Look around any town, city, or sometimes even a tiny backwater village, and you will notice that the famed Thai restaurant has become a staple part of most communities. It seems we can’t get enough of the stuff, can we?
And who can blame us? We love Thai food for lots of different reasons but mostly because of the unique contrast of flavors in every mouthful. Thai food is also known for being relatively healthy, which is a good thing, and something that most of us need more of, probably.
Thai recipes offer light, less carby, and more wholesome ingredients as a base, combined with punchy, rich, and aromatic flavorings to bring life to each dish – with a satisfying spicy kick thrown in for good measure. It’s that kick that most of us are drawn to, and don’t worry, we’ve made sure to include a few for you.
A Healthy and Fiery Kick
Make no mistake about it – Thai cuisine is mostly spicy to some degree and will definitely leave an impression, but the spice levels will not blow your socks off. Well, in some cases, maybe!
The delicate sour, salty, sweet, and spicy flavors of Thai recipes combine to provide unique energy and help each dish stand out, and this is one of the main factors for its rise in popularity over the last few decades.
Secrets of Siam
There is something we have noticed, however. A wrong that we believe needs righting. Most online Thai recipes seem to offer the same dishes without too many variations – the usual suspects of Thai recipes, with very few regional options and a definite lack of surprise.
That’s fine, of course, as the more familiar dishes such as Pad Thai and Thai Green Curry are popular for a reason; they taste amazing!
We have included the mainstays of Thai recipes through this list but have also thrown in a few secrets of Siam, not commonly prepared outside of Thailand but equally as delicious, packing plenty of authentic Thai flavor.
So let’s look at a broad range of tasty Thai recipes, starting with the dependable tried and tested suggestions and a few lesser-known authentic Thai recipes for you to try at home.
Enjoy! Or, as they say in Thailand, gin aroy!
Most Popular Thai Recipes
Let’s start with the mainstays of Thai recipes, the staples that most of us know and love. Our selection includes fabled dishes widely available in your local restaurant and some easy Thai cooking options for those new to cooking with Asian flavors. Have fun!
1. Pad Thai
Probably the most famous of Thai dishes, Pad Thai has a complex range of authentic Thai flavors but can be easily made at home by even the most novice of home cooks.
The ingredients for Pad Thai can be picked up at most local grocery stores, with the key elements including rice noodles, peanut sauce, peanuts, soy sauce, lime juice, chili flakes, a touch of garlic, and the all-important fish sauce, which is always so crucial to most Thai dishes.
You have probably tried Pad Thai at some point but if you haven’t, prepare for something incredibly yummy. There is an excellent reason that Pad Thai is sold from street carts everywhere in the land of smiles. It really is that good!
Known as gaeng khiao waan gai to natives but simply Thai green curry to the rest of us, this chicken dish is arguably one of the most popular curries in the world.
This bold coconut-based curry dish offers a unique balance of sweet and spicy and is often served with fried rice. The rich coconut milk flavor seems to pair nicely with the usually relatively lean chicken meat, and while this is presented as a soup, it is a very filling dish offered as the main course.
The base ingredients are green curry paste, soy sauce, coconut milk, lemongrass, shallots, spices, and shrimp paste.
This staple of Thai cuisine is surprisingly easy to cook, tastes great, and is a real crowd feeder when served with plenty of fried rice, or even sticky rice, as the side.
Another classic for you now with the Thai noodle salad, which is an excellent choice for the vegans out there. Made with a healthy amount of crunchy peanuts, rice noodles, carrots, green or red pepper, and garlic, this is a staple dish in Thailand – barely a day passes without your average Thai eating this dish, frequently as a lunch option.
Subtle variations exist from recipe to recipe, with the addition of chili, cabbage, and crunchy lettuce sometimes included. Non-vegans who need a little protein can toss in a little sliced chicken or fish – the salad goes with pretty much anything and tastes great with a crunchy peanut sauce included in the mix.
