Asia's Best: Thai Food

What Makes it Popular?

The Indochina backpacking circuit is probably the most well trodden trail in all of Asia. The food and accommodations are dirt cheap. The exotic paradises are aplenty and the cultures and traditions are intriguing and inviting. The Indochina trail consists of several countries sharing borders in the mainland of Southeast Asia. Countries in this region are Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Naturally, meeting and chatting with backpackers from all over the globe is a regular activity all travellers do on day to day basis. Everybody has a story to tell and adventures to brag. Having met and talked to so many travellers on the road I have learned of their favourite beach spots, hiking trails and towns. With the vastness of Indochina the wide variety of answers is expected. Some travellers prefer the serene and secluded while others favour the raunchy and crowded. But no matter how laidback, exuberant, old or young they were, there was only one thing they agreed upon—that Thai food is their absolute favourite. 

There are several reasons why Thai food holds a special place in every backpacker's heart. Whether you want it spicy and hot or relatively mild you will get the same guiding principle behind every dish--aroma, balance, texture and harmony of ingredients. It doesn’t matter if you are a newbie or a seasoned backpacker, the Thais got you covered. There is absolutely something for everybody, from vegetarians, foodies and even the pickiest of eaters. 

Unlike the more exotic Asian cuisines such as Indonesian and Filipino where you ease your palates gradually into adjusting to the taste, Thai cuisine is not overwhelming. If you are one of the few people who haven't been introduced to the savory flavors and the spicy ingredients of Asian cuisine, Thai food is a good starting point. 

Perhaps, you can try the quintessential street food Pad Thai—a stir fried noodles with peanuts, egg, vegetable and seafood—as a starter.

Shrimp Pad Thai - Best Thai Food
Shrimp Pad Thai
For a common food usually sold in the streets, this dish is already a more complex version of the Asian noodles. The Chinese Chow Mien and the Japanese Yakisoba will pale in comparison to the richness of flavor and texture of the Pad Thai. It is no wonder why this humble dish is considered by most foreigners the best Thai food ever.

Another factor every traveler considers when abroad is the budget. When cutting down expenses, food and meals usually are the first things we try to limit. We can live off of stale bread and noodles for the duration of our trips but not without decent accommodations and unforgettable adventures. In Thailand, food is never a thing to worry about. It is cheap, delicious and practically everywhere.

For less than a dollar you can buy filling rice meals such as Kao Pad Krapao (stir fry chicken with basil) or Khao Pad Goong (shrimp fried rice). This meal will set you back 30-40 Baht if you buy on the streets.

Kao Pad Krapao - Best Thai Food
Kao Pad Krapao

Khao Pad Goong - Best Thai Food
Khao Pad Goong
A complete meal of roast duck, rice and a stock soup costs 40 Baht. Add 10 Baht for refreshments which can be Thai iced tea or coffee. If you can’t eat without dessert, throw in another 30 Baht for a coconut ice cream. That’s a total of 80 Baht and roughly two dollars.

bangkok street food
Roast duck meal from one of the Khao San Road food stalls
The cost of Thai food is not what makes it appealing. It is the value you get for the amount you spend that is mind-blowing. It is an accepted truth that when buying things you will always get your money’s worth. Cheap products are often made poorly and the best ones are always expensive. Same applies to food. The more expensive the food, the more likely it is to be more scrumptious. Such is never the case in Thailand. There’s not much difference in taste between cheap grubs sold on the streets and the ones served in the restaurants. In some cases, the ones on the street are even better. Especially since most restaurants tweaked their recipes to cater better to Western people’s taste buds.

Thai food is both cheap and yummy, but what really pushes it ahead from its Asian neighbours is actually quite simple. Thai cooking is prepared by people who are very passionate about their food. Thais love to eat. They are always eating and snacking as evident by the numerous food stalls, joints and restaurants in every block and corner.

I am convinced that their days revolve around eating, with work and errands done in between. Just a few days spent in Thailand and you are bound to pick up their insatiable passion for food. You will notice that you are thinking about food more than you should, and you start planning your next meal immediately after every meal.

Soi Rambuttri Bangkok Thailand
Soi Rambuttri
The Chinese and Japanese cuisine may be more well-known to the Western palates but those cuisines are just the appetizers.  The rapid rise in popularity of Thai food outside of Asia is a testament to how great this cuisine is. Thai restaurants are sprouting all over world so rapidly, ensuring that your Thai favourites are always within reach.

But although you can easily get your favourite Pad Thai or Tom Yam in your own neighbourhood nowadays, you haven't experience a fraction of the real Thai flavour until you experience it in the sprawling food streets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai. So if ever you've been itching to go to Thailand, just do it. The food alone is enough to make the thousand miles journey worthwhile.

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