With its masterful use of ingredients and cooking techniques, Thai cuisine has made a name for itself as one of the most diverse and delicious types of food in the world. From Tom Yum Goong to Pad Thai, there are more than a hundred dishes that comprise this Asian sensation. All of them smell different, taste different, and cater to a wide variety of palates. Although Thai cuisine can be best described as aromatic, tasty, and colourful, is a dish truly from Thailand when it isn’t spicy?
Thai cuisine is known for the different levels of spiciness present in most of its dishes, ranging from mild to “my tongue’s onfire.” The spicy nature of Thai food can prove to be dangerous, as eating at a Thai marketplace or restaurant without a proper grasp of the country’s cuisine can lead you to getting a dish that’s hotter than you expected it to be.
The spice level countdown
If you ever find yourself in Thailand, here are the five hottest dishes you should watch out for. Whether you’re a spicy food enthusiast or someone that can barely tolerate it, it’s a good idea to learn which dishes are packing the most heat:
#5 – The bottom of the heap: Tom Laeng
While Tom Laeng may be at the bottom of this list, it still isn’t something to be messed with. For starters, this dish uses a generous helping of green chillies spring onions for an aromatic and flavorful experience. However, if you’re brave enough to take on the heat, you’ll be rewarded with delicious, tender slabs of pork that were boiled long enough that they fell off the bone.
#4 – Heat that you can smell: Gaeng Som
The heat that comes from a boiling pot of Gaeng Som is so strong that you’ll smell the spiciness long before you even see it. Hailing from the south of Thailand, this standout orange curry is as hot as it looks, and is a must-try for those who want soup-like curry that packs a punch. Gaeng Som uses bird’s-eye chillies for a heat level that’s so high it could probably burn your hair off. That said, a Thai dish isn’t just known for being hot, but also for the way it plays with other flavors. In a bowl of Gaeng Som, you’ll find tamarind and shrimp paste. These ingredients give the curry its distinctive orange colour, as well as sour and savory flavors. The main meats used in Gaeng Som are fish and shrimp, so if you’re looking for a seafood curry with high heat, this dish is definitely it.
#3 – Atomic heat: Som Tam
Now that we’re in the top three, it’s best to continue your quest for spicy food in Thailand with a bowl of Som Tam. Depending on where you get it, Som can range from hot to atomic, which makes it perfect for anyone looking for a salad with a kick that comes as hard as a hit from Buakaw himself. This spicy salad is comprised of a tangy, unripened papaya, salt, lime juice, coconut sugar, fish sauce, and a liberal helping of chilli peppers. As intimidating as the heat level may seem, there’s no reason to overlook the flavor balance of this dish, because of its sweet and spicy nature.
#2 – Full force: Gaeng Kua Kling
Another dish from the south of Thailand is number 2 on this list. A word of warning: expect no less than near-unbearable levels of spiciness from Gaeng Kua Kling. This dry curry holds nothing back when it comes to delivering trademark Thai spices, bringing tears to the eyes of those who dare to try it. Together with chilli paste made of chilies, peppers, lemongrass, galangal, salt, shrimp paste, and turmeric, the dry curry paste is roasted in a pan, with pork, chicken, beef, or fish as the meat options. They say that the curry paste is so hot that it only takes a few seconds in the pan for the smell of the curry’s heat to reach you, even if you’re a few meters away. Remember, there’s no foreigner-friendly version of Gaeng Kua Kling, so be prepared for the full force of the dish’s heat when you order it.
#1 – Red alert: Gaeng Tai Pla
Legend has it this dish is so hot that when you order it, a waiter will ask you twice or thrice if you’re sure you want it. This is an exceptional case because Thai servers don’t seem to care much about heat, unless the words “Gaeng Tai Pla” come out of your mouth. When ordering this curry, expect to deal with the highest level of heat that can be found in any Thai dish throughout the country. The standard bowl of Gaeng Tai Pla is comprised of fermented fish innards, fish, pumpkin, yardlong beans, bamboo shoots, and eggplants which deliver a certain level of saltiness. The dish’s devastating heat is made with dried chillies, galangal, turmeric, and kaffir leaves. Those four ingredients bring the strongest heat to the table. Should you find yourself brave enough to go toe-to-toe with the hottest dish in all of Thailand, make sure you pair your Gaeng Tai Pla with a carton of milk or two.
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