You know all about the beaches and islands in southern Thailand…the snorkeling, kayaking, and scuba diving. But what about after drying yourself off? While your stomach starts rumbling, you probably wonder, “what are the tastiest Thai dishes?”
As the unsung hero of Thai cuisine to the rest of the world, when you ask Thais about southern Thai food: everybody will tell Southern food doesn’t mess around. So, grab your utensils and prepare yourself for a spicy culinary journey. Here are seven southern Thai dishes that you must try when you’re in south:
1.Gaang Som, or sour curry. (แกงส้ม)
Gaang Som, or sour curry, is the staple food in the south. It is lighter than other curries as there is no coconut milk added to the soup. The curry paste for this soup is also used as the foundation to build other dishes on this list. Sour curry paste is usually made from a mixture of dried chilies and fresh chilies, fermented shrimp paste, and finger root. The finger root, or Chinese ginger, adds the tangy taste to the soup.
All the ingredients are mashed up a mortar and pestle with palm sugar. While making this light curry, tamarind paste and fish sauce are added to the stock for extra acidity and umami flavors. Various proteins and vegetables can be added ranging from river prawns, white fish fillets, to young coconut meat and fish eggs.
Our insider tip: In the south, it’s called Gaang Leung (แกงเหลือง) by the locals, because they add more turmeric in it to give the curry it’s yellow luster.
2.Fish innards in sour soup. (แกงไตปลา)
Fish innards in sour soup is a classic southern dish with humble beginnings. It was created utilizing the left-over parts of the fish. While leaving nothing to waste, fishermen would grill the innards and smaller fish over charcoal for added aroma and mix it into their curries. They would add lemongrass into the curry to reduces the briny smell. The smokey fish compliments the heat in the curry and is perfect with a bowl of rice.
Finished with crushed cashews for creaminess and crunch, this spicy curry is a treat for those that can handle a lot of heat. Traditionally, curries in the south were made spicier because poorer families would only need one spoonful of curry with a whole bowl of rice.
3.Ground Pork sautéed with yellow curry paste. (คั่วกลิ้ง)
Ground Pork and yellow curry paste are stir-fried together. The paste releases its aromatics as the pork is slowly cooked, over low heat to pick up all the roasted curry flavors. The tender meat is finished with fresh herbs, such as julienned kaffir leaf and chilies. This dish is mouth-watering as the heat and curry flavor are in every nook and cranny of the pork.
4.Stir-Fried Bitter Bean with Shrimp (ผัดสะตอกุ้งสดใส่กะปิ)
Bitter bean, สะตอ, is only grown in the south and rich in complex carbohydrates. Fermented shrimp paste is stir-fried with shallots for sweetness along with a rich umami depth. Seasoned in the end with fish sauce and fresh chilis, the bitterness pairs perfectly with crisp shrimp. The chilies give the dish it’s initial spicy kick but is rounded out by shrimp paste and sweetness from the other ingredients.
5.Hat Yai Fried Chicken (ไก่ทอดหาดใหญ่)
It’s our favorite way to eat chicken: juicy with a crunchy exterior and subtly sweet. The chicken is marinated in soy sauce, coriander, pepper, palm sugar, and cumin, the lightly-floured chicken is fried to perfection and paired with deep-fried shallots. It’s perfect with sticky rice.
6.Squid in black ink soup (หมึกต้มน้ำดำ)
Using only the freshest squid, they are boiled releasing their ink into the soup. Shallots are boiled in light stock for sweetness. This quick and simple dish is seasoned with palm sugar and fish sauce in the end. As the soup gently reduces, the palm sugar caramelizes the squid with fish sauce and shallots. We like eating it with a traditional Thai green seafood sauce, made from chilies, garlic, pickled garlic, and coriander.
7.Stir-fried Melinjo leaves with Egg (ผักเหลียงผัดไข่) or Stir-fried Acacia leaves in Egg (ไข่เจียวชะอม)
While everything on the table is bold with in-your-face flavors, the spice, acidity, saltiness, and sweetness may require a quick break sometimes. Local leafy greens are stir-fried with egg giving your palette a chance to recover. When they are stir-fried, the burst of green freshness and creaminess of the egg will help you reset and dive into more Thai food.
The Melinjo leaves, ผักเหลียง (Pak Leang), are slightly bitter and toothsome: this local plant is high in antioxidants and resveratrol. The Climbing wattle, ชะอม (Cha-om), is high in Vitamin A and aids in digestion. No table is complete without some vegetables to accompany your curry.
If you would like to learn more about local Thai cuisine and are near Khao Sok, join us in our organic farm cooking experience!