The Thai staple is rice (khao), so much so that in Thai eating a meal, gin khao, literally means "eat rice".
Khao suay or "beautiful rice" is the plain white steamed rice that is the basis of almost every meal.
Khao phat is simple fried rice, usually with pork (moo) prawns (goong) or chicken (gai).
Khao tom is a rice porridge served with condiments, quite popular at breakfast.
Khao mun gai (chicken) or moo (pork) or moo daeng (red pork) is a popular dish which is steamed chicken, pork or red pork served on a special sticky rice. It is classically eaten with a medium spicy ginger and chilli condiment and steamed vegetables
In addition to rice, Thais are great noodle eaters. The most common kind are rice noodles, being angel-hair (sen mii hoon), small (sen lek), large (sen yai) and giant (koy tiow), but yellow egg noodles (ba mii), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli (kiaw) and glass noodles made from mung beans (wun sen) are also popular.
Unlike most Thai foods, noodles are usually eaten with chopsticks. They are also usually served with a rack of four condiments, (kueung pueung) namely dried red chillies , vinegar, fish sauce with chilli and sugar — every diner can mix them into their own liking.
Phat thai, literally "fried Thai", means thin rice noodles fried in a tamarind-based sauce. It is simple, cheap and often excellent — and as an added bonus, it's usually chili-free! But to be sure remember to say (mai phet) which means 'not spicy'.
Ca-nom gien, is the classic Thai breakfast. Thai noodles (Thai spaghetti) with a yellow fish curry sauce. Eaten with various edible leaves, raw vegetables, pineapple and boiled eggs. Very delicious medium to hot curry and very inexpensive at around 10 to 20 baht per bowl.
Bamii moo daeng is yellow egg noodles with slices of Chinese-style red pork.
Soups and curries and Stir Fried
The line between soups (tom, literally just "boiled") and curries (gaeng) is a little fuzzy, and many dishes the Thais called curries would be soups to an Indian. A plate of rice with a ladleful of a curry or two on top, known as khao kaeng, is a very popular meal if eating alone.
Tom yam kung is the quintessential Thai dish, a sour soup with prawns, galangal and lemongrass. The real thing is quite spicy, but toned-down versions are often available on request. A southern Thai twist is to add coconut or cows milk making it slightly creamy and delicious.
Tom kha gai is the Thai version of chicken soup in a rich galangal-flavored coconut stock, sometimes with mushrooms and usually not very spicy.
Gaeng daeng (curry red) and gaeng phet ("hot curry") are the same dish and, as you might guess, this coconut-based dish can be spicy. Red curry with roast duck (gaeng ped yaang) or red curry with beef are particularly popular.
Gaeng khiow-waan (curry green sweet), sweet green curry, Usually milder than the red variety is a coconut-based curry with strong accents of lemongrass and kaffir lime. It is the classic Thai Green curry, a dish Thailand is famous for. Traditionally it contains either chicken or beef and small egglpants. It is considered mildly spicy, but this can range from mild to very hot, check with the restaurant you are at, they would be pleased to explain the intensity of thier curry dishes.
Gaeng som, (curry orange) is more like tamarind soup than curry, usually served with pieces of herb omelette in the soup, it is extremely strong and spicy and definitely for the chilli initiated.
Koyt diouw ruea, boat soup, is a southern Thai specialty which is a beef stew style noodle soup. It is very popular with Thai people and includes spices such as anise and cinamon. It is usually served with freshly cooked beef and simmered beef which has been cooked overnight and is very tender. This soup is mildly spicy, but the condiments which it is served with when added makes can make it very hot and spicy. It is best to start with the original soup and add as desired.
Ka-prao gai, literally "basil chicken" is a simple but intensely fragrant stir-fry made from peppery holy basil leaves, chillies and chicken.
Thais like many of their foods fried or grilled (thawt or phat) or grilled (yaang). Fish, in particular, is often deep-fried so that even the meat turns brown and crispy.
Deep fried cod with sweet chili lime sauce
Thai regional cookbook
Stir fried prawns with mushrooms and garlic chive flowers
About the only thing Thai salads (yam) have in common with the Western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. A uniquely Thai flavor is achieved by the ingredients fish sauce, lime juice and chillies — the end result can be very spicy!
Yam som-oh is an unusual salad made from pomelo (a mutant version of grapefruit), often including chicken or dried shrimp.
Som tum, is a very popular and famous green papaya (paw paw) salad, originating from the north eastern areas of thailand. There are many different styles and versions of this salad, but basically it contains, green papaya, peanuts, lime juice, snake beans, dried shrimp, palm sugar and tomatoes, smashed and combined with a very large wooden mortar and pestle.
Variations include salted and fermented black crabs and or a northern concoction of fermented fish, which is for the strong only.
Som Tum is usually eaten with grilled (BBQ) chicken and sticky rice, for Thai women they use this dish as a social occasion to sit and talk.
There are many Thai style salads with or without noodles (usually glass noodles).
Vegetarians won't have too many problems surviving in Thailand, with one significant exception: fish sauce (naam plaa) is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese food, and keeping it out of soups, curries and stir-fries will be a challenge.
That said, Thailand is a Buddhist country and vegetarianism is a fairly well-understood concept, especially among Chinese Thais (many of whom eat only vegetarian food during several festivals).
Tofu is a traditional Thai ingredient and they aren't afraid to mix it up in some non traditional dishes such as omelettes (with or without eggs), submarine sandwiches, and burritos. Since Thai dishes are usually made to order, it's easy to ask for anything on the menu to be made without meat or fish.
Bangkok features several fantastic veggie and vegan restaurants, but outside of big cities make sure to check that your idea of "veggie" matches the chef's.
Some key phrases for vegetarians:
phom gin jay (m) / di-chan gin jay (f) "I eat only vegetarian food"
karunaa mai sai naam plaa "Please don't put in fish sauce"
Information on Thailand's vegetarian festival
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