Sometimes known as Thai chicken lettuce cups, this is more of a starter or snack to enjoy on its own or as part of a larger meal.
Thai chicken lettuce wraps are rammed with flavor and provide a distinctive, fresh-tasting zappy aftertaste. The actual filling is packed with vegetables and protein, delivering a distinctive refreshing bite with lingering notes of ginger, lime, and chili.
If you are serving as a starter, be careful – they can satisfy the largest appetites if over-indulged. Being quite moorish, it is easy to fill up on lettuce wraps without realizing it. One or two wraps are perfect as a starter – go for three or four as a main, and snack with sticky rice on the side if you like.
This simple but delicious recipe for chicken fried rice is an instant crowd-pleasing, appetite satisfying, easy-to-cook dish full of rich flavors and an optional spicy kick. It is straightforward to prepare and only takes ten minutes or so to cook, rivalling any of the fried rice dishes available at your local Asian restaurants quite easily.
This is an excellent dish for utilizing any rice leftovers you have from previous meals and works great with one or two fried eggs served on top of the rice.
Most Thais will eat this dish with sliced chicken fried with the rice, but it works just as well without protein, especially if you add the fried eggs we mentioned.
Similar in taste and consistency to a crab cake but way more affordable and with more accessible ingredients available in most grocery stores, a shrimp cake recipe is always a popular choice at any Thai restaurant.
To create a rich, bold flavor, the dish delivers a combo of sweet Thai chili sauce, chili-garlic sauce, and cilantro. The breading creates an excellent solid bond but also helps provide a charming, slightly burnt, crispy edge to the cakes.
Thai people usually eat shrimp cakes with a spicy chili sauce, although some of the southern regions of Thailand are known to serve them with a side of creamy peanut sauce which, surprisingly, works very well.
Known in Thailand as som tam, the green papaya salad is about as ubiquitous a dish as you will ever find in the land of smiles. This dish is essential to Thais – especially those hailing from the northeast Isarn region, which many Thais consider as the one dish they could probably not live without!
Often confused with the less intense Thai noodle salad (as mentioned above), som tam has more spicy and fiery aromas with a heck of a kick if prepared the regular Thai way.
Less authentic Thai recipes will often leave out the all-important fermented fish sauce and whole baby crabs, but if you want to stay loyal to the recipe and want those bold Thai flavors, you need to consider including them. Sometimes served with rice noodles as a side.
8. Tom Yum Soup
This hugely popular soup is one of the simplest and quickest Thai dishes you are likely to cook. Widely available in all Thai restaurants, this aromatic dish is loaded with zingy flavors and made with lemongrass, garlic, ginger, fish sauce (as always), lime juice, and lime leaves.
There are variations at play here, with the most common being tom yum gung (tom yum shrimp).
If it’s a taste of Thailand you are looking for, you probably won’t find anything more distinctively Thai in both aroma and taste than tom yum. If you have never tried it before, you must!
9. Tom Kha Gai
Thailand’s very own equivalent of American homestyle chicken soup, Tom Kha Gai (or chicken coconut soup), is an extremely comforting and very homely dish that works well through all seasons owing to the variety of flavors in play here. The dish is light and breezy but also quite filling at the same time and is a popular dish throughout the coastal resort areas of Thailand.
Tom Kha Gai is rich and creamy yet quite salty, with a pronounced tangy punch, and is positively bursting with flavor.
10. Chicken Satay
Strictly speaking, chicken satay isn’t actually a Thai dish – at least, it isn’t an invention of Thailand – although it is widespread both as a ubiquitous street food and a restaurant side dish in the kingdom.
This originally Indonesian food staple has become one of the most ordered dishes in Thai restaurants worldwide. It is a particular favorite with children, so this might be an option to include with some of the more exciting dishes on this list if you have kids to feed.
