Thailand, like Mexico, has some of the best food in the world. If you don't gain weight in Thailand, you're doing it wrong. It's starchy, it's sweet, it's spicy, it's meaty. Who could ask for anything more?

The first thing to recognize about Thai food is that it is spicy. I'm not talking Sriracha spicy. I'm talking holy god make it stop my mouth is suffering first degree burns and my ass is about to be like a projectile flame thrower spicy.

The first thing I ate when I arrived in Thailand three years ago was an innocent enough looking salad from Wongsakorn market. Boy, did I underestimate that wicked beast. One bite and my mouth burnt so bad that I tried flushing it out with water. Then milk. Next thing I knew I was naked in the shower with my mouth beneath the nozzle, pouring a mixture of water and milk all over my face.

Advertisement

The best part about this story is that once I'd recovered, I went back to my salad and I did it again.

Advertisement

It's like some strange form of food masochism. No matter how spicy, if the flavor is good, we keep going back. It's like an endless cycle of oral abuse, and we're showing Stockholm Syndrome for our dear captor, capsaicin.

We're like season six Buffy. What makes us feel pain, also makes us feel alive. Buffy reference = you're welcome.

Mmmmm we love you chilli pepper 'cuz you hurt so good. Check out these fried fish where the chili peppers are literally stabbed into their sides. Alloi mak mak! (I like it a lot!) The best Thai food uses extreme spice in a way that is complimentary to whatever other flavors are involved, thus enhancing the dish, and thereby ensuing sensational awesomeness.

Advertisement

In Thailand, there's a 7/11 on every corner. Sometimes you'll see two 7/11s across the street from one other. You can get drinks there, like Red Bull, which was invented in this country. Red Bull was inspired by another Thai energy drink called Klating Daeng. You can also get a giant bottle of Hong Thong whiskey for a 250 baht, or about eight dollars. Just be careful when throwing back that Black Cock, which you can read about in my book, "Around the World in 80 J's".

Advertisement

The other option is to get drinks from street vendors, who tend to dump mountains of sugar into every concoction. Not only will you gain weight it Thailand, but you might come home with some cavities, too. If you're really lucky, your street drink will be served to you in a plastic bag (instead of a bottle) that you can consume with the use of a straw.

Advertisement

The fruits in Thailand are fresh and exotic. My favorite is the rambutan, a pink speckled fruit with soft yellow/green spines. Inside the rambutan's strange outer shell is a gelatinous like, sweet tasting fruit, which is contrasted by a bitter nut in the center.

Another interesting fruit from Thailand is the durian, with a scent so pungent that it is rumored to be illegal to carry on airplanes. There is also the jack fruit, which is another popular taste of this region.

Definitely look for restaurants that serve lots of locals. If the restaurant you choose is full of farrang (foreigners) - red flag, red flag! The Farrang centric Thai food that can be found in places like Bangkok's Khao San Road and Koh Phi Phi's Tosai Village is bound to be boooooring. Go for places that are patronized for plenty of Thais, unless you want your meal to be extremely bland, greasy, and overly salty.

Advertisement

Street vendors are my number one recommendation for finding great food in Thailand, so long as you don't mind a visit to Shitemberfest. Street food is ridiculously cheap, and a meal will rarely cost more than $1-2 from a street vendor. They line up and down sidewalks and markets, ready to prepare your food on the spot.

Advertisement

A good rule of thumb is that if it tastes funky, toss it. Street food is so affordable that it's not worth the risk. However, ninety percent of the time, street food from Thailand will absolutely blow your mind, while wetting your pants (in one way or another).

Just walk down any street in Bangkok to become intoxicated with the scents of bubbling curries, simmering herbs, exotic spices, and tasty smoked meats. It's hard to pass on the street food in Thailand.

Advertisement

In Thai language, mew means cat, while moo means pork. I know, I know, it makes no sense! You can also order your food with gai (chicken), plah (fish), or even talay (seafood). Try the gai on a stick or curried plah over fire and you will not be disappointed.

Just because Thailand's in Asia doesn't mean you should eat the food with chopsticks. This is a stereotype - please throw it away. Chopsticks are a utensil more common in countries like China and Japan. For the most part, the only food that is eaten with chopsticks in Thailand is noodle soup, and that's probably because this dish originates from China.

Advertisement

For everything else, use a fork and spoon. The proper way to eat your meals is to use the fork to scoop rice and noodles onto your spoon. If someone serves you Pad Thai with chopsticks, you might be on Khao San Road.

The best Pad Thai will come with eggs, meat or tofu, scallions, and a lime. Good Pad Thai is difficult to find, and don't even bother ordering it from touristy areas. If you want to settle for bad Pad Thai, why even bother visiting Thailand in the first place? Don't be a bad food tourist โ€“ try new things and eat your face off! The weirder, the better.

Advertisement

The best Pad Thais I ever tasted came from the outskirt areas of Saimai and Bang Na.

