A Glossary of Typical Thai Dishes

By | November 17, 2012

by Kristie Rodgers

the Thai classic dish

the Thai classic dish

the Thai classic dish

delicious & spicy

Thai cuisine is famously innovative and varied. Even Thai street food vendors delight in their culinary skills, and it is not uncommon to see food being encased in a banana leaf as delicately as if it were being gift wrapped. Such artful presentations and the sheer range of Thai food dishes can be bewildering for first timers as it may not even be obvious what is savory or sweet.


Restaurant menus in tourist areas may include descriptions in English, and sometimes other languages. The Thai names of dishes are often derived from the main elements – for instance, the dish “khao mu daeng” translates literally as “rice”, “pork” and “red”. Thus, the basiccomponents of any dish can often be worked out with only a little knowledge of Thai.

If there is no menu, the dishes of the day will be on display. If one does not recognize the dish, pointing and saying “ni arai mai” (what is this?) should elicit a list of ingredients. Vegetarians should find it easy to order “mai ao nua” (food without meat), but ought to be aware that fish sauce is used in many dishes.
Dairy products feature rarely in Thai cuisine, so vegans should not fare worse than vegetarians. Foreigners often ask “phed mai?” (is the dish spicy), or requesting “mai ao phet na” (a non-spicy meal).

To enliven any dish, diners can use the ubiquitous condiments of chilies in vinegar, chili flakes, sugar (for savory dishes), and fish sauce usually placed on most tables.

Thai’s love to eat. Almost every street corner has a selection of food stalls selling raw and freshly cooked snacks.

“Bami mu daeng”
Egg noodles with red pork.

“Khai ping”
Charcoal-roasted eggs.

“Gai yang”
Charcoal-grilled chicken.

“Khanom beuang”
Stuffed sweet pancakes.

“Khanom krok”
Coconut pudding.

“Khao tom mat”
Sticky rice served in banana leaves.

“Kluay ping”
Charcoal-grilled bananas.

“Look chin ping”
Meatballs with a chili sauce.

“Po pia tod”
Deep-fried spring rolls.

“Sai krok”
Thai beef or pork sausages.

Slivers of beef, pork, or chicken grilled on a stick; served with peanut sauce and cucumber.

“Tua thod”
Roasted cashews or peanuts.


Rice noodles come as “sen yai” (broad), “sen lek” (medium), and “sen mi” (thin). “Bami” are egg noodles. “Wun sen” are thin, transparent soy noodles.

“Bami nam”
Egg noodles in a broth with vegetables, meat, or fish.

“Kuaytiaw haeng”
Rice noodles served dry with vegetables, meat, or fish.

“Kuaytiaw nam”
Rice noodles in a broth with vegetables, meat, or fish.

“Kuaytiaw look chin pla”
Fishballs with noodles.

“Phad thai”
Rice noodles fried with egg, beancurd, dried shrimp, bean sprouts, peanuts, and chili.


Rice is the staple food of ALL Thai’s. A familiar Thai greeting “kin khao mai?”, (how are you?) literally translates into “have you eaten rice?”

“Khao man kai”
Chinese-style chicken with rice cooked in chicken stock.

“Khao mok kai”
Thai-style chicken biryani.

“Khao mu daeng”
Chinese-style red pork served on a bed of fragrant rice.

“Khao na ped”
Roast duck served on a bed of fragrant rice.

“Khao phad mu/kung”
Fried rice with pork or shrimp.


Thai soups are very inventive. Some, such as “jok”, are eaten for breakfast. The word “sup” is widely recognized.

Ground rice porridge with minced pork and ginger.

“Khao tom”
Rice soup with a selection of meat and vegetable side dishes.

“Tom jeud tao hu”
Mild broth with beancurd and minced pork.

“Tom kha kai”
Chicken soup with galangal, coconut milk, and lemongrass.

“Tom yam kung”
Shrimp, mushrooms, lemongrass, galangal, and coriander.


Curries are served either rat khao (on a plate of rice) or in a bowl as an accompaniment to a central bowl of rice.

“Kaeng kari kai”
Indian-style chicken and potato.

“Kaeng khiaw wan”
Slightly sweet green curry.

“Kaeng matsaman”
A mild curry from the Deep South with chicken, peanuts, potatoes, and coconut milk.

“Kaeng phanaeng”
Southern-style creamy curry with coconut milk and basil.

“Kaeng phed”
A hot curry with red chilies, lemongrass, and coriander.

“Kaeng som”
A hot and sour curry, usually with fish.


A wide variety of seafood is available at reasonable prices, particularly in the Deep South.

“Hoi malaeng pu op”
Steamed fresh green mussels.

“Hoi thod”
Oysters fried in an egg batter, served on a bed of bean sprouts.

“Kung mangkon phao”
Grilled lobster.

“Pla meuk yang”
Roasted sliced squid.

“Pla nung khing”
Steamed fish with ginger, chili, and mushrooms.

“Pla thod”
Crispy deep-fried fish which is combined and served with various sauces.

“Pu neung”
Steamed crab which is served with a pungent and spicy sauce.


“Kaeng hang le” A northern delicacy, pork curry with peanut, and ginger.

“Khao soi”
Chicken or beef curry served with wheat noodles, fresh lime, and pickled cabbage. A Northern specialty.

“Larb ped”
northern spicy minced duck.

“Som tam”
Green papaya salad with peanuts, from the northeast.

“Yam thalay”
Southern spicy seafood salad.


Known as “khong wan” or sweet things, these are mostly coconut or fruit based.

“Foy thong”
Sweet, shredded egg yolk.

“Khao niaw mamuang”
Fresh mango served with sticky rice and coconut milk.

“Kluay buat chi”
Bananas in coconut milk.

“Mo kaeng”
Thai-style egg custard.


“Bia” – Beer. Usually served in bottles.
“Cha ron” – Tea with condensed milk.
“Kafae” – Coffee, often instant.
“bam cha” – Chinese-style tea without milk.
“Nam kuad” – Bottled water.