New to Thai Cuisine? Try These 5 Popular “Starter” Dishes!

Thai cuisine is world renowned for encompassing a medley of intricate and delicate flavors using a variety of spices and medicinal herbs. Depending on the region of Thailand you are in, the style of food can change drastically based on what is in season. Since most Thai dishes include rice or noodles, it is also common practice to eat with a fork and spoon as opposed to a fork and knife as in most other countries.

While a lot of traditional Thai food uses generous amounts of chilies (making the dish very hot!) many regions focus more on flavor and presentation. Here are some popular dishes you’ll find all around Phuket, including at AKA Thailand’s Contender Cafe. They are not to miss!

1. Pad Thai


Pad Thai is probably the first dish people think of on the topic of Thai food, and with good reason. This traditional dish can be made with pork, chicken, prawns or vegetarian style, and is recognized for it’s delicious and tangy but subtle peanut flavor. It is served with a side of crush peanuts, lime halves and spring onions.

2. Pad Med Ma Muang (Chicken Cashew Nut)


Chicken Cashew Nut is our most popular dish at the Contender Cafe. This is a great choice for children or picky eaters as the dish is simple and tasty, without any overpowering elements.

3. Pad See Ew


Pad See Ew is a Chinese influenced stir-fry noodle dish. Normally made with rice noodles, kale, egg, soy sauce and your choice of meat, this is a popular breakfast choice among Thai people. With a few minor changes, Pad See Ew can be converted into a gravy-style soup called “Rad Na.”

4. Massaman Curry


Another local favorite – massaman curry is a spicy coconut curry soup made with hearty potatoes, onions and peanuts with your choice of meat. It can be eaten as a soup or served with, or over rice. Every restaurant makes it a little different and for the most part this is just one dish you can’t go wrong with ordering, especially in Phuket!

5. Pad Krapow (Basil Chicken)


Another best seller at the Contender Cafe – this delicious dish is the perfect mix of spice and flavor. It utilizes oyster sauce, soy sauce, chilies and basil to create a mouthwatering, sweet and savory meal that you certainly won’t forget.

Honorable Mentions

Yes, you’re right! How could we make a list of popular Thai food and not include Tom Yum and Som Tam? Well here they are!


Tom Yum soup, made with chicken or seafood, is practically a staple at every Thai restaurant around the world. Lemongrass, fish sauce and kaffir lime leaves give it a unique tangy flavor, and it’s a perfect substitute for chicken noodle soup if you are feeling under the weather. The added spice will clear you right up!


Som Tam (green papaya salad) is widely available at restaurants and almost every street cart you’ll see on the road. There are many variations of Som Tam and it is definitely a dish that changes regionally. Some are simple vegetarian sweet and sour variations and others include any and everything from fermented fish sauce and dried shrimp to freshwater snails and sliced sausages. This northeastern (Issan) specialty is a favorite among Thai people and a super versatile dish that always packs a punch!