Eating Thai Food | Guide to Thai Cuisine Interview with Mark Wiens

A photo of Som Tam Thai - Thai cuisine

Eating traditional Korean food with Mark & Audrey

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting up with Mark Wiens in Seoul, South Korea.  As an expert in travel and food in Asia, it was Mark’s first time to Korea and I figured nothing short of a traditional feast in Seoul would be sufficient.  Mark runs the ever popular Migrationology travel blog showcasing his passion for travel and food.  

I’m often dreaming of Thailand these days and I couldn’t think of a better person to interview regarding eating Thai cuisine:

A photo of Som tam thai - Thai cuisine

Q1)  I’ve often heard individuals mention Thai food as their favourite cuisine.  What do you think sets it apart from others and makes it one of the most popular destinations for tourists?

I think it’s the range of vibrant flavors that makes Thai cuisine so remarkable and appetizing. Nearly every Thai dish is balanced in flavor, a little sour, spicy, salty, and a often a sweet aftertaste. All your taste buds alive and aroused with each bite is why so many people love Thai food!

Another reason would be the fresh ingredients, the herbs like holy and sweet basil, lemongrass and kaffir limes leaves, and other tropical ingredients like fresh coconut milk and wonderful fruit.

A photo of Pla chon lui suan - Thai cuisine

Q2)  Many know you from you flagship travel blog Migrationology but you’ve also got another fantastic site Eating Thai Food.  What inspired you to make this site and what can readers expect to find?

When I first started blogging I was traveling all around, but eventually I decided to remain in Thailand (mostly Bangkok) on a long term basis. After staying in Thailand for a few months I soon realized I had so many Thai food photos and Thai dining experiences that there was no way to publish it all on my original blog.

A passion for eating paired with so much Thai food content was the reason for beginning a site strictly dedicated to eating all sorts of delicious Thai food. You can expect to find top Thai food lists, restaurant reviews (mostly Bangkok), tips on how and what to order, and lots of food photos to get you excited about exploring Thai cuisine!

Thai soup with noodles - Thai cuisine

Q3)  One cannot sepearte Thai cuisine from street food.  What are some dishes you recommend to others experiencing Thai food on the streets of Bangkok for the very first time?

You’re right about that, Thai street food is everywhere you look and it’s quick, convenient and delicious.

Here are a few of the most popular local Thai dishes you shouldn’t miss in Bangkok:

Pad Gaprao Gai Kai Dao (Stir fried chicken with holy basil and a fried egg on top) – This is like the hamburger of Thailand, a tasty dish that’s widely available and easy to eat on the go.

Kuay Teow Tom Yum (Noodles in hot and sour soup) – Hot noodle carts can be found on just about every street in Bangkok serving freshly boiled noodles in flavorful broth. It’s then up to you to add vinegar, chili flakes, fish sauce, or even a spoon of sugar to make it taste even better!

Som Tam Thai (Green papaya salad) – The texture of the green papaya is crisp and it is dressed in lime juice and fish sauce and laced in chilies for an extra kick you’ll love!

Q4)  For those who are bold (in terms of their willingness to try exotic or spicy delicacies) what are some dishes that you would recommend? 

First of all, if you really enjoy eating spicy, you can bump up the heat by ordering everything “phet mak mak,” or very spicy!

Here are a couple dishes you should try if you’re looking for exotic or hot dishes:

Goong Dten – Translated to “dancing shrimp,” that’s exactly what it is – live mini shrimp are mixed with dressing and served still wriggling as you eat them !

Larb Neua Dip – You may have heard of normal larb (common minced pork salad), but there are other versions, like this one made with raw beef and blood.

Som Tam Pla Raa – Som tam as mentioned above is Thai green papaya salad, but instead of that limey fresh dressing like in the other version, this variety includes the famous “pla raa,” or pickled preserved fish. The flavor is pungent and can be intense.

A local Thai market

Q5)  What do you think is the ultimate meal plan for a hardcore budget backpacker with adventurous tastebuds roaming around Bangkok for the day?

Stick to the streets and get away from the main touristy areas of Bangkok to eat. Head into one of the local fresh markets like Khlong Toey or Pak Khlong Talat where you can find great local style food on the cheap. Look for street stalls that are buzzing with lots of action so you know the food is fresh and good.

If you’re really on a budget, you may want to go to a “khao rod gaeng,” stall that serves rice and a variety of pre-made curries. You can get a huge plate of rice and a few different dishes on top for 25 to 35 THB (around $1).

Khao Neow Mamuang (Sticky rice and mango) - One of the most prized Thai desserts is sweet sticky rice paired with ripe yellow mango and doused in coconut cream.

Q6)  For those with a sweet tooth, what are some dishes they could sample to fix that craving?

If you enjoy sweets, you’ll have the time of your life in Thailand as there is such a variety of desserts and sweet snacks. Many Thai desserts are flavored with fruit and rich coconut cream.

Khao Neow Mamuang (Sticky rice and mango) – One of the most prized Thai desserts is sweet sticky rice paired with ripe yellow mango and doused in coconut cream. I also love Khao New Toorien – durian replacing the mango!

Khanom Takoh (Coconut cream pudding)

Fuktong Sangkaya (Pumpkin filled with egg custard)

Itim Gati (fresh Thai coconut ice cream, sometimes served with sticky rice and roasted peanuts)

Q7)  Eating Thai food back home can be pricey at times.  Do you have any suggestions for a farang looking to master a few dishes before heading back home?

