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Top 10 Foods to Try in Bangkok

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Tell your tastebuds to buckle up, because we’re about to embark on one wild culinary ride. Welcome to MojoTravels, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Foods to Try in Bangkok/Thailand. For this list, we’re looking at iconic dishes that every person who visits Bangkok or Thailand should try for themselves.

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Top 10 Foods to Try in Bangkok/Thailand

Tell your tastebuds to buckle up, because we’re about to embark on one wild culinary ride. Welcome to MojoTravels, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Foods to Try in Bangkok/Thailand.

For this list, we’re looking at iconic dishes that every person who visits Bangkok or Thailand should try for themselves.

#10: Panang

Thailand is known for its big and bold flavors, especially their curries. Unfortunately, not every traveler has the mouth, stomach or digestive system to comfortably eat a plate or bowl full of one of their more sweat-inducing dishes. If you fit into this category, we’d like to recommend panang. A red curry, but not THE red curry that Thailand is known for, Panang is distinct in that, while there are some chilis involved, the overall flavor is more sweet, salty and nutty rather than hot. What helps set panang apart from its curry peers is the addition of peanuts. Consider panang the perfect intro dish to your tasting tour of Thailand or Bangkok.

#9: Tom Kha Gai

Coconut plays a very important role in Thai cooking, appearing in many dishes, both sweet and savoury. In the latter context, it often serves as the mellowing agent, creating both a creamy mouth feel and a soothing element to balance out the heat. Our second dish brings said heat to the table with the inclusion of traditional thai chilis, but when a spoonful of this delicious soup hits your tongue, you’ll taste much than just heat. Tom Kha Gai is a bowl full of powerful aromatic flavors including lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, and galangal (which is in the same family as ginger). Add the meatiness of chicken and mushrooms and you’ve one seriously satisfying bowl of goodness.

#8: Pad See Ew

Simply called Pad Sew by many Westerners, Pad See Ew, also known as Phat si-io, is often dismissed as little more than a pad thai alternative with thicker noodles. This, however, is a doing a great injustice to a phenomenal and distinct dish. A Thai stir-fry with a Chinese influence, Pad See Ew consists of wide, chewy rice noodles, typically accompanied by egg, chinese broccoli (or, Gai lan), garlic and a meat. If there are more vegetables in there, your cook is giving the dish their own spin. What really makes this dish standout is the sauce. The ingredients are cooked in a mixture of soy-based sauces at high temperatures, to give the final dish a sweet, salty and slightly-charred flavor.

#7: Khao Soi

Thailand has a lot of stir fries, curries and soups on the menu, but even when two dishes seem superficially similar, they can be entirely different beasts. Case in point: Khao Soi. This bowl of excellence once again marries chicken and coconut milk in soup form. However, this particular dish, distinct to Northern Thailand, is different from Tom Kha Gai in a number of ways. First is the addition of both boiled and crunchy egg noodles, which serve as the main attractions and stars of the dish. Whereas Tom Kha Gai doesn’t usually involve curry, Khao Soi uses a distinct blend of red curry, yellow curry and various aromatics to develop a deep, rich and unique flavor.

#6: Pad Krapow

Who’s up for some fried basil? We know, the direct English translation isn’t the most enticing, but there’s far more to this dish than herbs cooked in a wok. Pad Krapow uses a delicious strain of basil known as holy basil, which plays an important role in various aspects of Thai culture. In addition to medicinal and religious applications, it’s also used as an insect repellent and to make tea. Quite the impressive little herb, is it not? Holy basil has a notably peppery taste compared to western varieties. For Pad Krapow, it’s mixed with garlic and meat or seafood, then fried up in a mixture of soy sauce, fish sauce, bird’s eye chilis and cane sugar. Served with rice, it’s simply divine.

#5: Khao Pad

Speaking of rice, who’s up for a classic Thai staple? Khao Pad is a fried rice dish, often eaten daily by locals in Bangkok and throughout central Thailand. Consisting of Thai jasmine rice, eggs, onions and garlic, as well as optional vegetables like tomato, and typically featuring a bit of meat, it’s a simple and unpretentious plate of food. Order it from one of the many street vendors preparing it however, and you’ll soon understand why it’s so popular. Khao Pad is a dependable foundation upon which countless unique variations have been built. They all follow the same structure, but the exact flavor profile depends on the person or establishment making it.

#4: Gaeng Keow Wan

We know that heat isn’t for everyone, but there’s an important distinction to be made when talking about Thai curries. Unlike hot sauces one might load onto, say, buffalo wings, which deliver a sort of raw, cutting heat, the spiciness of Thailand’s famous curries is a flavorful one; yes there’s heat, but there’s also a spectrum of well-balanced flavor. Gaeng Keow Wan, aka green curry, is the hottest of the bunch. The curry paste itself is a mixture of numerous spices and aromatics, including coriander, cumin, galangal, shrimp paste and, most importantly, green thai chilies. To make Gaeng Keow Wan, you add coconut milk, a protein, sugar, fish sauce and assorted vegetables or even fruit, as well as the meat of your choice - usually chicken.

#3: Pad Thai

Here it is, the dish you’ve been waiting for. Pad Thai is arguably Thailand’s most successful culinary export. While you may have expected it to claim the top spot, it could be argued that the remaining entries are more essential to a tasting tour of Thailand. That being said, it’s still a must-try, especially when in its country of origin. A street food in Thailand that you can find just about anywhere, pad thai consists of stir-fried rice noodles, egg and tofu, flavored by a delicious sauce, made distinct by the inclusion of tamarind pulp. Depending on the preparation style, there may also be vegetables and an additional protein. Some lime, crushed peanuts and you’ve got a bite of food worth the flight.

#2: Som Tam

A salad in the number two spot? Believe it. We could try to compare this distinct dish to similar fresh salads from western cuisine, but there simply aren’t many that can compete in terms of flavor or texture. Som Tam is made from shredded or julienned unripe papaya. While ripe papaya is typically soft, sweet and orange in color, the unripened green papaya is tougher, somewhat more like a zucchini with a rather neutral flavor. Tarted up with palm sugar, lime, hot chili and the ubiquitous anchovy-based fish sauce, the papaya becomes the crunchy star of an extremely flavorful dish. Give it a try, your taste buds will thank you.

#1: Tom Yum Goong

If for some cruel and unthinkable reason you were only able to try a single dish in Thailand, we’d recommend this spicy shrimp soup. A hot and sour soup that, thankfully for vegetarians, can be prepared in a meatless variety, Tom Yum is all about Nam prik pao, the paste that gives it its distinct flavor. This paste is made from garlic, shallots, and chilies - all grilled or roasted. This is mixed into a broth to which various aromatics are added such as lemongrass, lime leaves, fish sauce, galangal and more. You can get Tom Yum with different meats, but freshwater shrimp, or goong, is the classic preparation. There’s really nothing else quite like it.

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