Fresh, fragrant, and with an invigorating kick, Thai food is one of the most popular cuisines in the world. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that it uses all five flavours of food: spicy, sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Thai cooking is also based on taste rather than measurements, with recipes just acting as a guideline – so for a spicier dish, add more chillies, or for more zing, add another squeeze of lime.
If you like Thai food but have always relied on takeaways or eating out, why not try cooking your own food from home? Though you might need to buy some new ingredients, Thai cooking itself isn’t that complex.
To get you inspired, here are eight traditional Thai dishes to cook at home.
1. Pad thai
Let’s start with one of the most popular Thai dishes around: pad thai. Traditionally, pad thai is made with rice noodles, chicken or tofu, scrambled eggs, and bean sprouts. It’s then topped with peanuts and a squeeze of lime.
Though this dish wasn’t invented until the last century, it’s gone on to become arguably Thailand’s most well-known dish – and for good reason! Chewy rice noodles, crispy vegetables, and tender meat or tofu is the perfect combination. And its tangy sweet and sour sauce makes it incredibly moreish.
At the heart of pad thai is tamarind spice: the sour ingredient that makes the sauce taste so unique. And the secret to making the perfect pad thai is cooking the noodles just right, so they’re slippery-soft but also perfectly chewy.
To make your own pad thai, try this authentic chicken pad thai recipe by RecipeTin Eats, or if you want to keep things plant-based, try this recipe by Nora Cooks. Alternatively, have a watch of the video below.
2. Thai green curry
Another well-known favourite is Thai green curry, which is made with coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, and green curry paste.
The curry paste is made from green chillies, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, peppercorns, and cumin seeds – and it’s quicker to make than you may think. Homemade curry pastes also taste fresher than shop-bought ones. But if you’re pushed for time or just don’t fancy making your own, a readymade paste will make for a tasty dish too.
There’s a lot of flexibility with Thai green curry recipes: traditionally it’s eaten with chicken or fish, though if you’re veggie, tofu works just as well. You can add whatever vegetables you like, although aubergine, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and baby corn are most common. Serve with steamed jasmine rice to keep it authentic – or alternatively, serve it with rice noodles as a noodle soup!
If you’re ready to get started then why not try making Jamie Oliver’s Thai green chicken curry? Or perhaps you’d prefer this tofu and veg Thai green curry by Cupful of Kale. Alternatively, have a watch of the video below for more guidance…
3. Tom yum soup
Thai cuisine boasts many delicious soups. But easily the most famous is tom yum, which is one of Thailand’s national dishes. Tom yum is a clear hot and sour soup that’s flavoured with the holy trio of Thai cooking: lemongrass, fresh galangal root, and kaffir lime leaves.
There are many variations of tom yum soup, but the most common is tom yum goong, which contains shrimp. Other alternatives are tom yum talay containing fish, tom yum gai containing chicken, and veggie versions containing mushrooms or tofu.
Tom yum works well as a starter or lunch, but also makes a delicious and healthy dinner served with some sticky rice or noodles.
Thanks to the fresh herbs and spices in it, tom yum is known for its medicinal properties, so it’s a great dish to cook up when you’re feeling under the weather – and the delicious aroma of lemongrass and lime that’ll fill your home as you cook will further invigorate you!
If you like, you can add some coconut milk to your broth too: this turns tom yum into tom kha, or tom kha gai if eaten with chicken (which it commonly is).
To make a traditional shrimp tom yum, check out this recipe by Temple of Thai, or to make one with fish, you might want to try this recipe by Let’s Cook Some Food. To keep things veggie, try this recipe by Cilantro and Citronella. Or, have a watch of the video below to find out more.
4. Green papaya salad
Green papaya salad – also known as som tam – is the most popular salad in Thailand, and after just one mouthful of this delicious dish, it might be your new favourite salad too.
Though it’s low in calories, this salad is absolutely packed with flavour and textures: it’s sweet, spicy, tart, and crunchy, and each bite is like an explosion of flavour. Originating from Northeast Thailand, the main ingredient is unripe green papaya, which you can get from most Asian supermarkets.
The main flavour comes from the spicy dressing, which is made from Thai chillies, garlic, tamarind, lime, palm sugar, and fish sauce – and the crunch comes from raw julienned carrots, long green beans, and the green papaya itself. You can always use a food processor to whisk up the dressing quicker, and if you like, you can add cooked shrimp or crab meat. Then top with unsalted peanuts, and serve with a bowl of sticky rice!
To make green papaya salad, try this recipe from RecipeTin Eats. Or, to make this dish veggie, just leave out the fish sauce. Check out the video below to find out more.
5. Massaman curry
When it comes to Thai curries, green and red might be the most famous, but there are plenty of other delicious dishes you can easily knock up at home.
