French Is So Passe - Why Thai Cuisine Is The Best On The Planet

Thai snacks

If you consider yourself a food lover with a palate the same sophistication level as a professional food critic, Thailand is the place for you. Ensuring that you stay away from the Western fast food joints that inevitably creep into neighbourhoods like uninvited guests weaselling into a fancy dinner party, it’s difficult to get a dud meal here - at least wipe your muddy clown shoes before sauntering in Ronald.

While enjoying food from the North to the South of Thailand, it was a pleasant revelation to discover from the source that traditional Thai cuisine has the sophistication of French cuisine and the fresh, clean flavours of Italian cuisine – indeed, you’ll see basil pop up in a number of dishes. It’s the perfect combination of the world’s well established and exalted cuisines resulting in a unique super cuisine.

Vegetable Soup in Bangkok

Photo: As clear as any consume - vegetable soup a la Thai. Credit: China D

In addition to the food hitting all the marks as far as flavour, freshness and finished presentation was concerned, Thai chefs and cooks were never put off their game by our requests for the food to be entirely plant-based. Even when it came to their famous (and assumed sacred) Pad Thai dish, they never even raised an eyebrow at a request for the egg to be omitted. We didn’t have any problems from Bangkok to Phuket asking them to hold the animal products. This is good to know for the vegetarian and vegan travellers out there – your options won’t just be lettuce, chips and beer for your entire holiday.

Street vendor frying banana

Photo by: China D

Even more heartening than the built-in patience and understanding of Thai chefs is the presence of food places that are entirely plant-based – it’s possibly the most exciting thing to happen to a vegan. And there’s a surprising number of these spread across Bangkok and country regions. Our thanks, more than likely, should go to the late, great Buddha for this – his many hours practising compassion has allowed us all to live a better culinary life.  

Great Thai Dishes and Their Surprising Ability to Adapt

As you travel through Thailand, you will come across a number of native dishes that are well known and loved by locals and foreigners alike. Thai food is regional, meaning there are dishes that originated in the North, South or Central parts of the country and having derived from the availability of certain ingredients, local tastes and geographical influences, each are distinct. This also means that there are certain dishes that “should” be tried in their region of origin due to the deeply ingrained flavour knowledge that is invariably mixed in the preparation of the dish.

Cooking chive dumplings at the Floating Market

Chive Dumplings from the Floating Market. Photo by: China D

If your itinerary allows for you to try the most famous Thai dishes direct from their source of origin then take advantage of that opportunity. However, don’t be put off or think that you won’t have the ultimate experience of a dish because you’re not trying it from its place of birth. No matter where you go, their quality will vary depending on the expertise of the hands that made them, but their basic integrity remains essentially the same. This gives you the chance, no matter where you travel in Thailand, to try the famous classics, understand what makes them so good and to find your favourites.

Fresh Rice paper rolls Mango Bangkok

Rice Paper Rolls from "Mango", Bangkok. Photo by: China D

Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask if ingredients can be swapped – asking for tofu instead of chicken for example. You will be pleasantly surprised by how un-fazed restaurant staff are by adapting a dish to suit your dietary needs.   

Food is one of the best and most pleasurable ways to immerse yourself into a culture and to make the most of your experience – just make sure to be open to try all it has to offer. Take a break from the white bread and cereal offering of your hotel breakfast and go for an early morning wander. Find the alleys where the locals eat, order what they’re having and revel in the simple joy of the little things that you will not get in your home country. Where in your country will you emerge from a narrow alley, walls covered in graffiti art, to find a small outdoor kitchen, steam rising from a bubbling broth, that smells of fresh herbs, chopped onion and chilli, producing bowl after bowl of rice noodles so good it feels like they should be prescribed by a doctor?  

Breakfast noodles from a vendor in Bangkok

Photo by: China D

Some Must-try Classics  

These are a few of the classic Thai dishes that are also must try culinary experiences:

Pad Thai, Central – It feels like Pad Thai has always been around. Like the beginning of time itself, its existence seems to have no beginning or (let’s pray) no end. However, it was actually only invented in 1938 by military officer Phibun, who went on to become Prime Minister of Thailand. Pad Thai is the one national dish of the country, created to instil a sense of united pride and stretch rice rations. It combines rice noodles with stir-fried ingredients in a Chinese-style sauce to create a dish that symbolises a nation that is comprised of ethnically diverse people with strong regional identities that combined work well together. For a traveller weary of rice, it’s good noodle alternative.