The chicken is sliced into thinner bite-sized chunks and then marinated in a delicious peanut sauce before being quick-grilled at high heat. Served on skewers, the chicken is commonly dipped in various sauces and served with fresh jasmine rice.
Prepared and infused with fresh ginger, shallots, lime juice, lemongrass, and Thai holy basil, these Thai Turkey Burgers are brimming with flavor. They are topped with a healthy Asian Slaw and fresh cucumber slices before the buns are glazed with spicy sriracha mayo.
This is one of the easier dishes to make on this list with a quick five-minute prep and a fast cooking time. Thai turkey burgers are another great option for kids and will surely be a hit with anyone in the family.
The fantastic combination of coconut milk, sticky rice, and tasty sweet mango has been a hit in American Thai restaurants for decades. If you are a fan of Thai food, you have almost certainly tried it.
The good news is that sticky mango rice is straightforward to make at home. The main ingredient, of course, is quite glutenous heavy rice, sometimes referred to as ‘sweet rice’ in grocery stores, and has a sticky texture when cooked.
The desert consists mostly of mango, coconut milk, and sugar, and it is an absolute hit every time it is served. Feel free to be as generous as you like with that coconut milk
Lesser Known Thai Food (Outside of Thailand)
Moving on to the Thai recipes less commonly prepared outside of their native homeland. You probably won’t find these dishes in your local Thai restaurant unless you ask for them off the menu, but fear not – they can be quickly cooked at home.
While less common worldwide, these Thai dishes are cherished by natives and taste quite amazing.
13. Pad Kra Pao
Pad Kra Pao is the equivalent of an American burger, British fish and chips, or Italian pizza. This is likely the most commonly eaten dish in Thailand but is surprisingly lesser known outside the kingdom.
Pad means fried, and kra paow is the Thai name for holy basil, which gives the dish an incredibly distinctive aroma and taste. It is cheap to make, quick to cook, and has few ingredients: soy sauce, garlic, fresh basil, chili, and maybe a little oyster sauce. The protein is usually pork (pad kra pao moo) or chicken (pad kra pao gai).
Try it, and be surprised. While the ingredients sound quite simple, it truly does have a unique taste. This is another dish that works very well with a fried egg served on top. Serve with plain or sticky rice.
14. Larb Moo
Originating from the Isarn region of northeast Thailand, larb moo is devoured all over the kingdom and is another example of a great-tasting dish with simple ingredients and a zippy cooking time.
Moo translates to pork in Thai, but you can replace the protein for chicken if you wish (larb gai) without compromising on the taste profile.
Larb moo is basically a salad, although it is quite a meaty, saucy salad. A great way to eat it is by making little balls of sticky rice and dipping them into the sauce, along with a spoonful of the dish.
15. Pad See Ew
Pad See Ew is what moat Thais would view as fast food, or maybe a typical ‘daily dish’ right up there with Pad Gra Pao.
It comes together quite quickly, providing the ingredients are prepared in advance and are ready to throw into the pan (or wok if you are doing things the proper way!) It’s of little surprise that this delicious, flavorful Pad See Ew is a popular street food in Thailand and one of the most popular dishes in Thai restaurants worldwide.
If you are a fan of fresh rice noodles and have leftovers after making this dish, you might think about using them for a lovely drunken noodles recipe for later. Both dishes refrigerate very well. Goes lovely with a green papaya salad.
Quirky Thai Recipes
Now for something a little different. Way different, in fact. We have one or two eyebrow-raisers here, but trust us, these recipes are quite distinctive and taste great!
This side dish accompanies som tum salad very nicely, and is definitely something you won’t find too commonly served outside of Thailand.
The cockles shouldn’t be too hard to find – they are, after all, available in most grocery stores – although this dish does work a little better if the cockles are pickled in a traditional Thai fish base, so this might not be the easiest of recipes to buy for, but it can be done if you are happy to put a little extra effort into sourcing the ingredients. Most Thai specialty stores will have a jar or two available.