Massaman curry differs from other Thai curries because it’s a fusion dish, and in some ways, it’s more like an Indian curry than a Thai curry. Spices commonly used in Indian cooking, like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, and nutmeg, are combined with classic Thai flavours of coriander, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, and garlic. The end result is a rich yet mild curry that’s exquisitely fragrant.
Due to the Muslim roots of this dish, massaman curry usually contains chicken rather pork. But there are variations using beef or goat, or veggie versions using tofu.
The great thing about massaman curry is that it uses dried spices instead of fresh, so you don’t need a pestle and mortar or a food processor to make the curry paste: simply chuck the sauce ingredients into the pot and simmer them together with your protein, veg, and coconut milk. The creaminess of the coconut milk and mildness of the potatoes offset the spicy chillies, leaving you with a delicious and hearty dish that’s much milder than most Thai curries.
To make a chicken massaman curry, why not try this recipe by School of Wok? Or to make a plant-based version, you might want to try this tofu recipe by Delicious. You might also want to have a watch the video below for more tips and advice.
6. Thai omelette
If you want to knock up some authentic Thai food but don’t have much time (or haven’t had a chance to stock up on fresh ingredients), then why not think about making a Thai omelette? Also known as kai jeow, Thai omelettes are quick and easy to prepare, and most of the ingredients you’ll probably already have in your kitchen.
Because of the name, you might think this is a breakfast dish, but in Thailand, this omelette is a popular street food. It’s often served on top of rice to bulk out a meal, as a quick and tasty snack, or to take the edge of a spicy dish.
With its brown, crispy edges, a Thai omelette is quite different from a French omelette, and the addition of the key ingredient – fish sauce – packs a powerful umami punch. If you’re not a fan of fish sauce, you can use soy sauce. Then, the only other ingredients you’ll need besides eggs are some acid (lime juice or vinegar), vegetable oil, and rice flour (or cornstarch works too).
To jazz your omelette up, you can add other ingredients to your egg mix: garlic, shallots, spring onions, diced tomato, minced shrimp, chopped Thai chillies, and basil leaves are all popular.
To make a traditional Thai omelette, check out this simple recipe by Cooking With Nart. To see how truly simple this dish is, have a watch of the video below.
7. Drunken noodles
Drunken noodles – also known as pad kee mao – are so-called because they’re so spicy they have the ability to shake anyone out of a drunken stupor!
This spicy noodle dish comes from Bangkok, and it’s traditionally eaten late at night – or in the morning, to cure a hangover! But you don’t need to be under the influence to enjoy this tasty dish… although if you want to make an authentic version, you do have to be good with heat! Traditionally this is a very fiery dish, but the great thing about making drunken noodles at home is you have the ability to control the spice level.
Drunken noodles are made with wide, flat rice noodles, and though there are many variations, they usually always contain chicken and Thai basil, as well as veggies like baby corn. But this is a dish that’s endlessly customisable, and you can add whatever vegetables you like – the more you add, the healthier it’ll be. Just remember that for maximum authenticity, this dish should be enjoyed with an ice-cold beer!
8. Mango sticky rice
If you have a sweet tooth, you might want to think about making Thailand’s most famous dessert. Mango sticky rice is traditionally eaten in the summer when mangoes are ripe. But if you can get your hands on ripe mangoes, this dish is still delicious at any time of year.
Because it uses sticky rice – also known as sweet rice or glutinous rice – this dessert has a wonderfully moreish texture: chewy yet soft. The fresh sweetness of the mango is complemented by creamy coconut milk, and though this dish tastes heavenly, it will leave you feeling light and refreshed.
Traditionally the rice is cooked in a steamer, but you can also use a microwave. First, bring the rice to the boil in a pan along with the coconut milk, sugar, and salt – and cook until the liquid has absorbed. Then, steam the rice for around 20 minutes until cooked. Allow the rice to cool and then top with fresh mango and leftover coconut milk.
This is a simple dessert that requires only five ingredients (mango, rice, sugar, salt, and coconut milk), but the delicious taste belies its simplicity!
To make mango sticky rice, try this recipe from The Spruce Eats. Or, to see how to prepare this dish in more detail, have a watch of the video below.
Thai cooking is fresh, fragrant, fiery, and delicious. From aromatic curries to zingy salads and spicy noodle dishes, there’s a Thai dish out there for everyone – and if you’ve never cooked Thai food before, you might be surprised at how simple it actually can be.
While you may need to visit an Asian supermarket to pick up some ingredients, the cooking process itself isn’t complex. Plus, cooking your own Thai food is healthier and cheaper than getting a takeaway. And in the process, you’ll discover new ingredients, flavours and ways of cooking.
Have you tried cooking any of these dishes before? Or do you have any of your own favourite Thai recipes you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your culinary adventures! Join the conversation on the food and drink section of the Rest Less community forum, or leave us a comment below.