When I studied abroad in Thailand, it was a running joke among my friends that every time we walked into a restaurant I was going to order chicken fried rice. Admittedly, I was nervous to branch out for the first few months. But the beautiful thing about studying abroad is that it exposes you to things that you’ll never get to experience back home, so eventually I got over my fear and started trying more Thai dishes.

Long story short, I fell in love with the food, the people, and the culture of Thailand so much during my semester abroad that I ended up going back after I graduated and taught English for a year. This provided me with another opportunity to expand my pallet and try even more Thai food. So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite things I ate during my second round in the land of smiles.

Pad kapow muu (Pork with basil)

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This dish is equivalent to the cheeseburger in the US, in the sense that you will be able to get it without a doubt in any restaurant you go to in Thailand. Thai people order it when they can’t decide what they want to eat, and I quickly followed suit because it just never disappoints.

Pad ka naa muu glob kai dow (Crispy pork with Chinese kale and a fried egg)

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Another Thai favorite. I think that egg speaks for itself.

Knom Jeen (white rice noodles in curry broth)

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There are several variations of this dish and each region in Thailand adds its own flair to knom jeen. The one pictured above is a specialty of Northern Thailand. The noodles are fermented and served in a sauce made with pork broth, tomato, crushed chilies, pork blood and fermented soy bean. The locals in my town loved it and would often add a chicken foot to their dish.

Fried yellow curry

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If you love the taste of curry, but don’t like the hot soup aspect (especially in 100 degree weather), then this is the perfect option for you.

Goy tiaow (noodle soup)

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This is the Thai version of fast food. If you need to grab something quick for lunch, look no further. You can choose the type of noodle (white, yellow, thin, or thick) and pork (strips or meatballs) to go into your bowl. Once you get to your table, you can add whatever condiments you please. My co-workers loved to add sugar, crushed peanuts, chili paste, and fish sauce to theirs. Some even added fresh lettuce, fennel, or green onion. As you can see, I kept it pretty simple most days.

Khao gan jin (fried pork blood rice)

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If no one had told me it was fried in pork blood, I would have never known. It’s a great little snack that’s wrapped in a banana leaf and topped with cucumbers, fried garlic, and green onions.

Khao soi (coconut curry with egg noodles and crispy wontons)

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I know, I know. It’s already featured on two previous blog posts… but there’s a reason for it. Take my advice, and do not leave Northern Thailand without trying it because it’s tricky to find back in the States.

Gluay buad chee (bananas in coconut milk)

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Although its cousin, mango sticky rice, is a more well-known dessert, this one is certainly not to be missed. This creamy, sweet treat can either feature banana, pumpkin, taro, black beans, sticky rice, or sometimes even gummy worms.

Tapas, Thai style

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One of my favorite things to do in Thailand was to go out to eat with locals and have them order several shared dishes. It was a guaranteed way for me to try something I would never think to order on my own. This spread includes som tam (spicy papaya salad), yam woonsen (sour glass noodle salad), gai yang (grilled chicken), poh pia toh (fried spring rolls), and a sweet peanut dipping sauce.

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This spread includes khao ngiao (sticky rice), sai oo-a (northern Thai sausage), nam prik orng (chili dip with minced pork and tomatoes), lettuce, beans, cucumbers, and pork cracklings to go with the chili dip, and aan gai toh (fried chicken tendons–yes, tendons!!) with crunchy garlic on top.