THAI FOOD - Family Favorites
Updated: Feb 25
Thai cuisine was already something we LOVED back home, thanks to Vancouver's many authentic Thai restaurants we enjoyed dining at over the years. We eagerly looked forward to eating in Thailand, excited to try old favorites from our last trip and discover new dishes with the kids. Even when we had a kitchen, we ate out more often than not. It was hard to resist when Thai food is not only delicious but also super cheap! We are talking less than $2 CAD for a filling plate of food!
The only downside to Thai food is that it can be a little TOO spicy even for those of us who like a little heat. You just never know how spicy something will be until you try it. It's so subjective...what's a little spicy to the Thais can be burning hot to us foreigners. This was more of a problem when we ate at local establishments, where the kids stuck to eating safer choices like noodle soup or fried rice. Tourist restaurants were more kid-friendly in this regard, but toning down the spice a little TOO much sometimes made the food taste bland and boring, which REAL Thai cuisine is anything but! Still, all in all, it wasn't hard to find yummy non-spicy food and even the kids grew to like a little touch of spice once in a while.
WHERE WE ATE
For cheap, fresh, tasty food and lots of variety, night markets were one of our favorite places to eat. We could all choose to eat different things and the kids could see what they want to try, instead of blindly ordering from a menu. Also there is less risk of HANGRY kids unleashing their wrath as food is prepared instantly with minimal waiting. FYI, we spent 2 months in Thailand eating a ton of street food, and no one in the family had any GI issues. The concern is often more about contaminated hands rather than contaminated food, especially with kids, so hand sanitizing pre-meals is a must for us. We also did stay away from the night market sushi, as beautifully displayed and tempting as it was. That was an obvious "no, thank you!"
Another place we loved eating was at the shopping mall food courts! We used to avoid eating at mall food courts back home, with mostly fast food, mediocre quality and overpriced options. In Thailand, it takes the food court experience to a whole other level. It's like an indoor night market, with prices not much higher than street food stalls. Local choices are plentiful and quality is high for what you pay for. The Mall Bangkapi in Bangkok had an AMAZING food court. We ate every day for 4 days, at the mall, which happened to be 5 mins from our airbnb.
It's not always easy to find a place that, as a family we ALL love, but there were a few stand-out restaurants that became everyone's favorite. In Chiang Mai, it was hands down LEMONGRASS. It's a popular place that gets packed with tourists, but serves authentic Thai cuisine at mid-range prices, which is still way cheaper than what you would pay back home. It was so good we ate here 3 times, even though it wasn't close to our place. The staff were very friendly and kind, which isn't always the case at a tourist restaurant as busy as this.
Also in Chiang Mai, an honorable mention needs to be made to AUM, an amazing vegetarian restaurant with a very healthy and delicious menu selection. We aren't vegetarian, but we have serious veggie cravings once in a while which were easily satisfied at AUM.
FRUIT SHAKES: At the cheapest smoothie place in Chiang Mai, for 20 baht (less than $1 CAD) you can get a giant, fresh fruit shake. The kids' favorite flavor combo was mint lime. It was one of the ways that helped them acclimatize to the heat...basically we bribed them with fruit shakes for those hot and sweaty afternoon outings when there was no other way of convincing them to leave our air conditioned apartment with a pool.
SKEWERS: Grilled meat on a stick, usually comes with peanut sauce, a cucumber/onion salad, and a piece of toast, nice for wiping clean the dipping sauce in the end. Moo ping skewers, grilled pork skewers marinated in coconut milk, fish sauce and lemongrass, were also quite yummy and easily found all over the streets.
MANGO STICKY RICE: Molly went a little mango-crazy our first 2 weeks in Thailand. This was one of those dishes she ate lots of. So much so that she grew tired of it towards the end of our time in Thailand.
ROTI: Lots of varieties like nutella, chocolate or a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Also comes in savory curry chicken. When made right, it's not too greasy, a little crispy on the outside, and slightly chewy on the inside. Owen tried several and enjoyed them all.
SPRING ROLLS: One of Owen's favorites. This kid likes anything deep fried.
MASSAMAN CURRY: Though we initially ordered this for ourselves, it became a huge hit with the kids, especially Molly. This is found more often in the south of Thailand. It's a very rich, yet mild curry with a nutty flavour and a very unique blend of spices. It is quite different from the other Thai curries and it will not leave your mouth on fire. Every massaman curry we tried was vastly different from the last. Some really nutty, others more sweet and tomatoey. One of the best ones we had was in Yawee restaurant in Koh Lanta. Also nice at NIC's Restaurant in Chiang Mai (below).
BUGS: At first, we thought it was the novelty of it all, but both kids genuinely loved snacking on bugs. Bamboo worms were their favorites, but they also liked grasshoppers, and crickets. Something about the crispy texture and the seasoning they liked. They were begging us like it was candy every time we saw a bug stand at the night market. I was half proud, half disgusted watching my kids crunch up those bugs in sheer delight. Next thing you know, they are asking me if they can eat live bugs off the streets. They actually asked...! Uh, NO, needs to be cooked. That's where I draw the line!
KHAO SOI: Hands down, our all time favorite: a thin, soupy, yellow curry with flat egg noodles, and meat. This northern Thai dish is a bit spicy, and topped with pickled mustard greens, crispy egg noodles, red onions and a wedge of lime. This is will be so hard to find or replicate back home! They also have Khao Soi in Laos, but it looks and tastes completely different!
PAPAYA SALAD:. What I love about this salad is that it's always made fresh on the spot and you can request how much seasoning and spice you want. I prefer it more limey and less sweet. It's one of those things that tastes different every single time you order it, which can be a little frustrating if you want the exact same flavours each time. When made just the way you like it, it is incredible. I had the BEST BATCH in Yawee, Koh Lanta, 3 times in a row!
PAD KRA PAO: This pork and basil stir fry served over steamed rice looks pretty harmless but be warned, it can be one of the spiciest dishes! The basil really adds so much flavour to this simple dish.
PAD THAI: The most popular Thai dish among tourists. Stir fried noodles, veg, meat and egg, topped with bean sprouts, crunchy peanuts, and a fresh squirt of lime. Usually you add how much red chilli pepper you want to sprinkle in the end, so it's a safe choice for kids too. Peter has probably had this dish more than anything else. Some of the best he's had has been at the night markets, and on the streets.
SALAD ROLLS: When we got tired of eating spicy curries or stir/deep fried food, fresh salad rolls with rice paper and veggies was a nice alternative.
TOM YUM: We didn't have this as often as we thought we would. It's a spicy number that must be ordered with caution! Seafood tom yum was Peter's favorite. This may look like an expensive dish from a fancy restaurant, but we got this at the mall food court for a very reasonable price (less than $4 CAD).
GREEN CURRY: I've tried several and it was one of my favorite dishes, even though it was always a little more spicy than I was comfortable with. While we can find restaurants in Vancouver that makes decent green curry, you can't find those green, golf-ball sized Thai eggplants anywhere, which, in my humble opinion, makes the dish that much more delicious.
Sometimes all the kids wanted to eat was something simple and familiar like french fries, grilled corn on the cob, or a REAL baguette. They even craved kimchi after our time in Korea. But overall, they embraced Thai food more than we thought they would and they always found something they liked. Their little taste buds are constantly evolving and surprising us with what they will try and what they like.