What Is Thai Food – What to Eat at a Thai Food Restaurant in 2019?

Thai Fish with Lemon Lemongrass Soup - authentic Thai food soup recipe from Southern Thailand.
Thai Food Dinner – Thai fish in lemon-flavored broth. One of our favorites at any Thai restaurant that focuses on seafood!

(Page Updated: 17 October 2019)

Which Thai Food To Eat at a Thai Restaurant in 2019?

You probably love succulent Thai food as we do! But, do you order the same things all the time because you don’t know what to get that is delicious? What is Thai Food variety?

I’ll offer some suggestions here by covering some popular Thai foods you might enjoy.

I think there are many people that don’t know what to eat when they go to a Thai food restaurant. Before I (Vern, Joy’s husband) came to Thailand I usually ordered the same things over and over, and I sometimes still do! If I ate with someone who ordered something different – I tried it, and almost always loved it. Thai food is so diverse, so delicious in all its different forms. I won’t lie, Thailand’s food was a major draw, bringing me here from the USA to live.

I looked at India, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In the end, Thailand’s safe environment and amazing Thai food won me over. And now, I’ve been enjoying Thai food here in-country for about twelve years now.

Before I arrived, I wondered, is it possible for me, an American, to eat Thai food full time? It was a tough question because I usually only ate two or three things at a Thai restaurant in the US. Typically I would have Gai Pad King (ginger chicken) and an appetizer that wasn’t even Thai – but it was in the Thai restaurant. I had “Crab Rangoon.” It was a fried crab dessert that was really delicious at the Thai restaurant in Tampa, Florida called “Jasmine Thai.” I’ve asked many restaurants and friends here in Thailand if they ever heard of Crab Rangoon – or anything similar. Nobody has. Hmm, go figure.

So this note is all about what you can order in a Thai food restaurant in your home city. First off – if you haven’t, you might want to have a look at our list of Thai restaurants in the USA. We put together a large list that covers 49 states (I don’t know which one we’re missing!) and lists Thai food restaurants by city. You might find one that you didn’t know existed. Or, you might find one that doesn’t exist anymore! If you find one that is no longer valid – would you please send us a note and let us know? (contact):P

Pad Pak Boong is stir-fried morning glory with garlic and spicy chilis. Adds vegetables to your Thai food restaurant order.
Stir-fried morning glory (Pad Pak Boong) is a delicious way to add vegetables to your meal at a Thai restaurant. They put some chilis in it, so if you can’t handle any spice, you might say “my pet.” which means, not spicy. Well, it means not too spicy.

Ok, so here are some foods I think you might like. Keep in mind that there are MANY ways not only to say the Thai food dishes listed here – but different ways to spell them. For me, this was part of the problem in the states since I would see something called “Tom Yum Pla Meuk” at one restaurant and at a different restaurant it would say “Spicy & Sour Tomyum pla muk” or “Thai spicy sour soup.”

There is little agreement on how to spell things in English. In Joy’s Thai food blog you’ll see too that her spelling of things is probably different than what you might see online somewhere else. It differs from cookbooks and Thai restaurant menus in your hometown too. Try to figure out the major sounds and you’ll have an easier time than if you study the spellings!

Here are some variations in spelling for common Thai foods you might see on a menu outside of Thailand – or even here in the country…

