of Thai Farmers-Nahai Chai Learning Center.
I was invited on this experience by Thai Trade, but all opinions and experiences shared are my own.