Thai Food Guide for Beginners

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Thai Food Guide for Beginners

How To Order Thai Food And Types You Make Like

There are over 5,000 Thai restaurants in the United States. It’s a cuisine for people who love spicy foods, noodles, and rice draped in lettuce with vegetables. 

If you aren’t a fan of spicy, there are plenty of sweet and salty alternatives.  There is also more to Thai food than pad Thai, the infamous peanut flavored fat noodle dish. 

Thailand food is an integral part of social gatherings.  Fresh vegetables are always present as well as generous portions of noodle, rice, and curry dishes.

If it’s your first time ordering Thai food, after reading this guide, you’ll understand the different curries, noodle soups, variations of pork, chicken, shrimp, and beef. Vinegar based sauces are available, as well as salt. 

The Curry Experience

Thai food has several kinds of curry based dishes which are thick and usually creamy.   Curry is mostly eaten by itself or over sticky rice with a salad or vegetable dish. The best Thai food recommendation for new Thai food eaters is fat or thick noodles and curry.  Choose a salad, some vegetable dishes and rice. 

If this is your first time eating Thai, get a simple Thai curry sauce, maybe yellow for starters and make sure there is a coconut base, whatever you choose. There are also water based curries, usually less spicy.  The gaeng Sohm curry sauce is water based.  

If it’s your first time eating Thai food, you’ll be asked what base you want. You are essentially being asked the meat you want, (Chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, lamb, or tofu.)  

Delicious types of Curry; Thai Food for Beginners

  • Green 
  • Red 
  • Yellow 
  • Panang 
  • Massaman 

Curries are a large part of Thai food experience

Green, Red, Yellow Curries

Green curry is made from green chili peppers and has a lemon-lime flavor. Eggplant and chicken are mixed with green curry sauce for this dish as well. This is a great Thai food dish for beginners. 

The red curry is from red chili peppers. Spiced with cumin or coriander with many vegetables, Panang curry is usually green or red with less coconut milk and could be a peanut sauce.  Massaman, which is named for (Muslim) is a curry with lamb or beef.  Sometimes, it has a cinnamon or nutmeg flavor added.

Yellow curry is fairly mild in flavor.  It can be a tad spicy because of the turmeric (an Indian spice, which is bright yellow when we use it in cooking).  Turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory food medicine.  The turmeric is mixed with garlic and ginger.  Yellow curry also contains potatoes, chicken pieces.   

How to Order Thai Curry

If it’s your first time eating Thai food, always tell your waiter or waitress how spicy you want your curry.  The best types of Thai food are all over the board with spices, but it’s best to start mild.  Not everyone can handle ultra-hot, which most Thai foods are.  Choose wisely when you get a Thai dish recommendation, if it’s your first time eating Thai.

Explore the Various Dishes of Thai Food: Common Dishes on the Menu

Foods come from the four regions of Thailand.  Just about everything comes with white sticky rice as a side.  If not, just order some extra.  These are all favorite Thai creations.

Khao kluk kapi is a fried rice dish tossed together with fermented ground shrimp and salt.   It usually comes with unripe mango, sweet Chinese sausage shallots, chili sauces, omelets, shrimp, and sauced pork.

A vegetable geared dish containing broccoli is called Kana moo krob.  The broccoli is fried with garlic, chili, and pork belly.  It’s usually paired with soy sauce and jasmine rice. 

Larb is a common dish and almost everyone would enjoy it.  It’s essentially a salad with meats and mushrooms on top.  Sometimes, it comes with tofu, onions, and a fish sauce and lime juice.  Often, Larb is served with sticky rice and papaya with rice on top. A common soup, Tom Yam Kai is a spicy, broth-based soup.  There is another soup similar in name called, Tom Kha Kai which is creamy based with coconut milk. 

