Skip to main content

How to Make Michelin-Starred Thai Food From a Master Chef

More than just Pad Thai and chicken satay, Thai cuisine is supremely varied, with huge variations in regional food and ingredients. For instance, in Northern Thailand, the cuisine is centered on fragrant herbs, grilled meats, and plenty of funky fermented flavors, a stark contrast to the sweeter, stir-fry heavy, Chinese-influenced food of Central Thailand.

To properly highlight this dynamic cuisine, Chef Therdtus “Tony” Rittaprom is on a mission to share his vast library of Thai cooking knowledge. Formerly of the Michelin-starred Zabb Elee in Queens, Rittaprom is a master of Northeastern and Northern Thai cuisine. His newest restaurant is Zabb PuTawn — an Upper East Side restaurant that specializes in items like som tum (green papaya salad) and larb, meat salads packed with chilis, herbs, and roasted rice powder.

Related Videos

Besides showcasing these flavors at his new restaurant, Rittaprom is also headlining a series of cooking classes devoted to Northern Thai food. The first of these two-hour classes will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15. Prospective students can sign up for the 20-person classes by contacting Zabb PuTawn (located in Manhattan) at (212) 988-8800. Each student will have the opportunity to make four dishes along with two complimentary Singha beers and butterfly pea lemonade. Tuition is $70 for solo students and $120 for couples. The class fee also includes a take-home Zabb PuTawn kit filled with ingredients for the dishes (palm sugar, pla ra, nam prik larb, pork crackling, roasted rice powder, and chili powder) and recipes.

Related Guides

The Flavors of Northern Thailand

Larb moo kua from zabb putwan restaurant on a white plate.

Northern Thai cuisine, Rittaprom’s specialty, is a vibrant blend of fermented flavors combined with a careful balance of spice, acidity, and herbs. While som tum is eaten throughout the country, the dish originates from Isan (Northeastern Thailand). The main components of the salad are a balance of unripe green papaya, palm sugar, fish sauce, chilies, and lime. In Northern Thailand, the flavors of som tum are more intense due to the addition of more chilis and a fermented anchovy paste called pla ra or pu dong, fermented crab.

Another popular item in Northern Thai cuisine is its various meat salads known as larb, which can be made from proteins ranging from pork to catfish. A great example of this is larb moo kua from the Northern city of Phayao. It’s made with a blend of pork, liver, skin, and roasted spices, including wild Northern Thai mah kwan (an orangey, Sichuan peppercorn-like flavor) and dee plee, long pepper. One of Rittaprom’s specialties is goi neur. This raw beef salad is made from chunks of raw beef — Rittaprom uses beef tenderloin — mixed with lime leaf, chili, mint, and khao khua, roasted rice powder. The end result is a brightly flavored salad crisp from lime juices and herbs, all accented with chili peppers and the textural crunch of roasted rice powder. Both of these dishes will be prepared in Rittaprom’s cooking classes.

Chef Rittaprom’s Thai Cooking Tips

Som Tum being prepared in a Thai krok.
Som Tum being prepared in a Thai krok.

One of the most critical tools for making proper Northern Thai food is a krok. This wooden Thai mortar is essential for releasing the essence and flavor of ingredients like garlic, chilies, shrimp paste, and other aromatics without damaging or over chopping them. Although tempting, simply putting these ingredients into a food processor will not produce the same results. If a krok isn’t available, Chef Rittaprom recommends mixing all the ingredients “in a salad bowl but make sure to break the garlic, chilis, and peanuts into pieces beforehand and it’s best to use your hands to try to squeeze everything together so all ingredients blend well.”

To accompany these Northern Thai salads, Rittaprom recommends sticky rice. Not to be confused with the sticky rice in Chinese or Japanese cuisine, this type of sticky rice (khao niao), also known as glutinous or sweet rice, is widely eaten throughout Northern Thailand. The name sweet rice is appropriate as this rice has a higher level of natural sweetness than other comparable rice varieties. This rice is often served in small bamboo baskets and best eaten dipped in various sauces and salads.

Finally, being able to find the proper ingredients is essential to making any of these dishes. Many of these Northern Thai dishes require specialty ingredients which can be tricky to obtain. The best option would be to source them at a specialty Thai store. If you’re located in New York City, Queens is home to a large Thai immigrant community filled with great Thai markets like Pata Market, Thai Thai Grocery, and 3 Aunties. If a Thai-centric market isn’t available in your area, try visiting a Vietnamese, Filipino, or Chinese grocery store as some of these markets will carry similar products. Or, try ordering online from a specialty Asian grocery delivery service like Umamicart.

Som Tum Thai – Thai Papaya Salad

vegetables and chilis in bowls.


  • 2 cups shredded green papaya
  • 2-3 small tomatoes
  • .25 cup cut long beans
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp
  • 4 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp palm sugar
  • Thai chili (as much as you like)
  • 2 garlic cloves


  1. Pound chili and garlic in krok.
  2. Add peanuts and dried shrimp and pound gently.
  3. Add tomatoes and long beans and pound gently.
  4. Add seasonings – palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and mix until dissolved.
  5. Add the papaya and mix well.

Editors' Recommendations

This NYC restaurant’s $518, 19-course tasting menu of Chinese cuisine is amazing
Chef Guo in New York is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a feast for the senses and the palate
Chef Guo food.

Butterfly Falls in Love with the Flower.

Step inside the restaurant Chef Guo, and the first thing you'll be greeted with is a majestic model of a ginko tree, the national tree of China, complete with brightly colored golden leaves. The tree cascades over the dining room, a space filled with Chinese calligraphy on the walls and regal Indonesian Zi Tan rosewood chairs. Soft and pleasant Chinese instrumental music plays in the background, an oasis in an otherwise hectic Midtown Manhattan.

Read more
How to reheat tamales: Learn the secret to every method
Enjoy tamales just as much the second time around
Our Place tamales.

Tamales are one of the tastiest and most popular dishes for a night out on the town, complete with a few frosty margaritas. A traditional Mesoamerican dish, tamales are stuffed with meats or beans and cheese and wrapped in a banana leaf or a corn husk. Steamed and served with pico de gallo and rice, they make for a delightful dish that's easy to make and packed with flavor and spice.

Tamales are easy to prepare and a great option to make ahead of time and reheat for a quick meal on the go. Whether homemade or store-bought, there are a few tips you'll want to know when reheating them so that you can savor all the goodness these little flavor pouches have to offer. Whether you want to use a steamer, microwave, stove, oven, or air fryer, here are the best ways to make sure you get the perfect hot tamale.

Read more
Corned beef and cabbage: Learn how to make this St. Patrick’s Day classic
It isn't St. Patrick's Day without a cold pint and a big plate of corned beef and cabbage
best corned beef and cabbage recipe 2

As St. Patrick's Day rolls around again, many of us will dutifully trudge to the grocery store, pick up our corned beef from the bulk display, head home and boil that piece of meat to death in the name of 'tradition.' Many of us are guilty of going through the motions of culinary traditions without giving a second thought to whether or not they actually taste good (we're looking at you, fruitcake). But in the case of corned beef, this is a real travesty, because this is a dish that, when done properly, is exquisitely delicious. One so good, in fact, that, if we knew better, would be on a weekly rotation, and not just an annual one.

Many corned beef and cabbage recipes out there call for a braise, which makes sense. Corned beef is most often a brisket cut, which requires low and slow cooking to ensure a tender result. Too often, though, those braises turn out flabby, lifeless, flavorless pieces of meat that we only feel obligated to eat because St. Patrick told us to. Let's put an end to that here and now. This is how to cook corned beef and cabbage the right way.

Read more