Learn what not to eat in Thailand. Discover which food and drinks to avoid in Thailand for a safe and delicious journey through the Land of Smiles.
Not everything on that colorful street cart is meant for your mouth — let that be a lesson for Thailand.
Welcome to the Land of Smiles. And, sometimes, surprising bites!
From delicacies that can tickle your taste buds in the wrong way to dishes that are just too spicy to handle, there are a few Thai foods that first-time visitors might want to approach with caution.
So take out your notepad because the adventure is about to get real!
What food and drinks to avoid in Thailand
1. Luu Moo
First on the foodie caution list is Luu Moo, a traditional Thai dish that’s not for the faint of heart, or stomach, for that matter.
Does raw pig’s blood soup sound good to you? No?
Now, I’m no squeamish eater, but this dish can be a bit of a hard sell. The thought of slurping down a soup made from uncooked blood just doesn’t sit well. The blood is mixed with herbs like holy basil and lemongrass, then pieces of offal to make a thick concoction poured over noodles.
Sure, it’s a matter of personal preference. But it’s also a matter of being at higher risk of bacterial infection.
Here’s the kicker: Luu Moo is considered a Thai delicacy in parts of the country, especially northern Thailand. The locals love it, but this dish can be a real gastronomic hurdle for us first-timers.
Giving Luu Moo a hard pass is best if you don’t have an iron stomach or love strange foods.
2. Goong Ten
Ever heard of ‘dancing shrimp’?
No, it’s not a new TikTok dance trend. It’s actually a Thai delicacy known as Goong Ten! With a name that translates directly to ‘dancing shrimp,’ you might already have an inkling why it made our list.
Why do the shrimp dance? Because they are alive!
Yes, you heard it right. This dish features fresh, live shrimp seasoned with chili, fish sauce, and lime. Your dinner is literally hopping about on your plate as you attempt to eat it.
Some of you thrill-seekers might be thinking, “Alive? That’s not a problem!”. While the idea of having a meal that’s still moving might be an exciting culinary adventure for some, there’s a serious health risk attached.
Consuming these little dancers can lead to a parasitic infection known as lung fluke. It’s a nasty little bug that can lead to serious respiratory issues.
Not so appealing now, eh?
So, unless you’re certain the shrimp have been sourced from a reliable, parasite-free water source (rare), it’s best to give Goong Ten a miss.
Trust me, there are plenty of other delicious, non-lively Thai dishes to tickle your taste buds!
3. Larb Leuat Neua
An adventurous foodie might get a kick out of trying this daring delicacy, while others might feel their stomach doing somersaults at the very thought!
Let’s break it down: Larb Leuat Neua is a raw blood salad made with raw beef or pork mixed with fresh blood.
Yes, you read that right. Fresh blood! It’s then jazzed up with some herbs and spices like mint and an uncooked, fermented fish sauce known as ‘pla ra.’
Apart from the obvious ‘ick’ factor, this dish poses a significant health risk due to potential bacteria and parasites in the raw blood. Consuming raw or undercooked meat is also an easy way to get sick.
Yeah, sounds like buckets of fun, doesn’t it?
If you’re in the market for a safer, more Western-friendly version of Larb, try Larb Moo or Larb Gai.
They’re both cooked, blood-free versions that are just as flavorful and a whole lot less risky.
4. Yum Khai Maeng Da
So, you’re exploring the streets of Thailand, and suddenly, you see “Yum Khai Maeng Da” on the menu.
Before you get adventurous, let’s talk about it.
This is a dish that quite literally translates to ‘spicy horseshoe crab egg salad.’ The star of this dish? The roe of the horseshoe crab.
Exotic enough for you yet?
While it might sound like an intriguing culinary adventure, there’s a bit of a catch. The horseshoe crab isn’t technically a crab, and its eggs can cause Paragonimus — a lung fluke infection. Not exactly the kind of souvenir you want to take back home, right?
Sometimes, the eggs are mixed with unripe mango and some seasonings as a different dish. So, this causes less damage to the horseshoe crab itself.
Plus, there are poisonous species of horseshoe crab. And many people fell seriously ill after consuming the wrong one. And I don’t think you want to be one of them.
Try some Pad Thai or Tom Yum Soup instead, those are safer and equally delicious options!
5. Lao Khao
So, you’re a fan of spirits, huh?
Well, when in Thailand, do as the Thais do, right?
Well, sometimes. But you might want to think twice before you jump on the local liquor bandwagon.
Meet Lao Khao. This local Thai liquor is a rice whiskey that’s as potent as a straight punch from a Muay Thai fighter — and it’s about as smooth, too. It just leaves a bitter aftertaste, whereas the punch leaves you hospitalized.
Lao Khao is sold out of recycled bottles around various parts of Thailand.
Don’t get me wrong, I love immersing myself in local traditions and trying out the native drinks, but Lao Khao is a different beast! It burns your throat the entire way down, and you’ll be breathing fire the next time you speak.
The real kicker about Lao Khao?
It’s not just the fact it can have a pretty high alcohol content (we’re talking up to 40% here, folks). The real problem is that it’s often brewed in less-than-ideal conditions with poorly maintained metal stills, sometimes even at home. This can lead to a brew that’s full of impurities and can cause all sorts of havoc if it finds its way into your system, so it’s not the most safe to drink.
And if that isn’t enough to deter you, consider this fun fact.
