Seafood plays a major role in Thai cuisine, and whether it’s deep-fried, steamed, curried or roasted, ocean favorites get even tastier with Thai spices. Thai seafood specialties might include salted fish on the street or a plate of steamed clams in a sit-down restaurant, but you won’t find this distinct fusion of spicy, tangy, sour and sweet flavors anywhere else on earth!
1. ASIAN SEA BASS IN LEMON AND CHILI SAUCE (PLA KAPONG NEUNG MANAO) – Pattaya
Dive into this zingy restaurant staple with a fork AND a spoon because you won’t want to miss a single drop of flavor. Preparation is pretty simple considering the mouth-popping flavors it produces. The dish is prepared by merging a steamed Asian sea bass, or barramundi, into a lemony broth fused with garlic, chilies, cilantro, green onion and fish sauce. The fish is generally served inside an oblong metal platter, bathed in the broth, which is kept bubbling hot by a small, tabletop fire. Take your time devouring each bite because the more the fish simmers, the richer the flavors become!
Find the freshest pla kapong neung manao at Naklua Fish Market in Pattaya, where you can choose your fish and have it cooked for you, too!
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2. CRAB YELLOW CURRY (PHOO PAD PONG KAREE) – Chiang Mai
A warming blend of dry curry powder and fresh crab makes phoo pad pong karee one of Thailand’s most popular comfort foods. Ingredients are stir-fried with onion and red pepper and then rounded out with a spoonful of soy sauce, a splash of oyster sauce and a dollop of chili paste. Eggs and milk are added at the end to bind everything together in a creamy, satisfying masterpiece. Most places prepare crab yellow curry with already-shelled crab meat, but don’t be surprised if you have to do the messy work yourself!
Try some of the best crab yellow curry at Lemongrass Thai Restaurant in Chiang Mai.
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3. STIR-FRIED CLAMS IN ROASTED CHILI SAUCE (HOY LAI PAD PRIK PAO) – Phuket
Flavors vary from vendor to vendor, but a base of garlic, chili paste and Thai holy basil make this dish a street food favorite. Clams are stir-fried until they open and then further cooked in a creamy sauce, kicked up a notch with a handful of red chilies. Each morsel soaks up the rich, spicy sauce so that scooping out each tender bite is effortless.
One of the best places to try fresh clams at prices everyone can afford is at Food Market Restaurant in Phuket.
4. CRISPY MUSSEL OMELET (HOI TOD) – Bangkok
Hoi tod is like an omelet gone wild, and you’ll want to get in on the chaos. For this street food staple, eggs, combined with garlic, oyster sauce and a flour mixture, are fried in oil to form a crispy outer layer, and mussels are added to the creamy center as the flavors meld together. Once crispy and golden on the edges, the entire omelet is topped with bean sprouts and green onion to bring the dish together. Pair it with a bowl of rice, and dig in for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
You know a place is good when it’s got the actual dish in its name! Pop by Hoi-Tod Chaw-Lae Restaurant in Bangkok to try some of the best.
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5. BLOOD COCKLES (HOI KRAENG) – Koh Samui
Blood cockles may sound and look a bit intimidating, but ask any street vendor for a sample (and a lesson on how to eat them), and you’ll be hooked. These tiny-shelled delicacies are boiled or steamed in their own natural juices and paired with a dipping sauce that contains a zesty combination of garlic, chili and lime. Don’t let the “blood” moniker scare you away! It hails from the color of the liquid that oozes from the meat as you crack the shell open. Poke the bite-sized chunk with a skewer, which your friendly vendor will provide, dunk it in the sauce, and pop it in your mouth. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll gobble up the rest of your newly-loved street treat in no time!
One of the best places to try blood cockles (and learn how to eat them) is at Fisherman’s Village Bophut in Koh Samui.
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