Pad Thai

Photo by: China D

Tom Yum, Central – After Pad Thai, Tom Yum is one of the most popular dishes of Thailand, and for good reason – it’s everything you could want in a bowl. The flavours are bold and the fragrant ingredients (not to be eaten, unless by mistake) are unapologetically present in their chunky glory. Hunks of galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves help to perfectly balance the flavour of the nam prik pao paste, the base of Tom Yum soup. Accompanied by rice or noodles, this hot and tangy soup is traditionally served in one of two different ways – as a clear broth or with the addition of coconut milk. Chicken or prawns are often the protein of choice or chunks of fried, spongy tofu make an excellent alternative.
Tom Yum noodle soup

Photo by: China D

Green Curry (kaeng khiao wan), Central – For foreigners, the name of this curry is a bit of a misnomer, but then, how many foreigners know that “wan” in Kaeng Khiao Wan means “sweet” in Thai? The sweet element in the title is referring to the lovely green colour of the finished curry and not so much the taste. If you’re having the real deal, this curry is pleasantly cruel in its unexpected spicy hit amongst the delicious, creamy flavour. As much as I loved this dish, I only ordered it once - there is, after all, a fine line between pleasure and pain. The vegetables used will almost inevitably be cooked aldente, that is to say perfectly, and will likely include Thai eggplant and pea eggplant. Coconut cream and basil finish the dish and add a more delicate touch to match the punchy flavours of the galangal, lemon grass, coriander root and green chilli.

Green curry

Photo by: China D

Coconut Curry Soup (Tom Kha Gai), North – The base of this curry follows the traditional Thai curry line, consisting of fresh galangal, lemon grass, Kaffir lime leaves, chilli and garlic. Coconut milk is added in abundance and is the star of the dish with the curry base staying in the background. Tom Kha Gai isn’t as spicy as green curry and can easily be enjoyed by your average farang possessing a pathetically low spice tolerance. Chicken, seafood or tofu can be used for the obligatory protein.

Tom Kha Gai

Photo by:

Chang Mai Noodle Soup (Khao Soi), North – As the name suggests, this dish in its current form originated in or around Chang Mai – some suggest that Myanmar could be the original birthplace given that their dish, Khao Swe, bears a striking similarity and is just across the border. It’s less known by foreigners than other Thai dishes but it is definitely one of their best, with an array of flavour and texture elements basically covering all pleasure bases. Springy egg noodles curl in the bottom of a bowl with a spicy, aromatic mix of dried chilli, turmeric, cumin, coriander root, ginger and cardamom infusing creamy coconut milk poured on top. A mix of vegetables and chicken or tofu will be fried and immersed in the golden-brown soup. Palm sugar and soy sauce give it a sweet and salty balance. The dish is then garnished with crispy fried noodles adding a unique texture element. Seriously good.

Khao Soi

Photo by: China D

Papaya Salad (Som Tum), North – Good old papaya salad. You can get this at most Thai restaurants around the world, but it’s more than likely not the same as the stuff direct from the source. It’s simply shredded green papaya mixed with sliced tomatoes, raw green beans, roasted cashew or peanuts and a sharp, very spicy dressing of fish sauce, palm sugar, hunks of garlic and fresh chilli. The papaya salad made in Thailand won’t be as polite as the one you’re probably used to having at your local Thai place – the spice will hit you right across your face rendering your tongue temporarily useless while those who made it will most likely be watching from behind the kitchen bench waiting to have a giggle at your reaction. Authentic papaya salad is actually originally from Thailand’s northern neighbour, Laos. However, it has found a home in Thai cuisine and is always a good idea to add to your selection of dishes or to snack on when the clock strikes beer.

Som Tum

Photo by: China D

Dry Minced Curry (Gaeng Kua Kling), South – Somewhere between a curry and a stir-fry, this dish is a unique Thai southern region version of minced meat (or tofu). The main components are chilli paste – consisting of the usual suspects – and minced protein of your choosing, which is then served with plain rice. It’s a simple yet delicious meal that will have you nodding your head in agreement with everything that’s going on in your mouth as you chew.

Gaeng Kua Kling

“Breakfast Noodles”, Everywhere – As mentioned above, it’s very worth your while to go for an early morning walk and find the streets where these venders set up shop. The kitchen looks like it could kill you but the food it produces is like medicine for the body and soul. There’s just nothing like three different kinds of chilli to wake you up in the morning. Plus, the chilli fruit is high in vitamin C, which in itself has many beneficial uses in the body - its presence also helps the body to more readily absorb iron, which will be found in the veritable garden of herbs and green vegetables in your noodle bowl. The rice noodles are a low-fat source of carbohydrates and protein which will keep you full until your next meal. And, a meal like this will probably be the cheapest thing you can possibly find, at around 20-30 cents a bowl. 

Breakfast noodles


Fresh Fruit, Everywhere – Thailand has some of the freshest, sweetest fruit around. The variety is equally impressive with familiar favourites like pineapple, banana, mango, passion fruit and ripe papaya, as well as some more exotic offerings such as dragon fruit and durian. You’ll probably see more fresh fruit outside of the cities however, in Bangkok there are a number of venders selling smoothies made on the spot and fresh juice bottled and ready to go. 

