Though we'd never say no to a steaming plate of pad Thai or red curry, there's more to Thai food than its greatest hits that appear on most restaurant menus. Here are five beloved Thai dishes to try if you're looking to shake up your standard order.
① Miang Kham
A traditional Thai snack that translates to "one bite wrap," miang kham is an appetizer found across northern Thailand that features fried or dried shrimp, toasty coconut, peanuts, shallots, and ginger all wrapped in a peppery betel leaf. Many restaurants leave the stuffing and wrapping up to the customer, but on the street, these delicate little bites are wrapped like a piece of art.
Where to find it: Markets, street vendors and restaurants throughout Chiang Mai and northern Thailand
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② Durian Massaman Curry
Durian is one of the most notorious fruits on the planet, thanks to its custardy texture and an aroma that Anthony Bourdain once described as "if you buried somebody holding a big wheel of Stilton in his arms, then dug him up a few weeks later." But durian's signature texture and smell occur only in ripe fruit, whereas young durian bears fruit with the texture of a potato and a faint, slightly sweet aroma that's a perfect match for richly spiced Massaman curry.
Where to find it: SriTrat, Bangkok
③ Khao Yum Nam Budu
This is one of those choose-your-own-adventure dishes with infinite variations, and is a traditional southern Thai rice salad that's eaten for breakfast. A typical plate includes a mound of soft long grain rice and sun-dried crispy rice surrounded by an assortment of colorful herbs and vegetables like galangal, kaffir lime leaves, coconut, lemongrass, and wing beans that get tossed together with a fermented fish sauce called budu. The result is a fresh explosion of flavors and textures that delight with each tart, salty, sweet bite.
Where to find it: Ketho Dimsum, Phuket
④ Bua Loi Kai Wan
Everyone loves a runny egg on savory toast or a juicy burger, but what about poached eggs for dessert? Bua loi kai wan is a warm dessert soup that can be found all over Thailand, with soft yet satisfyingly chewy glutinous rice dumplings nestled in a sweet, ginger coconut broth and topped with a simple syrup-poached egg.
Where to find it: Soy Milk Dessert Cafe, Phuket
⑤ Ka Nom Tom
"Ka nom tom" is a catchall phrase for stuffed glutinous rice balls that resemble Hostess Snowballs. Though they're most commonly stuffed with a stewed young coconut, coconut milk and palm sugar mixture that's reminiscent of soft toffee, Ka Nom Tom can also be stuffed with crunchy peanuts and sweet mung beans.
Where to find it: Markets and food stalls throughout Thailand.
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Brooke Siem is a writer and professional chef currently meandering around the world. Follow her on Instagram at @brookesiem.
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