Advertisement

Another common eating utensil in Thailand is your hands. This is especially true in the north part of the country, where it is common to roll sticky rice into balls then scoop into dishes using your fingers. Khao Soi is a dish more common in the center to the North of the country. I can best describe it as a curry noodle soup party in your mouth.

Noodle soup in general is a huge part of Thailand's food culture. As stated before, this is one of the only Thai dishes that's eaten with chop sticks, along with a spoon. Use the chopsticks to place noodles, meat chunks and/or balls, veggies, and herbs onto your spoon and on their way to your belly. Noodle soup can be comparable to a more complicated version of ramen. Thais eat this dish like it's a snack. It is rare that a bowl of noodle soup will cost you more than a dollar.

Advertisement

Noodle soup stands can be found on most street corners and markets, right out on the open with tables and plastic chairs lined up along the sidewalks. Each stand has a large, steaming tub of broth. Large nets are used to dip and soak the meat and noodles before serving them fresh to your table.

Advertisement

Each table has a set of additional condiments, which often include but are not limited to: fish sauce, chilli sauce, dried chilli, garlic, sugar (Thai's love sugar), pickled peppers, peppers in fish sauce, and MSG.

Advertisement

Don't like MSG in your food? Learn to say this simple phrase: "mai ow pong cho rowt", which literally means "I don't like MSG". Whether you are for or against it, MSG is a common condiment on Thai dinner tables.

One dish that commonly uses MSG is som tam, or papaya salad. This happens to be one of the greatest Thai dishes of all time. Som tam consists of shaved green papaya strips, dried shrimp, sliced tomatoes, and chilli peppers all meshed together with a sweet and tart sauce using a mortar and pestle. It is then topped with peanuts, delish! Like noodle soup, a serving of som tom should cost less than thirty baht (one American dollar).

Be sure to tell them you like spicy by saying "phet alloy", otherwise you will end up being given a bland farrang version of this dish.

Advertisement

Not to be confused with som tam are tom yum and tom kha, sweet and spicy soups based with coconut milk and a root called galangal. The best tom kha I had was home made by a woman outside of Chiang Mai. I had been invited to her home for dinner by friends.

Never pass on an invitation to share a Thai home cooked meal! Thais are welcoming and friendly โ€“ accept with gratitude. Make an honest attempt to respect their etiquette. Even if you mess up, they will certainly appreciate that you are trying!

Advertisement

If you go to a Thai street market with a taste for curry, I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. Red curry, green curry with mini eggplants, penang curry, massaman curry with chunks of potato โ€“ Thailand's got it all. Just don't forget to BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper).

Advertisement

I mastered the art of massaman curry by taking a Thai cooking class back in 2011. Keep in mind, Thai culinary courses are often aimed at Western taste palates, and you might miss out on a lot of secrets and spices. The best way to learn about authentic Thai cooking is to make friends with locals and let them invite you into their kitchens.

While eating in Thailand, don't forget to try the various meat, vegetables, and egg combinations over rice. There is also curried fresh fish which bubbles above small gas light heaters you can scoop over rice.

Advertisement

Above is a more Chinese inspired dish, kind of like spring rolls, but like wow amazing.

Advertisement

Hey what is this thing? I don't even know! It looks like a cupcake, but it was creamy and spicy. Curry? Fish? Entrails? Whatever, let's dig in!

Did I mention that there is sushi in Thailand, too? Find fresh sushi bars right out on the street. Pick and choose your favorite rolls using small metal tongs. It's like the taste of Japan without the price gouge!

Advertisement

I found this sushi stand in a street market outside of the main University. I had to battle it out with Thai girls in school uniforms to get the best pieces. Just kidding - everyone was super polite and like "kor toht, excuse me, kaaaaa".

Crazy for roe? You're in the right place. I got an entire order (tray full) of sushi for sixty baht, or about two American dollars.

I love you, Thailand, and so does my tummy, as well as my budget.

Advertisement

For our last meal in Thailand, we went to a market that was over run by friendly felines. I graciously enjoyed my fish head and curry while a black and white kitty purred away on my lap. Good Food + Cat Loves = Bangkok Happy!

Not to be forgotten are the barbeque stands, which are the best places to score some meat on a stick on the go. These vendors hang out on the sidewalks, grilling up seafood and meat, filling the streets with the smell of smoked meat.

Advertisement

For dessert, bury your face in some sticky rice and mango. This dish includes freshly sliced sweet mango, sometimes with bananas and plantains, soaked in sweet coconut milk. If sticky rice and mango doesn't give you a foodgasm, then you should probably see a doctor, because nothing else will.

Thailand. Loosen your belt and unbutton your pants. It's time to let go in another food gorgy.

Advertisement

Writing and Photography by Kat Vallera, creator of NomadiKat Travel Media, author of "Around the World in 80 J's"

Video by Scott O'Brien

(Special thanks to Brian Swerdlow for letting me steal his Starbucks joke)

To get off on more food porn, and other travel media, follow NomadiKat on Facebook

Advertisement