Fresh fruit

Ice-cream in bread - It's not strictly practiced only in Thailand but it's definitely a South East Asian thing you must try. From the mountainous North to the Southern regions of Thailand, you'll be sure to see a vendor with a small cart and a bell. Get the rice on the bottom of the bun and top the ice-cream with chocolate sauce and peanuts. Delicious.

Ice-cream in bread

Great Dining Experiences in Bangkok

 "I Love Thai Food" – The Best, Most Down-to-Earth Restaurant in Bangkok?

This place is the epitome of the Thai dining experience. Set in a compact site on the corner of Chakrabongse Road and Rambuttri Alley, with another small kitchen on one side and a small lady making fresh fruit smoothies on the other, I Love Thai Food is an authentic Thai dining experience from start to finish.

I Love Thai Food street level

Firstly, customers sit outside on the footpath and in the street (when an extended space is needed) on polypropylene furniture with plastic table cloths advertising local beers – We’re definitely in South East Asia. Then, there’s the kitchen. It’s a high-end concept that’s used in a number of expensive, Michelin star restaurants - an open style kitchen with the action of the chefs and the gradual creation of your order on display. However, given that this kitchen is open by virtue of the fact that it’s outside on the footpath and it’s essentially a big, stainless steel BBQ, this Michelin-star-worthy, open kitchen design is executed in the most relaxed manner. Add in the potted, as well as the possibly naturally growing, plants that adorn the tin roof, posts, railings and beams which give the cosy space that back-yard atmosphere, and you feel like you’re around a friend’s place for a BBQ.

I Love Thai Food kitchen

Photo by: China D

Unlike the famous and incredibly noisy Khaosan Road, which is only a short alley walk away, this place is perhaps less well known – and definitely more peaceful. However, those who have had the pleasure of eating here either walk away with a satisfied smile on their face or they become loyal devotees – we were firmly in the latter category.

We came back to I Love Thai Food time and again because we knew we were going to get a great meal to either fuel us for a night or to just fill a hole in our stomachs after a long day and, refreshingly, we weren’t going to need to wire money across accounts just to pay for it.

The food is well cooked, delicious, with all the traditional dishes covered and, despite their location ensuring that they cater to a large Western customer base, the prices are also Thai – that is to say, cheap. A couple can easily enjoy two dishes, an entrée and drinks for around the same price as one dish elsewhere in Bangkok.

A selection of dishes from I Love Thai Food

Papaya Salad, Chang Mai Noodle Soup, Vegetable Spring Rolls and Curry Fried Rice. Photo by: China D

After coming here a few times, our order was refined to their Tom Yum Soup with rice noodles, vegetable spring rolls, curry fried rice with cashews, papaya salad and coconut soup – and maybe a cheeky Singha or two. On a hot afternoon, a refreshing fruit smoothie can be ordered from the lady with her fruit cart. She’ll even bring it over to where you’re sitting.

On display out the front is an abbreviated version of their menu with “Must Try” items. Just when I thought I was devoted but accustomed to the vibrancy level of Thai cuisine, I decided to try Chang Mei noodle soup and the game changed again - it’s definitely a must-try for very good reason. The curry soup was well balanced with just the right amount of spice, the vegetables were perfectly al dente and retained their individual flavours while also blending well together and the addition of crispy fried noodles on top to contrast with the soft noodles happily absorbing all the deliciousness on the bottom is just texture wizardry. The only problem with having food this good is that no-where else will ever be satisfactory again.  

Chang Mai Noodles by I Love Thai Food

From our first visit, the all-woman staff of this busy little restaurant – which only number two to three cooks and a waitress or two - were friendly, approachable and respectful. As they got to know us through our repeat visits, we struck up a rapport which ensured that not only were each of our dining experiences pleasant ones, but our local Bangkok food joint was set in stone.

The head chef adapted our dishes to be plant based without hesitation or complaint. Noticing and appreciating our returns, they made sure to remember our idiosyncrasies such as our penchant for sweet chilli sauce - we felt like VIPs when we were given extra without asking.

The chefs of I Love Thai Food
The chefs of I Love Thai Food

Photo by: China D

When our time in Thailand had come to an end, they were visibly saddened and asked with a genuine interest (not the standard polite follow-up question) when we would be back in Bangkok. It seemed that they were really going to miss us. We shook hands and hugged, absorbing the precious moment – we were going to miss this place. One of our new friends was even on the verge of tears when we left.    

I Love Thai Food is definitely a must-try in Bangkok. It has a cocktail of elements that are becoming rarer to find, at least all in one combination - authenticity, atmosphere and fair price. Be sure to check them out.