Thai Food Spelling Variations

  • Rice: Kow, kowl, cow, cowl
  • Sticky Rice: Kow Niao, kowl niao, kow neeow, kowl neow
  • Steamed Rice: Kow niao nung, kowl neow neung
  • Black Sticky Rice: Kow niao dum, kowl neeow dum
  • Thin glass (clear) Rice Noodles: Sen mee, sen me
  • Thick Rice Noodles: Sen yai, sen yi, sen yay
  • Pork: Moo, mu, muu, mew
  • Beef: New-uh, neu-uh, noo-uh, noouh
  • Chicken: Gai, gy, guy, kai, ky, kuy, gi
  • Squid: Pla Meuk, bpla meuk, bpla muk, pla muk, pla muhk, bpla muhk
  • Shrimp: Goong, gung, guung, koong, kung, kuung
  • Fish: Pla, bla, bpla, blah
  • Salad: Salad, salat
  • Spicy Salad: Yum
  • Fermented Fish Sauce (not sure you’ll find this in USA): Bla rah, pla ra, bpla ra, bla la, blah lah, bpla rah
  • Curry: Gang, gaeng, geng, gehng
  • Milk: Nam nom, nom, nome, noam
  • Coconut Milk: Gati, gadi, gadhi
  • Coconut: Mapraw, ma prow, mah praw
  • Ginger: King
  • Egg: Ky, kai, gy, kye
  • Morning Glory: Boong, bung, boohng, buung
  • Chili Peppers: Prig, prik, prihg, prigk
  • Bean sprouts: Tua ngoh, dtua ngaw, too-uh goh
  • Mushroom: Hed, head, het
  • Onion: Hom, hawm
  • Corn: Kowl pod, kow pod, pood
  • Carrot:
  • Mango: Mamuang, ma muang, ma mooung, ma moouhng
  • Orange: Som, Sawm
  • Apple: Appun, Apun, Apon
  • Banana: Gluay, glooay, glooai
  • Papaya: Ma lagaw, malaga
  • Pineapple: Sapparad, sapparat
  • Lemon/Lime: Minao, minow
  • Dessert: Khanom, kanom, kanawm
  • Sweet: Wan, Waan, Wahn, Won, Wohn
  • Sour: Prio, priow, preeow, pri-ow, pree-ow, preow
  • Bitter: Kom, Kohm
  • Salty: Kem, Kehm
  • Spicy (hot, chili pepper spicy): pet, ped, pedt, phet, phed
  • Really Spicy: Ped-Ped
  • Spicy so much that you go into a coma: Ped Silop Silai (ped silop si ly). If you say this they might look shocked, but it’s a funny phrase here!
  • Cold: Yen
  • Hot: Ron, lon
  • Ice: Nam Kaang, Nam Kang
  • Sugar: Nam taan, Num Tan
  • Water: Nam, Naam, Nom
  • Skin (of pork, chicken, whatever…): Nung, nuhng
  • Fat: Mun

I hope that list helps you figure some things out. Print it and take it to the restaurant, don’t be shy! Especially in a place where the waitresses (and nobody) speaks English well enough to help you decide what is good to eat. I have been in a few of those restaurants and usually, I just resort to my default Tom Yum soup which is always good, though sometimes spicy spicy! (Pet-pet).

Here are some typical Thai dishes that you might find in America or in your home country. Try them!

Tom Yum

Spicy and sour soup. Can be with shrimp (tom yum goong); with chicken (tom yum gai); with squid (tom yum pla muk); seafood (tom yum talay); or with fish (tom yum pla). Tom yum is a really nice soup. There are usually tomatoes, straw mushrooms, and onions to eat along with shrimp or whatever type you ordered. Thais eat it with their rice, mixing it on the same spoon or eating separately. Thais LOVE tom yum soup. (me too)

For some reason, Thai food is the hottest when the food you’re eating it with is really wet. Soup is wet. Tom yum soup can be blistering hot – and that’s the way we like it here – but you may find it overwhelming. If you don’t want it spicy tell the waitress/waiter: “Mai Ped” (my ped) It means, ‘not spicy’. Still, the soup might be a little spicy because they make tom yum all at once in some restaurants.

They make it a minimum level of spicy – but once the peppers are in the soup – can’t take the spice out. Tip for spicy food – eat lots of rice with it – it takes away the hotness from your mouth. So does cucumber and other vegetables. If you can stand it, the best way to stop your hot mouth from erupting is by drinking as hot as you can stand – water, tea, coffee. It will hurt a LOT, but then the hotness of the spice goes away. Really!

Som Tam!

Spicy Unripe Papaya Salad with Sticky Rice. The unofficial national dish of Thais in and outside of Thailand has to be SOM TAM. This is what I crave at least 5 times a week. I can have it for lunch or dinner, and sometimes even for breakfast because it calls to my heart and I must have it!

Som Tam is made in different styles. Some of the popular ingredients are shaved papaya (unripe) and can substitute with unripe mangos. Peanuts, tomatoes, green beans, palm sugar, chilies, carrot shavings, crushed garlic, and fish sauce. Some people (most in Thailand) love bla-rah too! It is fermented fish or crabs that gives it an extra special smell and taste that some foreigners just cannot stand!

Gai Pad King

Ginger Chicken. Chicken, shredded ginger, mushrooms, onions, small corn, scallions and sometimes sweet pepper (bell pepper). This one is really delicious. They serve it over rice most often.

Pad Thai

Stir-Fried thin noodles with oyster sauce, tamarind sauce, scrambled egg, shrimp, scallions – fresh on the side. You probably already know about Pad Thai. We get more people going to Joy’s blog to see the Pad Thai recipe than anything else. Apparently, this is very popular in America, Canada, and the UK. I never had it in the states! I didn’t know it existed. Now that I’ve had it in Thailand if I ever return to the USA I’ll order it a lot. It’s very delicious, so simple, but delicious.

Pad Thai with shrimp at Joy's Thai Food - better than eating padthai at a Thai restaurant.
Pad Thai is, of course, a favorite Thai meal and many Thai restaurants have it on the menu. Though it is delicious, you should really sample some other foods – Thai food has a great variety!