While Thai food and cooking really focuses on balancing all flavors, it’s really up to the personal eater (or chef) to determine what’s balanced.

Thais often order their dishes exactly to their liking, extra sour or sweet or extra spicy. For this reason it’s important to get a feel for what Thai food should taste like, and when you cook it’s necessary to sample until each dish is the way you want it to taste.

Thai cooking is not only about using the right amount of ingredients, but also about using the correct levels of heat and methods of preparation. For instance grinding chilies and garlic with a mortar and pestle really makes a difference to bring out the flavor!

Overall, have fun with Thai cooking and make everything so it’s most appealing to yourself or whoever you’re cooking for!

A photo of some normal Thai food

Q8)  Finally, this is an unfair question but what would be your ultimate full course Thai meal if you had to make such a decision?

This is a jumbled mixture of different dishes from around the country, so it would be hard to actually eat all these dishes in one single restaurant meal, but here are a few of my favorites!

Pla Chon Lui Suan – Steamed snakehead fish with vegetables and herbs

Pad Sata – Stir fried sink beans!

Gaeng Som – Hot and sour southern Thai soup (a southern Thai food staple)

Pad Pak Gachet – Stir fried water mimosa

Nam Prik Kaphi – Shrimp paste chili sauce eaten with fresh or steamed vegetables

I’d end my meal with a mega chunk of fresh durian!

Keep up with all of Mark’s adventures related to food and travel by following MigrationologyEating Thai Food and subscribing to his Migrationology youtube travel channel.  Additionally, one can connect with him on his facebook fan page for both sites (Migrationology Facebook Fan Page & Eating Thai Food Facebook Fan Page) and on twitter.

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  14. says: khushbu Jes

    I just love Thai cuisines as cooking of Thai dishes reflects simply on the characteristics of a waterborne lifestyle basically the aquatic animals, plants and herbs were the major ingredients of it…

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  17. Great interview. Answer to Q7 would have driven me crazy if I hadn’t just completed a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai. Before that, however, each time I tried cooking pad thai (using about 50 different recipes) and it was inedible. (Bear in mind, I eat anything.) After learning from proper Thai cooks I’m finally able to ingest and enjoy my Thai cooking. The recipe from the school is on my blog (at the bottom of this link):
    http://somewhereorbust.com/thai-succeed-battle-perfect-pad-thai/
    Try it out and you’ll be emailing me for the green curry recipe next.

  18. says: Matt

    Thai is probably one of the best South-East Asian food. So tasty and love the fish. Plus my version Thai-Salmon curry is so good.

  19. says: Bodlagz

    I think you have probably tried it already Sam, but while we are discussing food I would like to recommend that you try Namtok Moo with sticky rice, it’s usually quite spicy and the taste is hard to describe but it is sort of tangy, bitter and sweet all at the same time. Great with a beer or a whiskey, once you get the taste for it you just want more and more.

  20. says: Vicky

    The food looks absolutely AMAZING! I loooove thai food and can’t wait to travel to Thailand and try all these tasty looks dishes (except of course for the live squirming shrimp – think I’ll pass on that one). Would love to take some cooking classes in Thailand to master the cooking technique and get my hands on some authentic recipes!

  21. I met Mark in Bangkok last year and he really is an awesome guy that knows his food — he had me eating stuff I couldn’t pronounce in a market I never even knew of just around the corner where I was staying. We’re talking ridiculously good food and ridiculously low prices.

  22. says: Jarmo

    Thai food is soo good, that’s one of the main things I still miss from Asia. I also tried the live shrimps, it was ummm interesting, but actually quite nice 😉

  23. Because my wife Tamara worked in Korea for three years, and because I know she thinks of her time there very affectionately – I was looking for signs of things to make me feel the same way too as I read this. The photo of the two women smiling across the market stall does that for me. 🙂

    One thing Tamara tells me is that it is important to know the Korean for ‘Go easy on the hot sauce’. 😉

    1. LOL, going easy on the hot sauce is definitely something worth knowing in Korea 😛 I’m very fortunate that I do enjoy spicy foods otherwise I’d be in trouble over here.

  24. says: Marnie Byod

    Wow, another great adventure again! The foods you eat looks good but it looks weird for me. Their foods are really different. Love to try to eat this one.

  25. says: Andrew

    I like a few of the places in town and in my hometown in the US that claim to be Thai food. I enjoy spicy a lot, which they can usually provide. I have never been to Thailand, but definitely look forward to going.

  26. I was recently telling a friend about the use of congealed blood as an ingredient in Thailand. He seemed to think I was making that up, since he’d just been there for a quick 1 week vacation and hadn’t seen it (though he’s a restaurant eater, not a street food eater). I’m sending him this post as proof!

  27. says: Laurence

    Man, that fish looks awesome. Great use of depth of field. I love Asian food, although I’ve never been to Thailand so never had the “real thing” in terms of Thai.

  28. says: Natalie

    I have never tasted authentic Thai food, just the fast food version which I suspect is nothing like the original. It is hard to find Thai food in Turkey, all seems to be Chinese. It is on my bucket list but I can not see me crossing it off anytime soon. Great interview.

    1. Thanks Natalie,

      It can certainly be hard to find authentic regional cuisine overseas at times. If you ever get a chance to visit Thailand you’ll have options galore 🙂

  29. That was a fun meal we all had together!

    Mark, these dishes all look so delightfully tasty – I can almost savour them just looking at the pictures! Though I’m not sure I’d stick around for dessert if you were slicing up some durian… 😉