Thailand is known for its delicious cuisine and local street food. Thai food is found on almost every corner, making it natural to try everything during your stay. There’s an endless supply of cuisines, from low-cost street vendors to luxury restaurants and themed dishes.
However, one of the essential details to remain cautious of is health; sanitation and freshness are crucial components we look for when buying food. So, what should you not eat while in Thailand?
Thailand might have some delicious local cuisines and unique flavors but there are definitely some foods you should not try. For those with a weak stomach, eating unusual food can cause serious health concerns. These must-not tries include various types of water, meats, salads, liquor, and insects.
If you want to make sure you have the perfect staycation in Thailand, then keep reading to discover what foods you should avoid on your trip and why.
What Not to Eat in Thailand?
1. Goong Ten (Dancing Shrimp)
Goong Ten is a dish that originated from the Isaan region of the country. The dish is made of raw shrimp, herbs, and spices. Eating raw shrimp is not uncommon in many countries, but this one is unique- the shrimps in this dish are alive!
The name ‘dancing shrimp’ comes from its preparation- shrimp are wildly flapping around in the bowl while being made. Additionally, the seller will put the freshwater shrimps in a bowl, then add chili, lime juice, fish sauce, and herbs to them (yes, all while they are alive!). Moreover, they are marinated and served to the customer (2).
There are high chances that the shrimp may still be alive when served. Therefore, this ‘Dancing Shrimp’ dish is not for everyone, and even if you are brave enough to try live shrimp, raw seafood can give a nasty stomach ache or, worse, diarrhea. For a more enjoyable trip experience in Thailand, Goong Ten is probably not the perfect recommendation.
2. Yum Khai Maeng Da (Horseshoe Crab Salad)
One of the most famous types of Thai cuisine would be the ‘salad’ or ‘Yum.’ Yum is usually made with meat, fish, or seafood mixed with fish sauce, chilies, lime juice, and herbs (3).
However, you should avoid one type of Yum- the Yum khai maeng da or Horseshoe Crab salad. Horseshoe crabs are scary-looking creatures that are closely related to spiders and scorpions. The only edible parts of them are the roes, which are the main ingredients of this dish.
The crab roes are usually mixed with unripe mango, seasonings, and herbs. Although some say it’s very delicious and tastes just like other types of Yum, it is safer to avoid eating horseshoe crabs for several reasons.
Horseshoe crabs, in general, contain toxic substances, and some of the horseshoe crab species are also very harmful to the humans who consume them. When cooked or cleaned not correctly, the customers are at the risk of ingesting the toxins from Horseshoe crabs.
There were many cases of people falling ill after eating Yum khai maeng da, and in some extremely unfortunate circumstances, eating horseshoe crabs can even cause death (4).
Therefore, it is best to stay away from this dish. After all, there are many other delicious and safe Yum dishes for everyone to try!
3. Lao Khao (Moonshine)
Lao Khao is a traditional Thai liquor made from fermented rice. The taste of Lao Khao is sweet at first but later burns your throat once the alcohol kicks in, leaving a very unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth and nostril (5).
Every small village in Thailand has its illegal distillers who make very potent Lao Khao, making it a ubiquitous drink among the locals. It is very cheap, easy to find, and can get you drunk quickly. Friendly locals often offer a bottle to their visitors.
While legally made Lao Khao are safe to consume, unlicensed versions are potential health hazards. Illegal distillers of Lao Khao usually use all types of recycled bottles to contain the drink and are likely to produce the glass incorrectly.
Many of these illegal distillers use metal stills that react with the liquids and produce methanol as a by-product (5). Therefore, a high percentage of methanol is mixed with ethanol, causing blindness and even deaths every year to those who consume a large amount of Lao Khao (6).
4. Dog Meat
Understandably, a controversial food is dog meat. It is pretty rare in Thailand as it is considered ‘dirty’ and ‘cruel.’ Only a very few people, such as day laborers and rice farmers in rural parts of the country, eat dog meat. Laborers, however, face a lot of criticism. There have been cases where a few have been arrested.
Furthermore, police forces have cracked down on the dog meat market and suspended or fined the dog meat sellers, deeming the act as inhumane (1). Moreover, even local people look down on those who eat dog meat. Therefore, it is better to avoid the potential charges of trying dog meat.
5. Fried Insects
Fried insects like scorpions and crickets are popular street foods in Thailand markets. Many people have called this snack ‘ delicious’ despite the creepy visuals of deep-fried insects put on sticks.
While it is usually safe to eat deep-fried insects, you must avoid unwanted incidents. For deep-fried scorpions, make sure that the stinger part at the tail has been removed as it is full of venom and hazardous to consume when not cooked correctly (7).
Also, make sure to buy from places you can trust as some sellers might not clean the insects or properly cook them, which can put your health at risk.
Insects also have similar proteins to crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs. Therefore, eating insects may trigger allergic reactions, especially for people who have shellfish allergies (5).