Lab Moo

Spicy ground pork salad, Isaan style. This is a great dish – especially if you don’t mind spicy. If you don’t want spicy, again, just say, “my ped” and they can make it like that. This comes from Isaan (northeast Thailand) and is one of our favorites. You can have with pork, duck (lab phed), chicken (lab gai), fish (lab pla), beef (lab neu-uh). Originally it has pork skin in it – which I don’t think you’ll find in restaurants outside Thailand but if you want to make sure you don’t get any you can say, “my sy nung”.

It means ‘no skin’. If you want to be polite you can say, “my sy nung kup” if you are a man, and “my sy nung ka” if you are a woman. Women say “ka” after everything to be very polite. Men say “kup” after everything. In reality, nobody says it all the time as it is too much. I say as much as I remember – about 60% of the time.

Yum Woon Sen

Spicy Glass Noodle Salad. This one I was introduced to right before I came to Thailand. I ate this about five times per week for the last month before I left for Bangkok and I ate it about the first six months I was here in Thailand. I’ve not had it for about the last year though and Joy decided to make it for lunch for me today since she starts work late today. I’m excited – it’s really good and she makes it so spicy that I cry. That’s good food!

Yum woon sen has Thin glass noodles, tomatoes, scallions, onion, squid (usually, can be shrimp or pork instead), chili peppers, of course, lime, and thin ear type mushrooms. This is a wet dish and it can get VERY spicy. You might want to say “my ped” or “ped nid noy” which is a little bit spicy. This dish is hardly ever without any spice since the name of it is “Spicy glass noodle salad”. It wouldn’t be the same without any spice!

Bpoo Pad Pongaree

Stir-fried crab with curry powder. This one is really delicious, and not spicy from chili peppers and just a little bit from the curry. I think you’ll love this if you can find it in your Thai food restaurant. They add cabbage to it and it’s really perfect.

Tom Kha Gai

Chicken in Coconut milk with Galingale. Anything with coconut milk (gati) should not be missed! Yes, it’s fattening – but you’re eating Thai food as a treat, not as part of your diet – right?

Gai Pad Met Mamuang

Chicken and cashew nut stir fry. This also has small corn cobs, shredded carrots… A good choice.

Pad Pak Boong

Stir-Fried morning glory. This is a nice side order. They usually make it with fresh garlic and it’s delicious! Eat this along with your rice. Everything gets eaten along with Thai Jasmine rice I guess that goes without saying.

Pad Pak Loo-um

Mixed vegetable stir-fry. This is good to get as a side-order with anything. You can specify which vegetables you want or just order like this and they’ll give you a mix of all they have.

Kow Niao Mamuang

Sticky rice with sweet mango. MMMMMM. This one is probably my favorite Thai dessert. Most people, once they have this Thai dessert, will keep having it as often as they see it. My husband has a friend from the Netherlands who comes to stay here for a couple of months every year. He had it one time and was addicted. He had 1-2 of them every single night for months!

Sung Kaya Fuhk Thong

Sweet egg custard with pumpkin. MMMMM. This one is probably my 2nd favorite Thai dessert. This dessert isn’t available as much as sticky rice with mango, but it’s very good so we get it if we see it. Depends when the pumpkin is in season.

Lawt Chong

Noodles in coconut milk with jackfruit or another fruit substitute. Though this Thai dessert looks odd, it is another deceptively delicious Thai food that you won’t be able to resist if you come here and try it! This too is an awesome Thai dessert.

Gluay Buad Chee

Ripe, uncooked banana in Coconut milk. Again… delicious.

I think that’s a good start to help you choose some new Thai food you might not have tried before. There is so much variety and to me, all of it is good. Literally, I loved everything Joy made for the year plus she was cooking every day. It was like eating in a five-star restaurant for over a year. YES, I gained weight. I’ve since lost it, but if she starts cooking again the smart thing to do is eat it all and pay for it in a little weight gain. What’s a guy to do?

You should be able to find the foods mentioned here at a Thai food restaurant in your home country. I think you’ll find most or all of these (or some variation) at a nice Thai restaurant. Keep in mind that there are regional differences in Thai cooking. In the north of Thailand, Thai food tends to be sweeter. In the northeast it tends to be spicier in every way, hotness and flavor – they use more chilis, salt, lemon, and herbs. In the south foods tend to be a little sourer and not very spicy, though they have more curries here in the south. Bangkok has a mix of everything.

If you have some time have a look at some of Joy’s Thai food by typing a search word into the box in the upper left-hand side. If you like coconut milk – type it in and see what recipes she has that includes it. You might be surprised and find something you haven’t tried and you can ask for the next time you go to a restaurant for Thai food!

Sawasdee Krup,

Joy

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