Reams and reams have been written about the cuisine of Thailand, and for a very good reason—it’s some of the tastiest on the planet. Besides being fresh, healthy, and numbingly spicy, Thai food is famous for its careful balance of the four fundamental flavors—sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. Discovering the national cuisine of a distant land is the highlight of any foodie’s trip. Here is a roundup of some of our not-to-be-missed food experiences in Thailand.
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Attend a Cooking Class
Culinary tourism in Thailand is all the rage. A cooking class can be a great way to spend a half day—or longer—and learn a few fundamentals and some of the history of Thai cuisine. Most classes are under 15 people and those listed here involve hands-on cooking and end with eating what you’ve created.
Four Seasons Cooking School, Chiang Mai: At one of our favorite resorts in Thailand (possibly all of Southeast Asia), classes kick off with a shopping trip to the local market. Hands-on kitchen demonstrations are given by world-class Four Seasons chef Pitak Srichan, who carefully explains the finer points of Thai cooking techniques. Four Seasons Chiang Mai Hotel review
Also worth noting
The Blue Elephant Cooking School, Bangkok: Chef Khun Nooror and her team offer morning and afternoon classes that include a local market shopping trip and focus of unique Thai ingredients. Blue Elephant Cooking School review
Amita Cooking School, Bangkok: Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon specializes in Thai home cooking that’s easy and fun to prepare. Amita Cooking School website
Explore a Street Market
For an authentic Thai shopping experience and some of the best snacks in the country, don’t miss Thailand’s famous traditional markets, or talaats. They’re an integral part of Thai life. Here you’ll find whole families out for a meal at their favorite food vendor or just munching a bag of deep fried snacks.
Damnoen Saduak: Though it’s crowded, overpriced, and flooded with tourist by 9 am, this floating market remains our top pick: a visit here gives you a good taste of the old river life, as well as opportunity for a few tasty souvenirs. To get the most out of this experience, hire a sampan and explore the surrounding canals. Damnoen Saduak review
Also Worth Noting
The Railway Track Market, Samut Songkhram: Located about 40 mi. southwest of Bangkok, this crazy little market abuts both sides of a working train track: stalls are rolled out of the way eight times a day. Ask your concierge about hiring a guide to take you there.
Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai: This great big night market sells everything from fried bamboo worms to foot exfoliation by tiny, toothless garra rufa fish. Night Bazaar review
Try the Best Healthy Ingredients
Besides being outrageously delicious, Thai food contains some of the healthiest ingredients that you can put into your body. The lemon grass, garlic, chili, and coriander that go into Tom Yum soup are so beneficial that scientists are looking into its ability to fight off cold and flu viruses, and perhaps even cancer. Here are some of our favorite beneficial ingredients.
Birdseye Chili: Once considered the hottest chili on earth, this vicious little pepper is a staple of Thai cuisine. If you can take the heat, the health benefits are enormous. Studies show that eating chilies helps people sleep better, promotes heart health, and even cures toothache, flatulence, and dyspepsia.
Also Worth Noting
Galangal: A Southeast Asian cousin of ginger, galangal aids digestion and is an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Coriander: Rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C and iron, coriander has been used for centuries to counteract loss of appetite and a number of digestive disorders.
Visit a Street Food Vendor
Don’t miss out on the fantastic experience of trying street food in Thailand. Just follow the crowd; locals know what’s good and will probably be eating the cart’s specialty. And if you’re not sure how to order, just point at the other guy’s plate.
Pad: Vendors often add their own twist to traditional pad (noodle) recipes, which only adds to the adventure.. Shrimp, chicken, or veggie pad thai is probably the most famous Thai noodle dish and common in Bangkok, as is pad khee mao (drunken noodles) with its decadently big rice noodles and spicy sauce.
Also Worth Noting
Tom Yum: A spicy, sour soup that’s as nutritious as it is delicious.
Larb: This refreshing salad has lime, meat or fish, and a nice dose of fresh herbs.
Taste Strange Fruits
You’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore when you walk through any market and see strange piles of edibles but have no idea if they’re animal, vegetable, or mineral. Given Thailand’s fertile soil and tropical climate, it’s no wonder they produce of cornucopia of wonderful looking—and tasting— produce.
Mangosteen: In order to get to the edible bits of a mangosteen, you’ll need a sharp knife and determination—it has a thick tough skin that hardens and becomes reddish purple when ripe. The sweet, juicy meat is segmented like an orange and tastes similar to a peach.
Also Worth Noting
Rambutan: A delicious little fruit with a spiky husk that looks as if it stepped from the pages of a Dr. Seuss story.
Durian: Fans call it the King of Fruits but Durian—the spiky fruit in the center above—smells so bad that eating it is banned from many public places.
Photo Credits: cooking school courtesy Four Seasons Chiang Mai, chiles by Tonygers, floating market courtesy Abigail Silver/TAT, street market courtesy By permanently scatterbrained / flickr, exotic fruits by tatisol / iStockphoto