6. Shark Fin Soup
Shark fin soup is usually targeted for its harm to the endangered species of the ocean. Despite being banned in many countries and protests from animal rights groups, you can find the soup in many Chinese restaurants or seafood restaurants across Thailand (6).
The right thing to do would be to avoid ordering shark fin if you dine at one of these restaurants.
Shark fins are harvested through an unethical process. And due to overfishing, many shark species are at the risk of extinction. Also, shark fins are very expensive despite having low nutritional value.
On top of that, shark fin itself is tasteless; the soup’s flavors come from the broth and other ingredients the cooks use to create the famous jelly-like texture of the dish (7). If you are curious about the taste, the best way to try is to find and order the artificial versions of the dish.
7. Larb Leuat Neua and Larb Dib
‘Larb’ is a popular dish in Thailand, especially in the northern and northeastern regions. Larb is a kind of meat salad mixed with fresh herbs and spices, and it is usually spicy yet delicious.
However, these types of Larb are something you do not go near. Larb leuat neua is made with raw meat and a vast amount of raw blood.
Some people even add guts, bile, and bile juice to the dish; hence, it is not similar to the popular versions of Larb. Larb dib is also made with raw beef or pork and seasoned in spices and mint (5).
Both dishes are usually accompanied by a shot of whiskey or a glass of cold beer and are known as bar snacks because locals believe that alcohol will kill the bacteria and parasites from the raw meat (7).
However, food poisoning is common for foreigners who are not used to eating these dishes, and bare flesh and blood carry a considerable risk of bacterial infection.
8. Luu Moo (Pig Blood)
Pig blood is often disregarded as one of the worst dishes in the country. Luu Moo has a deep red color that can be mistaken for tomato soup or chili soup from a distance, but the color comes from raw pig blood.
Yes, it is a dish made with uncooked, fresh pig blood!
The pig blood is mixed with herbs like holy basil and lemongrass to get rid of the blood smell and seasoned with various spices to add the flavors; the thick concoction of pig blood is poured over noodles and considered a ‘men’s dish’ in northern Thailand (5).
Sometimes, raw pieces of offal such as raw pig’s kidney or neck fat are also added into the dish. This dish is not recommended for foreigners as eating raw blood, and the pig’s innards can cause severe and fatal health risks such as bacterial and parasite infections.
Also, it is difficult to stomach raw pig blood no matter how many spices and herbs have been added to it.
9. Tap Water
Although less harmful than other dishes, tap water remains one of the top toxic concerns. Unlike Singapore, where tap water is generally safe to drink, tap water in Thailand is not recommended.
Local authorities say that it is safe for consumption; however, tap water has traveled through pipes and can fill poorly maintained systems with microbes and other nasty particles that have the potential to make you sick.
If you are looking for more reasons why tap water is not safe in Thailand, check out our article: Can You Drink the Tap Water in Thailand?
An excellent alternative would be bottled water, which is available everywhere. Moreover, Thailand also has water filtration machines around the city for those who wish to refill their reusable bottles.
And there you have it – a list of foods in Thailand that can potentially cause health risks, leaving your vacation trip in ruins. No matter how unique or exciting a dish may sound, it is essential to look at how the food is prepared, what water is used, and the ingredients used. After all, not everyone is prone to eating the same foods for a reason!
1. Thomas Fuller. Dog Meat Trade In Thailand Is Under Pressure And May Be Banned. The New York Times. [Online] May 1, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/world/asia/dog-meat-trade-in-thailand-is-under-pressure-and-may-be-banned.html/.
2. Wiens, Mark. WATCH: Thai Dancing Shrimp – A Serving Of Thailand’s Most Lively Dish! migrationology. [Online] March 24, 2011. https://migrationology.com/thai-dancing-shrimp-serving-thailands-most-lively-dish/.
3. McDermott, Nancie. Thai Seafood Salad (Yum Talay). Fine Cooking. [Online] https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/thai-seafood-salad-yum-talay/.
4. Caitlin Ashworth. Phuket Woman Dies Shortly After Eating Mangroe Horseshoe Crab. Thaiger. [Online] October 5, 2020. https://thethaiger.com/news/phuket/phuket-woman-dies-shortly-after-eating-mangrove-horseshoe-crab/.
5. Cita Catellya. Food And Drinks To Stay Away From In Thailand. Thaiger. [Online] September 16, 2021. https://thethaiger.com/guides/best-of/food/food-and-drinks-to-stay-away-from-in-thailand/.
6. Ian. 29 Things To Avoid In Thailand. I Am Kohchang [Online] https://iamkohchang.com/blog/things-to-avoid-in-thailand.html/.
7. Sarah Williams. What Not To Eat And Drink In Thailand. The culture trip. [Online] April 30, 2021. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/thailand/articles/12-things-not-to-eat-or-drink-in-thailand/