Lao Khao is also sometimes used as a base for ya dong, a medicinal liquor featuring such delightful ingredients as venomous snakes or scorpions.
Now, who’s up for a shot?
6. Fried insects
Ever looked at a grasshopper and thought, “Mmm, tasty”?
No? Well, maybe Thailand will convince you otherwise. Here, fried insects are a delicacy, often served as a side dish or a snack with beer.
And you’ll find it all here: deep-fried scorpions, grasshoppers, cockroaches, and maggots.
Now, before you start imagining the taste of crispy critters, let’s take a moment to consider a few things.
Insects can carry parasites and diseases, so there’s a bit of a gamble involved in gorging on these critters. And while they are fried to a crisp, the frying process may not always kill all the harmful stuff inside. Also, because insects have similar proteins to crustaceans, people with shellfish allergies can have them triggered. So be careful.
Plus, not all insects are created equal.
Some, like silkworms and crickets, are generally safe to eat. Others, like certain types of beetles, can be toxic.
Personally, I tried a fried maggot, and once was enough for me. It wasn’t terrible tasting, but the idea of what I was eating didn’t stick well.
Go ahead and try it if you want, but that’ll be a one-time thing for me.
7. Shark fin soup
This soup, my friend, is not controversial because it sounds like something from a Jaws movie.
The real issue lies in the brutal and unsustainable practice of shark finning, where sharks are caught, their fins cut off, and then they’re thrown back into the ocean to die.
Pretty screwed up, to be honest.
It’s usually served as a specialty in Thai-Chinese restaurants, but it’s becoming less common as the consumption of shark fin soup becomes more taboo.
And when you consider that shark fin is virtually tasteless, it’s like paying a fortune for a bowl of strings with a jelly-like texture. Practically, you’re dropping a pretty penny for the chicken or pork broth it’s cooked in and the prestige associated with the dish.
You’ve gotta be a certain type of foodie to fork out all that money for a simple dish. But if you’re curious and don’t want to do the damage to sharks, artificial versions are available.
So, let’s be the kind of traveler who promotes sustainable tourism.
Skip the shark fin soup. Not only will you be doing a solid for sharks, but your wallet will thank you, too.
8. Koi Pla
Let me introduce you to Koi Pla, the raw fish salad that is as exotic as it sounds, not in a good way!
You might say, “Hey, I love sushi! How different can this be?” Well, my friend, the difference is — parasites!
Koi Pla is a popular local dish in the northern and northeastern regions, made with minced raw fish, lime juice, chili, and herbs. Because of the lack of cooking, there’s little to kill off the little parasites that can infest the fish.
“So, what’s the worst that could happen?” you might ask, lightly dabbing at your forehead with a napkin.
Well, let me paint a picture for you.
These parasites can cause a nasty liver disease called cholangiocarcinoma. It’s a big word, but the repercussions are even bigger. It’s a severe form of bile duct cancer that’s highly prevalent in northeastern Thailand.
If that sounds like fun to you, then go ahead and give it a shot! Otherwise, give me another order of pad grabpao.
9. Tap water
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink in Thailand!
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But, generally speaking, you want to avoid drinking tap water in Thailand. The water treatment process in Thailand isn’t as stringent as in other places, so it’s best to stick to bottled water, a water purifier, or refill bottles at filtration machines scattered around the neighborhoods.
And remember, tap water isn’t just a no-go for drinking. Avoid ice made from tap water, too.
What about brushing your teeth, you ask? Well, I brushed my teeth using tap water for the three years I lived in Thailand and didn’t notice any negative effects.
But you can opt to use bottled water if you feel unsure.
10. Street food
As much as I love the random street meat on a stick I’d get from the local vendor on late nights, I’m playing a game with the risk of food poisoning.
And one day, it’ll win.
If you want to avoid getting sick in Thailand, then I’d avoid buying street meat. There aren’t regulations surrounding food preparation; you don’t know where the meat comes from, and it’s not a true establishment.
With that said, I think street food can also be some of the best food in Thailand — better than anything you’ll find in restaurants and food courts.
A random cart pours you one of the most spectacular noodle dishes you’ve ever had…and you fall in love. It’s happened to me too many times. Then, it disappears into the sunset to brighten other people’s days.
So, it’s up to you with street food whether you try it or not. But an inherent risk is involved, and I’d be remiss not to mention it.
11. Larb Dib
Larb Dib is a raw minced meat salad.
That’s right. It’s made with raw meat. And not just any meat. It’s often made with beef or pork.
So why do Thais eat it?
It’s part of the culture and tradition, and many locals are used to eating such dishes it after growing up with them. The meat is typically “cooked” in lime juice and mixed with a hearty dose of spices and herbs, which help kill some bacteria.
But, for us tourists? I’d recommend steering clear unless you’ve got a strong stomach.
Otherwise, you’ll be up late with Bangkok Belly.
So, how are you feeling after reading these dishes?
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that tons of food will sound exciting in Thailand, but paying attention to how the food is prepared is important. Upset stomachs are common among tourists when they visit Thailand, and that’s because they’re not adjusted to the food.
So, take your time and ease yourself into the food. Don’t dive in headfirst with one of the things listed above. Better safe than sorry.
Pad Thai? Green curry? Mango sticky rice? Yes, yes and yes! These are just a handful of the mouth-watering treats that await your taste buds.
But some of the others can wait. (Maybe forever.)