Thai food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. For centuries, Thai chefs have been in search of the perfect balance between the five main tastes - sourness, sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and spiciness - in the dishes they prepare and over the course of the whole meal that they serve. If globalisation has had a sole benefit for the human race, it is that it permitted Thai cuisine to travel and be enjoyed all around the world, though it’s never quite the same as it is in its home country.
Most of the dishes presented in our Top 10 Thai Food are available throughout Thailand; only a few of them are considered specialties of Southern Thailand and Samui Island. You could sample all this delicious fare while on holiday in Samui, and even learn how to prepare them in one of the many Thai cooking schools on offer on this famous island in the Gulf of Thailand.
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Being an island, it is obvious that seafood ranks number one on our top 10 Thai food in Koh Samui. The presence of a large protected area – Angthong Marine National Park – a few kilometres northwest of Samui’s coasts makes the waters surrounding the island pretty rich in marine life. In Samui, you can feast on fish, shellfish, crab, lobster, squid, prawn, and seaweed freshly caught on a daily basis. Prepared Thai-style, with tamarind, lemon, ginger or basil coconut sauces, Samui seafood is second-to-none in popularity.
Kalamae is a sweet, sticky candy made of glutinous rice flour, palm sugar, and coconut cream. This delicious Thai dessert is a specialty of southern Thailand and more specifically from Samui due to the many coconut tree plantations that were one of the most important economic resources in Samui before the advent of tourism. Kalamae is the Thai response to French caramel. The most notable place to find it is at Hin Taa & Hin Yai daily market, which features several stands selling this product. It can also be found at most of fresh markets around Samui.
Tom yum (also spelled tom yam) is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. The original recipe of this clear, spicy and sour soup comes from northeastern Thailand and Laos. Its ever-growing popularity in Thailand and Southeast Asia has seen the original recipe slightly modified, depending on the region it is prepared in. The favoured tom yum in Samui is obviously prepared with seafood and shrimps added to required fresh ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, and crushed chili peppers. When ordering tom yum in a restaurant, be aware that the Thai version of this soup is very spicy, so it is best to ask for a mildly-spiced version of this flavourful dish.
Khao phad means ‘fried rice’ in Thai. It is almost considered a farang (‘foreigner’ in Thai) dish due to the fact it is not spicy. The Thai answer to fast food, khao phad is a flexible dish due to the fact it can be prepared with a great choice of additional ingredients, including chicken, pork, prawn, and crab (it also can be vegetarian). Originally from central Thailand, the basic ingredients are jasmine rice, egg, garlic, oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt, and sugar. All the ingredients are stir-fried in a wok, and the dish is served with accompaniments like cucumber slices, salad, lime, and tomato slices.
Phad Thai is another extremely popular dish in Thailand. This stir-fried noodle dish was introduced to Siam during the Ayutthaya Kingdom era and is believed to be of Chinese and/or Vietnamese origin. Its basic ingredients are rice-noodle, egg, tofu, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, shallot, red chili pepper, palm sugar, and soybean. In a similar way as khao pad, phad Thai can be adapted according to the region in which it is prepared. Other ingredients could be added, from chicken to shrimp to crab. Available in Thai restaurants, it also is one of the favourite street food dishes.
Kai phad med ma muang
Its name may sound difficult to pronounce, yet kai phad med ma muang – most commonly known as ‘chicken cashew nuts’ in English – is also one of the favourite dishes among visitors to Thailand. Made of dried chili, red/yellow/green bell peppers, onion, spring onion, and Thai herbs, stir-fried with chicken and cashew nuts, it is a delicious introduction to Thai cuisine. Served with white rice and usually reasonably spiced, it blends a great range of flavours that can please everyone.
Originally from Laos, som tam is a cold salad common throughout Southeast Asia. Usually eaten with barbecued chicken and sticky rice, its main ingredients are hot chili, palm sugar, fish sauce, and sour lime, all pounded with a clay (or granite) mortar and pestle before being added to a finely cut papaya (or mango, carrot, or other firm vegetable) salad. Other ingredients, such as dried shrimps (or crab), tomatoes, yard-long beans, raw Thai eggplant, and chopped roasted peanuts, are also added to the recipe. Som tam is a very convivial dish, commonly shared in groups of friends or family.
Satay is a fare of seasoned barbecued meat – chicken, pork, beef, fish, goat or mutton – served on a skewer and served with peanut sauce. This dish originally comes from Java, in Indonesia, and is nowadays common in many Southeast Asian countries. Street food being very prevalent in Thailand, satay can be found almost everywhere on roadside stands, and in restaurants and markets. In Samui, you could sample satay at Walking Street markets held weekly in the main resort towns: Chaweng, Lamai, Bophut and Maenam.
Tom kha kai
Tom kha kai – chicken galangal soup – is a delicious spicy and sour dish. Common to Lao and Thai traditional cuisines, its main ingredients are coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime, lemon grass, coriander, straw mushrooms, lime juice, chili pepper, and chicken. Coconut milk enhances the flavours of the herbs used in the preparation of this soup, which is one of the favourite dishes for vacationers visiting Thailand.
Massaman curry is a Muslim dish generally served with beef or chicken, but can sometimes be served with pork. Known in Thailand since the 17th century, the origins of this dish are unclear: created at the cosmopolitan court of Ayutthaya or Southern Thai fare influenced by Malay and Indian cuisine; nobody knows exactly. Anyway, this succulent dish - composed of potatoes, carrots, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, mace, and nutmeg - is a hearty mildly-spicy stew, usually eaten with white rice, which became one of the most enjoyed dishes all around Thailand.