Tasting Thailand

Celebrate the distinctive flavors of Thailand through the eyes of an award-winning chef.

Andy Ricker, James Beard Award-winning chef, author and owner of the celebrated Pok Pok restaurants, fell in love with Thailand in his 20s and has been obsessed with its flavors ever since — from the balanced sweet-salty-spicy-sour cuisine of central Thailand that is so familiar to American palates to the herbaceous, often brothy dishes of northern Thailand where sticky rice is a prevalent staple.

Click the button below to discover culinary-inspired vacations in Thailand, or read on to learn about Andy Ricker’s advice on experiencing every nuance of this diverse and dynamic land.


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Q: What surprises people most about Thai cuisine?
What most Westerners know as “Thai food” is really from the central region. But there are huge differences between that and the cuisine of southern Thailand, the northeastern Isan region and the mountainous northern region.

Q: Is there a Thai dish that really shaped your views?
A: When I first visited Chiang Mai in 1992, some friends introduced me to a dish called kaeng het thawp. It’s a dish featuring seasonal wild mushrooms. It’s brothy — not quite a soup, not quite a curry — bitter, sour, salty and very herbaceous. It was unlike anything I had ever had.

Q: How did that impact you?
That dish triggered a lot of things: those mushrooms are only available in spring, which means the dish is seasonal; it’s only made in northern Thailand, so it’s regional; this particular recipe was created by one particular man in his restaurant, so it’s local. It changed my outlook on Thai food entirely.

Q: Is there another “gateway dish” to northern Thai cuisine?
That would be khao soi. Although it’s not exactly typical of northern Thai food, I’ve never met a Westerner who didn’t like it because it hits all the notes, with curried coconut milk and crispy, golden egg noodles.

Q: Thailand also has a burgeoning fine-dining scene. Do you have any recommendations?
It’s worth traveling to Bangkok just to eat at Chef David Thompson’s restaurant, nahm, within COMO Metropolitan Bangkok. (Our Tip: Get an insider’s glimpse into nahm and other world-renowned restaurants in Thailand in our print edition of Ultimate Experiences magazine. Contact us to receive your complimentary copy!)

Q: How do you find your most memorable meals?
When people think of dining in Thailand, they picture street food or fine dining. But some of my favorite experiences have been in small, family-owned restaurants facing the street.

Q: How can travelers get hands-on experiences with Thai cuisine?
In Chiang Mai, for example, nearly every hotel and bungalow has a cooking school. I think the most interesting ones are homestays, where you can spend a few days, go foraging and learn how to cook. My advice is to tell your hosts you want to learn how to make local cuisine like khao soi or [in northeastern Thailand] nam chim chaeo, so they’ll expand the menu beyond the expected papaya salad and pad thai.

Learn more about “Thai-licious” ingredients and flavors of Chiang Mai with Chef Andy Ricker (pictured on the left) and travel expert Daniel B. Fraser (pictured on the right), including the secrets to the perfect khao soi, in the video below.

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