--- Learn cooking techniques from across Asia with Diana Chan on the brand-new second season of Asia Unplated with Diana Chan, Thursdays at 8pm on SBS Food, or stream it on SBS On Demand. ---
A country should be able to flex its culinary muscles right down to its most affordable plates, including the food served in markets and street stalls.
Thailand beautifully embodies this principle – a country whose humblest dishes often make the most noise. Bright and cheerful, fresh and flavourful, there’s not much more we could ask from a cuisine.
1. Pad kee mow – drunken noodles
A relentlessly fiery noodle dish, hot from not only the wok but the reliance on peppercorns and chilli, pad kee mow is a noodle dish for the spice adoring.
The stir-fried chicken noodles have "flavours of a pad see ew with thick dark soy sauce, as well as fish sauce," according to Boon Low, co-owner of Melbourne's cult Thai restaurant Dodee Paidang (Sydney has outposts, too).
The difference with pad kee mow is the addition of Shaoxing wine, as well as more garlic, fresh chilies and Thai basil, affording for richer and spicier noodles. "It's a staple Thai stir-fry and the best ones are always on the streets of Thailand," says Low.
2. Prawn larb – making friends with salad
Larb, a popular type of food in Laos and northern Thailand, is a salad usually made with minced meat and sometimes seafood for a twist. It's paired with the likes of toasted rice, fresh herbs and green papaya.
Gary Mehigan, a self-professed obsessor of Thai food, quite enjoys making prawn larb.
"The essence of larb is its crunch, which is from the rice. It's a really good flavour carrier – anything you toast, like a grain, gives you a totally different flavour," says Mehigan.
3. Phoo pad phong – a go-to yellow curry
"I first had this dish in Thailand a few months ago in this little hut in Phuket," says Diana Chan, host of Asia Unplated with Diana Chan, about the best dish she ate in Thailand.
"Yellow curry basically starts off with a paste. You've got all these different ingredients – makrut lime, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, dried chillies and coriander as well."
A yellow curry base complements most proteins, but crab is a wise way to go.
4. Khao kha moo – pork leg on rice
Self explanatory dish names, we love them. Khao kha moo, rice and pork leg that’s first fried, then slow-braised so the meat falls off the bone, is a favourite of Oak Kunnalok, head chef at newly opened Melbourne restaurant Kekou.
Born and raised in Bangkok, Kunnalok loves "the richness and sweetness of the pork that goes together with the spiciness, sourness of the dipping sauce."
It's commonly served with a soft boiled egg, pickled mustard greens and Chinese broccoli.
"It's one of the best hawker foods in Thailand," says Kunnalok.
If in Bangkok, he recommends Kha Mu Trong Sung Restaurant in the CBD's Silom sub-district.
5. Pa thong ko – fried doughnuts with pandan custard
Just when you thought you were full and the last thing you could eat after a big meal is bread, in comes pa thong ko – fried doughnuts served with pandan custard.
"The fried bread, or doughnut, has Chinese origins," says Low, but "Thai people dip it into pandan custard for some sweetness".
It's not sickly sweet, rather the "perfect way to end and reaffirm fullness or enjoy it as a snack while walking the streets and discovering more food".
Pa thong ko is "best enjoyed in the Chinese districts of Thailand like Chinatown Bangkok where it's made in large woks for all to watch".