Yup, you read that correctly! This dish is not readily available in your average Thai restaurant outside the kingdom, but it is a very popular meal for the natives. Yes, it might sound a little strange to most Americans, but it’s quite lovely – in a wildly different way!
The feet are actually quite easy to digest because they are boneless. The idea is for the feet to soak up the fabulous sauce made from tomatoes, onion, coriander, garlic, and fish sauce (always the fish sauce!)
Serve on its own or with rice. Sticky rice, in particular, works very well with this dish.
18. Thai Tea
As a little bonus, we recommend the perfect beverage for Thai food: the highly satisfying, thirst-quenching, and chilly-busting Thai tea! You will find this everywhere in Thailand, and if it is good enough for the Thais, it’s good enough for us.
We hope you enjoyed this list of fabulous Thai recipes. We tried our best to include the mainstays – the crucial Thai recipes that everyone must try at least once – but there are a few less predictable and more unique options here, some of which will impress any Thai friends you might have if you are looking to give them a real taste of home.
Above all, enjoy! Thai people are known for their playful sense of humor, which is often reflected in their energetic cooking style. So, if you want to nail the authenticity here, have a little fun while cooking. Or, as the Thais say… sanuk!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top vegetarian Thai dishes?
There are numerous delicious vegetarian Thai dishes to try. Some popular choices include:
- Pad Thai (with Tofu): This iconic noodle dish can easily be made vegetarian by using tofu as the protein source.
- Green Papaya Salad: A refreshing salad made from grated unripe papaya, tomatoes, and peanuts, dressed with a tangy lime and fish sauce dressing. Omit the fish sauce for a fully plant-based version.
- Vegetarian Red Curry: A rich, spicy curry made with a blend of vegetables, tofu, and red curry paste. Serve over rice for a satisfying meal.
- Tom Kha: This flavorful coconut milk-based soup can be made with mushrooms or vegetables, replacing traditional chicken.
Which Thai street food dishes are easy to make at home?
Some Thai street food dishes that can be recreated at home include:
- Chicken Satay: Skewers of marinated chicken grilled until perfectly tender, served with a peanut sauce.
- Som Tam: A vibrant green papaya salad made with chili, lime, and palm sugar dressing.
- Moo Ping: Juicy grilled pork skewers marinated in a delicious garlic, cilantro, and soy sauce mixture.
- Thai Fish Cakes: Spicy and aromatic deep-fried fish cakes made from minced fish, curry paste, and traditional Thai herbs.
What are some simple Thai recipes with chicken?
Easy and delicious Thai recipes with chicken are:
- Chicken Pad Thai: A flavorful noodle dish made with rice noodles, chicken, bean sprouts, and a tangy tamarind sauce.
- Green Chicken Curry: A fragrant and creamy curry made with green curry paste, coconut milk, and chicken.
- Thai Basil Chicken: A quick and simple stir-fry made with chicken, Thai basil, and a savory sauce.
To create a well-rounded Thai dinner party menu, consider including the following dishes:
- Appetizers: Spring rolls, satay skewers, or Thai fish cakes.
- Soup: Tom Yum or Tom Kha.
- Main Courses: Curries (such as Red or Green Curry), stir-fries (like Thai Basil Chicken or Vegetables with Cashew Nuts), and noodle dishes (such as Pad Thai or Drunken Noodles).
- Sides: Jasmine rice, cucumber salad, and a spicy dipping sauce.
- Dessert: Mango sticky rice or coconut ice cream.
What is an easy pad Thai recipe to try?
For an easy pad Thai recipe:
- Soak rice noodles in warm water for 30 minutes, then drain.
- In a small bowl, mix tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, and a pinch of chili powder.
- Heat oil in a wok or skillet and fry minced garlic and shallots until fragrant.
- Add in your choice of protein (chicken, shrimp, tofu) and cook until done.