Just How Far a Kind Gesture Can Travel: Arawy is Ahroi

It was walking distance from Khaosan Road, where our hotel was, and it featured on various tourist attraction lists - let's do the Giant Swing. Luckily, no-one stopped us to point out the obvious – it’s just a big swing shape and it doesn’t even have a swing. However, if someone had pointed this fact out and we gave the swing a miss, we would never have discovered the real attraction of Dinso Road - Arawy.

Arawy shop front

Photo by: China D

As soon as we noticed the display of dishes and the yellow coloured sign, we stopped in our tracks. Restaurants with yellow signs in Thailand mean that they serve only vegetarian food.

The place itself is small and narrow, with just enough room for one row of tables big enough to sit two people on the right and on the left, a serving area holding the food plus a large table for plates and pans. Despite the shop’s modest appearance, it was love at first sight for us, knowing that we could have literally anything on offer without the need for a cross check – the food certainly gave the place its personality. There were trays filled to the brim with what looked like strips of meat or mince, stir-fried with vegetable, however it was all vegan. There were even plates of battered sausages and something that looked like a coddled egg. Although fresh vegetables served in mouth-watering Thai flavour combinations suffice, it’s fun to enjoy “naughty” vegan food like plant based sausage, mince and lardon-like hunks of crispy soy protein every now and then.

The food of Arawy

Photo by: China D

Little did we know as we stood there gaping, that this particular shop was famous – even mentioned in a number of Lonely Planet editions on Bangkok. An older lady sitting at the back of the small shop, busily portioning and packaging some of the delicious looking soy concoctions for their take-away section, was the owner.

As we were to discover from the framed information on her wall, she has been running this shop for around 40 years. She was a little stand-offish at first, perhaps thinking that we possessed more of a fetish for Lonely Planet books than an appreciation for the vegan lifestyle. However, when we came back after our Giant Swing adventure and were obviously enjoying and appreciating her food, she became very open. Once her mood was lightened, she was very easy to talk to and seemed to appreciate a friendly conversation from the people she was working hard to cater for each and every day.

More Arawy food

Photo by: China D

As we sat rubbing our full, distended stomachs and trying in vain to remove the satisfied smiles from our faces (is it crazy to appreciate good, plant based food this much?) our host had her daughter/best shop assistant bring us each a bowl of sweet banana in coconut milk or kluai buat chi – on the house. She wanted us to try it because we'd so expertly demonstrated our foodie chops, she knew we'd love it and also because it’s an authentic taste of sweet Thai cuisine - a true dish of the common Thai person. The dish itself didn’t disappoint – it was as delicious as it was perfectly simple. However, it was the gesture from the septuagenarian shop owner, to give us this meaningful dessert for free, that was the sweetest thing.

“Ahroi is my name. It means delicious in Thai”. How very apt.

Although the food ticked all the boxes for us, it was the friendly hospitality of our hosts that had us promising to return for our last breakfast in Bangkok – a testament to their value and quality.

The next morning on our way to Arawy, we saw a vendor standing by a cart laden with bunches of fresh bananas. We bought two hands thinking to return Ahroi’s gesture two-fold and, mainly, just to put a smile on her face. We walked in and China handed her the bulging bag of bananas. Her face was a combination of surprise and incredulity. She then did what most people of her generation do and refused to take it – it was too much. But when we insisted, she graciously accepted our gift. A feeling of warmth seemed to wash over the entire place.

China and I enjoyed another terrific meal made of dishes we hadn’t tried yet – the whole selection would have easily fed four people. As we ate, we spoke with Ahroi and her daughter. We told them that we wouldn’t be in for breakfast the next day because we were leaving very early for our flights home.

Arawy Take-away Bags

The Snack Bags. Photo by: China D

Before letting us go, she gave us bag after bag of the snacks she painstakingly packs each day, and usually charges 10 Baht for, to take on our journey. After several hugs and pictures with the lady of Awary out the front of the restaurant, we left with bags fuller than when we walked in.

“I love you”, she said with a warm smile. We love you too Ahroi. We will definitely be seeing you again.    

Standing with Ahroi at Arawy, Bangkok

Photo by: China D       

It’s true that in many ways beyond being geographically opposed, East and West are inevitably, necessarily, different. This is a good thing. It gives us the opportunity to experience something completely new, something perhaps unheard of in our homeland, be that in the East or the West, and with trying something completely and utterly different comes a fresh perspective, a new insight into how others live. So, when in the East, start your experience and your day right - have the noodles for breakfast.


Project Goals Recommends:

  • I Love Thai Food - For an outdoor, sit down dining experience with a chill city vibe.

  • Arawy - For breakfast, lunch, dinner or takeaway and especially for vegetarians that just want to be able to have anything and everything on offer. Find them here.

  • Buying from street vendors - It doesn't get any more budget friendly, their products are generally great and you're helping out a hard working individual or family. 

  • Ice-cream in bread - Do it. 

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