Hot and sour soup
Tom yam soup is probably the most famous Thai soup. A common theme throughout Thai cuisine is that of a balance of hot, sweet, sour and salty, and this soup is very characteristic of those. Different versions include prawns or chicken but all have the base flavours of fragrant lemongrass and Makrut lime leaves, and fiery bird’s-eye chillies. Often served at our family and friends get-togethers, it is served as a main dish, and rice on the side is a must.
Banned from public transport in lots of Southeast Asia due to its pungent smell – but if you can get past that, the custardy flesh you find inside is like Marmite. You either love it or you hate it, and the taste is something akin to overripe bananas and vanilla. The Thai kind is slightly subtler in scent than others, so it is the perfect place if you were feeling adventurous enough to try this famous fruit.
There are two different types of tamarind, sweet and sour, but the taste varies on when the fruit is picked as to how sweet or sour it is – the older it is, the sweeter it will be. It’s ubiquitous throughout Thai cuisine and is one of the main ingredients in the beloved export, pad Thai. They can be eaten straight from the pod and, if you are lucky enough to get them at the right time, they can be the perfect balance between sweet and sour. However, they are also a natural laxative, so be careful of eating too many.
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Made from minced meat, larb is a great accompaniment to a som tam salad and some sticky rice. Originating in northern Thailand, it is fragrant with lots of aromatic herbs, spring onions and limes. It can be quite scorching depending on how many chillies have been added, but if you haven’t quite built up your chilli tolerance, a plate of raw crunchy vegetables is usually served alongside, to tame a bit of the heat.
Created in the 1940s, with a heavy Chinese influence, pad Thai is a great introduction into the rich and vast food of Thailand. One of the most famous Thai dishes, this street food is available everywhere from small roadside stalls to upmarket restaurants. Spiked with small, dried prawns, packing a savoury punch and rich with the sweet and sour taste of tamarind, there’s a reason this is a British favourite.
Similar in looks to an edamame bean, stink beans are also known as bitter beans or cluster beans. Nutritious and delicious, they are often served stir-fried and paired with strongly flavoured foods. Their name comes from the effects they give the eater, and any eliminations tend to smell sulphuric – however, it is worth it.
Green papaya salad
Som tam salad, filled with crunchy, fresh shredded papaya, is a taste I grew up with. Packed with fiery chillies, it is traditionally made using a large pestle and mortar. Exact ingredients vary according to the different regions of Thailand but the perfect balance of sweet, sour, hot and salty flavours remain – ask for as many chillies as you dare.
Deep-fried whole fish
In my home region of Phetchabun, in northern Thailand, this dish is made with the freshwater catch of the day. Covered with Thai basil and fiery bird’s-eye chillies, it is a magnificent sight to behold but it is actually quick and easy to throw together. The fish is deep-fried whole until crispy on the outside and still tender on the inside, then smothered in the sauce. Lip-smackingly spicy, make sure you have a cold beer to wash it down with.
Thai fish cakes
Flavoured with spicy red curry paste and Makrut lime leaves, these deeply browned fish cakes are a traditional Thai classic. Served either as a snack, starter or family style, alongside other dishes, and paired with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. Held together using blitzed white fish and egg yolks.