Written by guest writer, Danielle Koffler, our resident expert on all things Thai! Check out more of Danielle’s writing on her blog entitled Wake Up and Dance.
I’ve noticed that foreigners in Thailand get stuck in a rut when it comes to food. I can’t help but roll my eyes every time someone orders another Pad Thai. I’ve eaten with people who ask for Pad Thai for lunch, dinner, and then lunch again the next day. I find this sad and absurd because Pad Thai is usually cooked poorly where tourists eat. No one should eat the same thing over and over again while traveling because there are so many other yummy dishes out there waiting to be tried. Part of the problem is that people just don’t know what to order, so here’s a few dishes you can eat, other than Pad Thai, while in Thailand or at a Thai restaurant at home.
Som Tum is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. I have yet to meet a Thai person who isn’t obsessed with this dish. Som Tum is made with shredded green papaya, garlic, chili peppers, fish sauce, sugar, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and long beans. All of these ingredients are put in a mortar and pounded a few times with a pestle to release the juices, and then served with a side of sticky rice.
I prefer Som Tum Thai which is sweet, has peanuts, and isn’t very fishy. If you don’t mind a fishy flavor you should give the Som Tum Blah a try. This version is very popular and has tiny crabs and more fish sauce in it. Som Tum is sold in restaurants and by street vendors, so you can pretty much pick some up everywhere. This dish is an absolute must while in Thailand. If you are afraid of spicy foods, just remember to ask for only one or two chili peppers.
Tom Yum Goong
This is the most famous Thai soup. If you get into a conversation about Thai food with a Thai person, they are inevitably going to ask if you’ve tried Tom Yum Goong. So try it!
Tom Yum Goong is a hot, spicy, and sour orange soup. The base is a stock flavored with lemongrass, kaffir limes, fish sauce, and chili peppers. Inside the soup you will find prawns (goong) and mushrooms. You don’t have to love this soup, but since it is such a staple in Thai cuisine, you at least have to taste it once.
This is my alternative to Pad Thai. It is my favorite noodle dish in Thailand. Pad Siew is made with flat wide noodles, a soy based sauce, and broccoli. I think chicken goes best with this dish, but pork or tofu are usually options as well. I always introduce new comers to Thai cuisine to Pad Siew, and have yet to get a bad review of it. If you are craving noodles, try this instead of Pad Thai. Please!!
This is a spicy dish so beware. Pad Gapow is made with chicken, basil, chili peppers, sugar, garlic, and fish sauce. It is typically served with rice and is one of the only spicy dishes I consistently order. I recommend getting a beer with this one; it tends to thwart the burning sensation a bit.
Pad Pak Boong Fai Dang
I never knew I could love a vegetable dish so much until I tasted Pad Pak Boong. This dish translates directly to Fried Vegetable Morning Glory Fire Red. You are guessing correctly if you think it might be a bit spicy. Pad Pak Boong doesn’t always have to have the fai dang (red fire) in it, and it probably won’t if you are a foreigner ordering it. Thai people know that our tolerance for spicy peppers is far below theirs, but let your server know if you want it spicy or not, just in case.
Morning glory is also known as water spinach for us. It isn’t wide spread here in the United States, but is wildly popular in Asia. I miss it greatly when I return home, so while I’m in Thailand I order this whenever I can. The morning glory in this dish is stir fried in a brown soy based sauce, which I recommend eating with some sticky rice to soak up the delicious sauce.
There you have it: five alternatives to eating Pad Thai! After trying these dishes you probably won’t want to go back to eating Pad Thai. Happy Travels!