If you really want to experience Thailand, you have to do so with all five senses. The most enjoyable of these to indulge is the sense of taste, which means eating what the locals like. With such a large expatriate population and dozens of expat-run restaurants, you could arguably do this by dining on fish and chips, though you would missing out on some excellent Thai food.
Pattaya is quite a multicultural place, attracting Thai nationals from across the country, each of whom brings the best of their region’s cuisine. A lot of people have moved here from the rural province of Issan, bringing their spicy and sour specialities with them. The coastal city also enjoys the fresh seafood of the Gulf of Thailand, making the 10 Best Local Food in Pattaya a diverse selection of flavours to enjoy. Have a look at our list below if you want to really eat like a local.
Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
Originally from Issan, this is a love-it or hate-it sort of a dish – almost all Thais in Pattaya can’t get enough of it, though visitors are very much divided. It is made with garlic, chillies, green beans, cherry tomatoes and shredded raw papaya and is a mix of extreme sweet, sour and spicy flavours. Popular additions include salted crab, dry shrimp and peanuts. Som Tum is available anywhere you can see the distinctive large pestle and mortar, including on some street vendor carts.
Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Practically the national dish of Thailand, the lemongrass, chilli, lime leaves, galangal, shallots and fish sauce flavours all add up to a spicy, sour, herby, aromatic soup. It is the smell and the taste you think of when you imagine Thai food. Fresh local prawns and straw mushrooms provide the meat of the dish which is universally popular among Thais and tourists. It is widely available at Thai restaurants throughout Pattaya.
Yum Woon Sen (Spicy Glass Noodles)
A popular salad throughout Thailand, and sometimes thought of as a diet food, Yum Woon Sen uses the relatively plain clear or glass noodle as its base. Ingredients added to this include garlic, dried shrimp, peanuts, onion, limes, Chinese celery and a lot of chilli, giving it a crunchy, spicy and very sour flavour. Ground pork is a popular addition, though it is a bit of a diet-breaker. Many restaurants also add large cooked shrimp, too.
Pad Krapow Moo Saap (Fried Basil and Pork)
A one-plate dish popular for lunch and dinner, fried basil and pork has a full, meaty and spicy flavour. It is heavy on the holy basil, with minced pork, fresh chilli, green beans, soy sauce and a little bit of sugar. All of this is stir-fried in a piping hot wok and served on steamed rice, usually with a fried egg (kai dao) on top. The fat and juices from the pork add a wholesome extra flavour to the plain rice, making it a very moreish meal.
Gai Yang with Khao Niao (Chicken with Sticky Rice)
This dish is exactly as simple as it sounds – it really is just grilled chicken with sticky rice. It usually comes with a small collection of dipping sauces, which range from the relatively mundane sweet chilli sauce popular throughout Asia to super-spicy local dips in a disquieting brown colour. Generally eaten entirely by hand, it is filling, tasty and quite messy and generally available from wandering food carts as well as local restaurants.
Pla Pao (Salt-Crusted Grilled Fish with Lemongrass)
It is a little bit disconcerting to see a whole fish with a bundle of lemongrass sticks shoved deep into its mouth, gently grilling in a Pattaya market, particularly when that fish is a ghostly white colour. What you are actually looking at is a very popular and tasty meal, though. The colour comes from a thick crust of salt, which keeps the flesh succulent and moist under the ravages of the grill while the lemongrass infuses the whole of the tilapia fish with its fruity, sour flavour. Eaten with garlic chilli seafood dipping sauce, it is a popular evening meal.
Khao Pad Gung (Fried Rice with Prawns)
Fried rice is something of a staple of Thai cuisine, popular with Thais and tourists for its ability to fill. Topped with a fried egg in the American version, the genuine article has the egg mixed in among the onion, herbs and, in some versions, carrot and peas. While you can have it with practically any meat, the popularity of local seafood makes the prawn version particularly common. Locals and seasoned expats will often add a lot of condiments to enhance the flavour, including fresh lime juice, chilli flakes and chilli-infused fish sauce.
Khao Niaow Ma Muang (Sticky Mango Rice)
This is the sweetest of the sweets and, without a doubt, Thailand’s best-known dessert. Entire stores and wandering vendors devote their whole trade just to Sticky Mango Rice, the vibrant yellow fruits brightening up a street. It is an extremely simple dish – slices of mango with a serving of sticky rice, all coated in a thick coconut sauce – but the freshness of each component makes it a powerful flavour. Locally-grown mangos are already very sweet and the sugar-heavy sauce can make it almost sickly sweet.
Pad Thai (Thai-style Fried Noodles)
Pad Thai is another of those classically-Thai dishes which makes the cuisine so famous around the world. It is, in fact, the one they gave the country’s name to! A quick and easy preparation, it uses wide noodles, onion, egg, and a meat of your choice (prawn is popular in Pattaya) as its tasty base. Crunchy beansprouts add an extra texture dimension, as does the traditional collection of condiments, which include ground peanuts, chilli powder, sugar and fish sauce.
Khao Tom (Rice Soup)
A fairly basic breakfast (though it isn’t that usual to find it eaten at any time of the day), Khao Tom is a rice-based broth. The base is a simple gloopy porridge made from jasmine rice. This has ginger, spring onion, lemongrass, shallots, eggs, meat and fish sauce. The popular choice of meat is pork, which can be either minced or served in balls. It isn’t particularly appetising to look at and the consistency puts a lot of tourists off, but the flavour is a welcome surprise.