Taste Testing Thailand: Going Beyond Pad Thai

27 January 2017

Everyone loves a good Pad Thai. It’s on every Australian’s go-to for a quick and delicious take away meal. The thick rice noodles, tangy lime juice, crunchy peanuts, hint of chilli and crispy bean sprouts are the perfect combination when done right. It doesn’t get any better than that. Or does it?

Thai cuisine is based on balance. The balance between all of the major flavour characteristics: sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter. Of course not all dishes will contain all five flavours, but there is always a balance between contrasting tastes. While Thai cuisine is all about complexity and mixing flavours, most dishes can in fact be made with just a handful of ingredients. Pad Thai might be our favourite here in Australia, but if we venture a little further, trust me, the food only gets better. Here are a handful of dishes equally delicious and more authentic than Pad Thai.

A traditional dish of central Thailand, Red Curry is certainly a popular Thai dish right around the world.

Kaeng Phet

While this one isn’t exactly unknown, Red Curry is a very traditional dish in Central Thailand. Based on coconut milk with mild chilli, fresh lemongrass and turmeric, it’s a mild dish, ideal for Australians who aren’t keen on too much heat.

Tom Yam is almost as popular as Pad Thai.

Tom Yam

Tom Yum Goong is an aromatic soup made with shrimp that perfectly balances spicy and sour flavours. This one is wildly popular in central Thailand, but is served right around the country.

Som Tam is one of the spiciest dishes in Thailand.

Som Tam

A spicy green papaya salad, popular in Thailand’s northeast, Som Tam is an excellent summer dish. The papaya is usually pounded with a mortar and pestle, along with lime juice, garlic and fish sauce. There are often other ingredients included, such as dried shrimp, cherry tomatoes and roasted peanuts. Try this one with sticky rice, as the spice of the salad may need toning down with the absorbent rice.

Northern Thailand is known for its spicy sausages, Sai ua.

Sai Ua

While it might come as a surprise, Thailand’s northern provinces specialise in sausages. Sai Ua, which blends ground pork with dried chillies, garlic, shallots and lemongrass, are a spicy local favourite to try.

Kaeng Yuak is a northern Thai curry made with banana or plantain stalks.

Kaeng Yuak

In northern Thailand curries are often much thinner than in the south, where influences from Malaysia creep in. Kaeng Yuak is a popular curry made with banana palm or plantain hearts, and combined with chicken and glass noodles.

Lap

This is a spicy, sweet and tart salad made with tossed minced meat, chicken or freshwater fish, fresh mint, spring onion, lime juice and grounded dried chilli. The salad is then mixed through uncooked, dry-roasted rice, giving it a crunchy texture. Lap is from the northeast region of Thailand.

Kaeng Tai Plais a typical southern yellow curry.

Kaeng Tai Pla

A typical southern dish, Kaeng tai pla is a hot curry typically made with fish stomach, green beans, pickled bamboo shoots and potato. Many curries in southern Thailand are influenced by neighbouring Malaysia, and turmeric is a common ingredient. This turns curries a distinctive yellow, which is where the name Yellow Curry came from, though there are actually many different types of yellow curry in the south, some much hotter than others.


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Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.