- Push the protein to one side and scramble an egg in the empty space.
- Add the soaked noodles, stir-fry for a few minutes, then pour in the sauce mixture.
- Cook for another couple of minutes, tossing regularly.
- Add bean sprouts, chopped green onions, and crushed peanuts.
- Garnish with cilantro and a wedge of lime.
What are the essential elements of Thai cooking?
Thai cooking revolves around a delicate balance of flavors. The essential elements in Thai cuisine include:
- Sour: From ingredients such as tamarind paste, lime juice, and vinegar.
- Sweet: Provided by palm sugar, white sugar, and naturally sweet ingredients like coconut milk.
- Salty: Derived from fish sauce, soy sauce, and salt.
- Spicy: From several varieties of chili, curry pastes, or fresh herbs like Thai basil and cilantro.
Mastering the art of Thai cooking involves finding the perfect harmony between these flavors to suit your taste buds.
Pad Thai + More Great Thai Recipes
Pad Thai Sauce Ingredients
- 3 Tablespoons water
- 3 Tablespoons tightly packed palm sugar
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 Tablespoons Thai cooking tamarind
Pad Thai Ingredients
- 2 Tablespoons roughly chopped medium size dried shrimp
- 4 ounces medium size dry rice noodles soaked for 1 hour in room temperature water
- 1/4 cup shallots roughly diced
- 3 cloves chopped garlic
- 3 Tablespoons preserved sweet daikon radishes finely chopped
- 3 ounces pressed tofu diced into small pieces
- 3 Tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- Dash of dried chili flakes optional
- 2 large eggs
- 10 large shrimp or other protein
- 2.5 cups loosely packed bean sprouts
- 1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
- Freshly squeezed lime juice and lime wedges
- 7-10 garlic chives stalks cut into pieces 2 inches long
- Condiments and garnishes for serving: chopped roasted peanuts chili flakes, garlic chives, and bean sprouts
- Fresh banana blossom for garnish (optional if you can find it
Pad Thai Sauce Instructions
- In a small saucepan, heat the palm sugar over medium heat. When the sugar starts to melt, continue stirring until it begins to turn dark in color. Once it turns dark, immediately add the fish sauce, water, and tamarind paste.
- Over low heat, allow the sauce to come to a simmer. Once the sauce is simmering, turn off the stove's heat. By the time you're ready for the sauce, all of the sugar should be dissolved. Before you start cooking, make sure the sugar has dissolved.
Pad Thai Instructions
- Soak the noodles for one hour in water that's room temperature.
- Drain the noodles, and cut them once with sharp kitchen scissors. They need to be half the length as they were in the package so that they're easier to separate and toss when you start cooking them in your wok.
- In a medium bowl, combine the tofu, diced shallots, chopped garlic, preserved radish, chili flakes, and chopped dried shrimp.
- Heat a large, heavy skillet or wok over high heat, adding just enough cooking oil to coat the pan's bottom. Sear the meat or shrimp until it's cooked, then remove the shrimp from the pan.
- Use the same wok, and reduce the heat to medium, adding more oil if most of your oil has gone. Add everything from that bowl to the skillet, then saute for about 3 minutes, just until the garlic starts to change colors and the shallots have begun to wilt.
- Turn the flame to high, and add the sauce and noodles. Toss the noodles until the sauce is absorbed into the noodles.
- Remove the pan from heat and taste the noodles to make sure they're fully cooked. If they need more cooking, add some water to the wok and cook just a little bit longer.
- Push the noodles up onto the side of the wok, then add some more cooking oil to the empty space. Crack the eggs into the space, breaking the yolks. Add the noodles to the pan atop the eggs, and cook all of it for about 30 seconds. Toss the noodles and flip them to mix the eggs well.
- Add the cooked protein back to the pan, along with any juices. Next, add the garlic chives, bean sprouts, and approximately half of the chopped peanuts.