This started as a homework for my next Thai class. My Thai teacher Kru Thip told her students to write out 10 Favourite Thai Food in Thai, so I thought I should do some research on what the words mean too. (I included one drink.)
Thai food has always been one of my favourite cuisine, and my fascination with is culture has led me to wanting to learn more about the language and culture. It is difficult and I am struggling with pronunciation and sentence structure, but I am trying.
One day, I will walk into that Thai restaurant and order food entirely in Thai. Meanwhile…
10 Favourite Thai Food + What The Dishes Mean
Tom Yum ต้มยำ
Probably Thailand’s most representative dish, that distinct hot, sour and spicy soup that can cause people to break out in buckets of sweat.
Literally, ‘tom’ refers to the boiling process, while ‘yum’ is a kind of spicy and sour salad.
The most common version you get in restaurants is Tom Yum Goong where ‘goong’ means prawn. Give me big, fresh sea prawns please.
Tom Yum Talay – Seafood
Tom Yum Gai – Chicken version
Tom Yum Pla – Fish soup, usually clear
Tom Yum Nam Khon – A version with coconut milk added
Pad Thai ผัดไทย
Rice noodles stir-fried with eggs, chopped firm tofu, and flavoured with dish sauce, dried shrimp, tamarind pulp and red chilli pepper. Not to be missed are its component are the side, sometimes in separate containers – lime wedges, chopped roasted peanuts, chilli powder, sugar and bean sprouts.
I say add some peanuts and sugar, it makes a whole lot of difference.
Khao Pad ข้าวผัด
If you are wondering, ‘pad’ means ‘stir-frying’. Therefore, ‘Khao Pad’ would mean ‘fried rice’.
The variations include the popular Pineapple Fried Rice (Khao Pad Sapparot) often with rice served fancifully in a cutout pineapple, Basil Fried Rice (Khao Pad Kaphrao) and Coconut Fried Rice (Khao Pat Maphrao).
Gaeng Keow Wan Gai แกงเขียวหวานไก่
Green Curry Chicken
I like green better than red. So why the colour green? That will depend on the ingredients used, which are primary green chillies, sweet basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves and round green eggplant which gives the dish its hue.
‘Gai’ means chicken, so you may order Gaeng Keow Wan Moo (pork) or Gaeng Keow Wan Neua (beef).
‘Keow’ refers to green. (So if you want a green-coloured shirt, say “Seua see Keow”.)
Som Tam ส้มตำ
Green Papaya Salad
Spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya, combining the five tastes of: sour lime, hot chili, salty, savory fish sauce, and palm sugar sweetness.
Tam mamuang – Salad using green and unripe mango
Tam som – With pomelo
Tam phonlamai ruam – With mixed fruit
Kuay Teow Reua ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ
You may wonder why the Boat Noodles are usually in such tiny bowls. Boat Noodles were originally served in small portions in Thailand as vendors sold them between boats. Smaller portions would prevent spillage when the water turned choppy.
If you are a Teochew, ‘Kuay teow’ which mean ‘rice noodles’ should be very familiar to you. ‘Reua’ means ‘boat’.
Ba Mee Moo Daeng บะหมี่หมูแดง
Egg noodles with red barbecued pork
Word has it that the Chinese immigrants brought this dish to Thailand in the early 1900s. The egg noodles with sliced roast pork and wanton does contain similarities with the Cantonese style noodles.
You may see the words ‘moo’ and ‘daeng’ quite frequently in Thailand. ‘Moo’ means ‘pork’, and ‘daeng’ the colour red. Know the BTS station Sala Daeng? That literally refers to a ‘red pavilion’.
Thai style barbecue ‘steamboat’
Seems to be more hip to eat Mookata in Singapore, than in Thailand now. Sometimes known as Moo kratha, ‘Moo’ means pork, while ‘kaka’ skillet, where diners would cook the sizzling meats on the top of the dome, while the juices of the meats would drip down to flavor the soup.
The widely-known origin is that soldiers from Korea cooked meat on their heated helmets to get over hunger, and the Thais adapted to their version.
Khao Niao Mamuang ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง
Mango with sticky rice
Khao Niao (sticky rice) Ma-muang (mango) is glutinous rice steamed and cooked in sweetened thick coconut milk, served with sliced ripe mangoes.
A summer dessert, usually eaten by rolling the rice with fingers and scooping up the mango slices when you order from a street-side stall. The restaurants would always plate it, some fancifully.
Durian with sticky rice is called ‘Khao Niao Tu-rean’. Serious.
Cha Yen ชาเย็น
Thai Iced Tea
One of my favourite drinks as it encompasses milkiness, sweetness and slight tea-bitterness in a single cup. The Cha (tea) Yen (cold) is made from strongly brewed black tea (my teacher told me leave the brewed tea overnight in the fridge), then sweetened with sugar and condensed milk, and served poured over crushed ice.
Some places call this “Cha Nom Yen”. For Thai Iced Milk Coffee, very simple…. Say “Kah-Fey Yen”.
Additional ingredients may include orange blossom water, star anise, crushed tamarind seed and sometimes other spices.
Thai Hot Tea – Cha Ron
Black Iced Tea – Cha Dam Yen
Thank you Kru Thip for your teaching. Khub Khun Krub! (To the rest who are thinking of getting my teacher’s contact, her schedule is very very packed! 55555)