Other Thai Food Dishes:

  • Kai jeow, moo sab (fried omelet with peppery ground pork – or sausage)
  • Suea rong hai (Grilled steak, spicy sauce, with rice)
  • Khao soi (Noodle soup, creamy coconut broth, pickled mustard greens, raw shallots, and crispy egg noodles)
  • Kuay tiew phet (Noodle soup, pork, and beef dish flavored with spices, a blend of cinnamon, anise, five spices, vermicelli, egg noodles, or glass noodles)
  • Som tam phu pala (Papaya salad, a sweet and spicy, nuts, fermented crab, with a salty, and fishy crab)
  • Pad pak boong fai dang (Red Thai chili peppers, with veggies, fermented soy bean, oyster sauce, and soy sauce gravy, with rice.)
  • Ruam mit (Dessert gazpacho with sweet coconut milk broth, palm seeds, coconut jelly, water chestnuts, with tapioca flour.)

The Flavors of Thai Foods

Thai dishes are sweet, salty, spicy or sour. There are many dishes with thick noodles, vegetables, lettuce, and chicken, lamb, shrimp, or beef.  Some dishes are more rice geared or contain fruits such as pineapple or papaya. 

It all depends on what part region of Thailand you’re on. Thai culture is known for snacking, which is why there are so many small side dishes.  They love quick foods like spring rolls, rice dishes with a variety of different flavors of chicken and shrimp. There are so many dips, soups, salads, and sweet and spicy aromas in Thai cooking.

Presentation and Eating Etiquette of Thai

If you are new at eating Thai food, know that the formal presentation is a huge aspect of the Thai culture. Food presentation is an art form and was done perfectly and creatively for the upper class. Platters are typically decorated with intricate carved fruits and vegetables, garnished with herbs and flowers. 

How to Eat and How to Order Thai Food

Thai food is eaten with chopsticks, or a large spoon and fork. Always place your spoon is in your right hand; in place of a knife.  Remember, Thai food, eaten like you have a bunch of samples.  There is always rice on the side. Bowls are usually only used for soup dishes.

Thai wait staff could appear unfriendly. Just remind yourself, it is only the culture coming out. Most Thai restaurants in the United States won’t be this way. 

All the foods included in Thai culture is typically shared among several people. Order one of each of the four types of foods: wet, dry, yum, and spicy.  The food blends better together as you eat, with one of each.  

The Four Types of Thai Dishes, eaten at one setting:

  • Wet
  • Dry
  • Yum
  • Spicy

Curry is usually your rich wet dish, along with a soup that may be spicy, a dry dish would be a stir-fry or anything not served in a bowl. Then, there is a dish that is referred to as yum, meaning salad, and it means it has fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili sauce.

This yum dish helps to cleanse between foods. Most Thai people eat seafood and beef or chicken.

Aside from Curry and soups, other essentials:

  • Rice
  • Fat/thick Noodles
  • Fish sauce
  • Prik nam pla (salty sauce)
  • Salt

Why not give Thai a try?

If you like Chinese food, you’ll probably like Thai.  Think of Thai food as an exotic version of Chinese food.  It has many similar elements, but some have more extreme flavors such as ultra-sweet, salty or that ultra-spiciness, like Indian foods.  

Always start off with more familiar flavors like a  yellow curry that’s less spicy with noodles and rice.  Try some vegetable dishes with fish sauce.  You can always add more dishes as not everything is in huge portions.  

Also, you can tell your chef to spice things up or keep low-key.  Remind them, you’re looking for the best Thai for beginners!  When it’s your first time eating Thai, take your time and always find  several Thai food recommendations so you have some to choose from!



Sara. “Thai Food for Beginners: How to Order More Exciting Office Meals”

Schmidt, Darlene. “Thai Food and Culture”

Thompson, Kat. “11 Thai Dishes You Aren’t Ordering But Should Be.

Domzalski, Tessa. “The Beginners Guide to Authentic Thai Foods.”

Pailin, Chongchitnant. “How to order Thai food like a native.”


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