Thailand is known for its tropical beaches, royal palaces, ancient ruins, and, of course, its globally-adored cuisine. The capital city, Bangkok, is host to a plethora of street vendors, restaurants, and night markets where you can find some of the best food in the world. Recently, I was lucky enough to travel to Bangkok for business with my fiancé, and after 2 weeks of state quarantine (full experience shared in my ‘Bangkok’ highlight on Instagram) and multiple negative COVID test results, we were able to explore the bustling city for a few days. Over the course of our trip, we ate some pretty incredible things, some for the very first time, which inspired me to compile a list of the top unique foods you simply must eat while in Bangkok. I hope that these delectable dishes can be something for you to look forward to for when the time comes that we can all travel again. And with that, I give you the first item on the list…
#1 – Khanom Bueang
These locally-loved street food staples are unlike anything I’ve had before. A strange fusion between a crepe and a taco, these crispy little Thai crepes can only be found in Thailand. The crunchy crepe shell houses a white meringue-like cream that’s made from egg whites and sugar. The texture reminded me a bit of marshmallow fluff, but better. The street vendor I visited for my first-ever khanom bueang experience had 2 flavors available, shrimp (the pinkish ones) and shredded candied egg yolk (the orange ones). I opted for sweet over savory and got a box of the egg yolk khanom bueang. The flavor was quite interesting, a mix of intense sweetness with a touch of saltiness. I rather enjoyed them, though finishing an entire box was an impossible task. You’ve simply got to try them for yourself!
#2 – Kaeng Mus Sa Mun
I’m not going to lie, kaeng mus sa mun, also known as beef massaman curry, would probably win the award for the least appetizing-looking Thai curry, but don’t let appearances fool you here. It is phenomenal. Unlike the red, yellow, and green Thai curries that most foreigners are accustomed to, massaman curry is a lovely shade of…brown…and includes ingredients like potatoes and peanuts. It may sound strange to those who haven’t tried it before, but with the first bite you’ll see..it just works! Massaman has actually recently taken the spot as my all-time favorite Thai curry. It’s just that good.
#3 – Moo Grob
What’s better than pork belly? Crispy deep fried pork belly, apparently! This simple dish, meant for sharing, was ordered by our group for the table and conveniently placed directly in front of me when it arrived. Not quite sure what it was, I tried a piece, and my mind was blown! The juicy morsels of perfectly crisp breaded pork, paired with the dark sweet soy sauce it comes with for dipping, were seriously addicting. I continuously found myself going in for more long after declaring myself full. It is 100% a must-try dish!
#4 – Pad Thai
Pad Thai is, as I’m sure you already know, Thai style fried noodles which are usually accompanied by shrimp. You’ve probably had your fair share of pad Thai from your favorite local Thai restaurant, but the dish is slightly different when ordered in Thailand. Especially if you go to Thipsamai, the Bangkok staple known as being the oldest pad Thai restaurant in Thailand. Thipsamai is very proud of their long-standing heritage (so much so that they play a video of their history on repeat on screens in the restaurant ) and the story of how their humble street stall shot to fame in 1939 after prime minister, Pleak Phibunsongkhram, proclaimed them to be “the true and authentic taste of pad Thai!” They’ve been serving their signature dish ever since, most recognizable by its super impressive ‘wrapped egg’ presentation. After hearing all the hype, we had to check it out. So off we went, relatively early on New Year’s Day, yet it was still a 45 minute wait standing in line outside to get a table! Then another 30 minute wait for the food. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
TIP: Thipsamai only serves 3 beverages, water, icy coconut juice (which looked amazing but was already sold out), and orange juice. I thought the idea of pairing orange juice with pad Thai was a bit strange, but the menu really seemed to be pushing the OJ as a ‘bestseller’ and every table in the place had a bottle so I went for it. Thank god I did! This orange juice was probably the best I’ve had. It contained massive chunks of fresh juicy oranges and was exactly what one needs after almost an hour standing (happily) in line for their lunch!
#5 – Som Tam
Som Tam, or in English, papaya salad is a Thai dish I was familiar with but had never actually tried. I was a bit weary of it since I’m not a huge fan of papaya in general, or fruit salads of any sort at that. I assumed the orange fruit I got on my fruit platter every morning would be the same one I would see in the salad if I ordered it, but to my surprise, it was not! The papaya used in som tam is actually unripe papaya which is completely different from the ripe orange version I was familiar with. It’s green in color, far less sweet, and even the texture is different with a more firm crunch to it, almost like zucchini or cucumber. The relatively flavorless unripe papaya shavings serve as the perfect base to let the intense flavors of the salad, which includes chili, lime, garlic, peanuts, and fish sauce, shine bright. Turns out, I love papaya salad! Who knew.
TIP: If you don’t handle spice well, ask for significantly less chili otherwise prepare yourself for some mouth-melting heat. I found out the hard way (which surprised me since I absolutely love spicy food)!
#6 – Itim Kati
Itim kati, or more simply put, coconut ice cream, is one of my favorite things to indulge in while in Thailand. You haven’t experienced good coconut ice cream until you’ve had it in Thailand. Not only is the ice cream made from real coconut (unlike the artificial coconut flavoring you sometimes find in super market versions), it also contains big chunks of young coconut flesh AND, if you’re lucky, you’ll find it served in a real hollowed-out coconut!! Game. Changer.
#7 – Tom Yum Goong
Tom yum goong is a hot and sour prawn soup that will have you tipping the bowl to get every last drop. The lemongrass flavour really shines in this dish and is hearty yet refreshing. Tom yum goong brings together the best flavors of Thailand in a bowl and is the perfect light lunch, even on the hottest of days. Ordering a bowl while in Thailand is basically a must!
#8 – Kao Niew Mamuang
This one you almost definitely know…kao niew mamuang, or, as the world refers to it as, mango sticky rice. I feel like everyone is familiar with the dish, but it truly is a must-try dessert unique to Thailand and this list simply wouldn’t be complete without it. I have ordered mango sticky rice back home in Canada and the Netherlands, but it’s just not the same. The reason? Mangos in Thailand are something special. The country is actually famous for its incredible quality of fruit, which is a result of their intensely humid climate and high temperatures. For that reason, mango sticky rice is a dish you just have to get when in Thailand.
TIP: Order a side of extra coconut milk to fully submerge your fork full of mango and glutinous sticky rice into for the perfect bite every time.
#9 – Mangosteen
Speaking of fruit, say hello to the mangosteen. I discovered this beauty while watching the ‘Bangkok’ episode of ‘Somebody Feed Phil’ on Netflix where he eats his way across the capital city. In the episode he tries some local fruit, his favorite being the mangosteen, which he describes as “one of the best things I’ve ever had in my life”. With that, I set out to find more information about this odd-looking thing dubbed ‘The Queen of Fruit’. It turns out, mangosteens are pretty rare! They can only be found in a few countries in the world since the mangosteen trees take 10-20 years to start bearing fruit, which, once ripe, has a lifespan of only a few days! What intrigued me further is that mangosteens are actually banned from public spaces and hotels in Malaysia because their pulp leaves deep purple stains that are almost impossible to fully remove. Crazy, right?
Sadly, we weren’t in Bangkok long enough for me to track down and try a mangosteen, but if you go one day, please try one and tell me what it’s like! Its flavor is only described online as “slightly sweet and sour,” which doesn’t satisfy my need to know what I’m missing out on!
And with that, my list of ‘The 9 Unique Foods You Must Eat While in Bangkok’ concludes. What is your all-time favorite Thai dish? Leave a comment and let me know!