Don’t let the stink spoil your appetite, because these Thai dishes are more delicious than their unusual smell may indicate and well worth braving. Go ahead, try them if you dare.
Pad Sa Tor is a simple stir-fried dish made from stink bean–a large bean widely used in Southern Thai cooking as well as in Malaysian and Indonesian dishes. Those smelling the dish for the first time are likely to describe it as quite pungent. Usually, Pad Sa Tor is a combination of stink bean and curry paste along with either shrimp or pork, served in a southern feast. The flavour is remarkably nutty, and we would recommend ordering dessert afterwards, as the taste and smell can linger for a while.
This beautifully arranged rice dish is a favourite amongst Thais looking to get all the flavours on one plate. It is made by simply tossing cooked rice with Kapi (shrimp paste), until it has a slight purplish hue and it’s the base for other condiments such as unripe mangoes, sweet pork, Chinese sausage, Thai omelette and assorted vegetables. Once you get past the salty, slightly fermented aroma of the shrimp paste, we promise that it will feel as if there’s a party in your mouth and everyone’s invited: sour, salty, sweet and spicy, especially if you add chillies.
Pla-Ra or fermented fish is an acquired taste, but without this essential ingredient, many Thai and southeast Asian dishes simply wouldn’t have become so iconic. Some people describe the smell as if fish was left out in the sun for too long. But once you’ve mastered Som Tam (papaya salad), don’t be scared to level up to the Som Tam Pla-Ra variety. The pungent smell and umami flavour are what make it a favourite for local people. Make sure to find a stall or shop that uses high quality Pla-Ra in a clean cooking environment.
Some people are addicted to durian; some can’t stand it. There’s a reason this fruit is banned in many public places and mass transit systems: its distinctive smell. People who don’t like durian have been known to describe the smell as a combination of gym socks and sewage. Once you muster the courage to dig in, though, the texture of the fruit is creamy and rich, almost custard-like, with a slightly nutty and caramel taste. Not convinced yet? Ease in with a durian-based dessert, such as durian with sticky rice. The coconut milk and creaminess of durian combined with the sweet sticky rice will surely persuade you to try some more.