First time to try Thai cuisine. This list can help you ease your way in and find favorites.
Mango Sticky Rice
A well loved dessert all over Thailand, mango sticky rice definitely lives up to its popularity. Something exotic and sweet maybe a good start if you are a newbie when it comes to Thai cuisine. This local treat has a universal appeal and is easy to love because of its simplicity. There is nothing pungent here and has no meat products so even the strictest of vegetarians can appreciate this too. It is made up of cooked glutinous rice that is flavored with coconut milk and ripe Thai mangoes. Sometimes, sesame seeds are sprinkled on top. The taste is very exotic, with the richness of the coconut milk fusing together with the sweet and sour taste of the mango. Along with the flavor complexity, there is also some texture play in this dish—particularly contrast between the chewy, sticky, graininess of the rice and the soft and tender mouth feel of the mangoes. It is a paradox in a plate really, simple yet complicated.
You can’t possibly visit Koh Samui and miss out on pad Thai. This is served in majority of the restaurants on the island and is a mainstay in street markets. To put it simply, this is Thai’s version of stir fried noodles and is the country’s most well known street food.
If you are a Thai food virgin, this may have an initial appeal. It’s stir fried noodles. Who doesn’t like that? But while this is basically just stir fried noodles, it stands distinctly apart from other somewhat similar dishes such as yakisoba and chow mein. In fact, you may not even like it at first because of its pungency, thanks to fish sauce. Be that as it may, it is an acquired taste and it is worth a shot because its flavor profile is interesting. It is a mix of noodles, fish sauce, shrimp, tamarind paste, peanuts, lime, garlic, sugar, shallots, egg, tofu, and bean sprouts. It may also have pickled radish, coriander, and other seafood such as squid and crab. It seems that it actually has everything but the kitchen sink and you may wonder how so many ingredients manage to come together harmoniously. But they do and that’s exactly why pad Thai is a must try.
Chicken and Cashews
If you got past mango sticky rice and pad Thai yet still are carefully walking your way through exploring Thai cuisine, another dish you can order without facing too much risk palate wise is Thai chicken and cashews. If you love chicken and you love stir fried anything, you have no reason to skip this. It is more like a stew but drier and since it is stir fried, you can see all the ingredients clearly—a delicious heterogenous mix of meat, vegetables, and cashews that is best eaten with a cup of steaming white rice. The flavor is savory sweet and very oriental because of the soy sauce, spring onions, and sesame oil. A little sugar is added so that’s where the sweetness comes in. Unlike other Thai dishes, this is not too spicy. In fact, some recipes for this don’t include chili so if you are looking for something that your kids can safely eat and might actually love, remember chicken and cashews.
An dish common to Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and other Asian countries who might stick a claim on it, chicken satay or grilled chicken served with peanut sauce is a must try too. Again, we recommend this because of its simplicity. It is grilled chicken so if you like chicken barbecue of any kind, chances are you are going to like this one. This is a fail safe choice unless you are a vegan or allergic to chicken or peanuts, in which case avoid this at all cost. However if you don’t have issues with any of the ingredients, chicken satay can help you ease your way into local food in Koh Samui.
Fried Spring Rolls
Another famous Thai food that is served both in street food stalls and upscale Koh Samui restaurants, fried spring rolls has a crunch factor and is quite filling too. It is easy to appreciate because it is not spicy (unless you dip it in a really hot sauce) and it is cheap too. Inside the crispy wrap is a mix of vegetables, shrimp, and glass noodles. Fried spring rolls are best eaten immediately right after serving when it is still hot and crispy.
Fresh Spring Rolls
If you are a Thai food newbie, another safe bet is fresh spring rolls. This is similar to a wrap but lighter, because of the wrapping used. It is also more Asian than the usual wraps because instead of using a mayo based dressing or sour cream, fresh spring rolls are flavored with fish sauce. The ingredients inside are kinda similar to what you can see inside a fried spring roll but they are fresh instead of sauteed. Some may consider fresh spring rolls an acquired taste because of the presence of cilantro and fish sauce. However if you don’t have issues with any of the two, you might like this dish. If you don’t like cilantro, just ask the server if they can omit the herb.
Panang Beef Curry
For those who are interested in trying Thai curry dishes for the first time, we suggest Panang curry. Beef is usually the meat of choice for this dish and the reason why you should try this first is that it is actually the least spicy of all the Thai curries. In fact, it is even a little sweet and rich too because of the added peanuts. The name is of Malaysian origin although Panang beef curry resonates very much with Thai flavors. Unlike green curry or yellow curry, Panang curry is not hard to like and tastes pretty linear despite its complexity.