FIRST TIME EATING... THAI
FOOD VIRGIN'S FIRST TIME
first time eating Thai food, it hit my tongue like a swarm
of kamikazes blasting my unsuspecting tastebuds.
No one had told me that Thai cooks like their food
to excite every area of your mouth, and so mix sweet,
salty, sour, and spicy hot, together in every meal. The tom yam goong soup was the best example of this, leaving
my poor tongue stunned for the rest of the night.
Now that I know what to expect, it’s one of my
favorite foods, both for the food itself, and the dining
experience as a whole, and I’m clearly not alone; Thai
restaurants are spreading fast across America.
Tell us about your first time eating Thai
At many restaurants, like the very popular,
top-rated Kittichai in New York City, from the moment you
enter, you’ll feel a warm welcome in serene
surroundings, often decorated with pink and white orchids
or Buddhist images. At
many Thai restaurants, your hostess might say, “Sawadee
ka!” meaning, “Hello!” as you walk in the door.
She may even be wearing traditional dress, and
might do the wai, a kind of traditional physical greeting,
with hands pressed together and to the chest.
A smile and “Hello!” back is a perfectly fine
response, though Chef Ian Chalermkittichai of the
Kittichai restaurant explains, “You can say
As for the wai, you can skip that.
“Mostly, you have to do it for people who are
older [or higher ranking than you].”
seated, you’ll find that the cutlery laid out will
typically include a fork, spoon and chopsticks- but
probably not a knife. This is OK because, like with Chinese food, Thai food is
served in small, bite-sized pieces.
Use the fork and spoon to eat your entrée, as the
chopsticks are only normally used to eat noodles.
If there is also the choice of a white, ceramic
spoon, use that to eat any soup that you order.
Typically, this will only be brought out with the
soup that you order, but if it’s already on your table,
use it, and not the silver spoon for your soup.
ORDER & HOW TO EAT IT
When ordering, you’ll find that Thai menus list
appetizers, and then typically split the main dish choices
into categories, like ‘rice and noodles’,
‘curries’, ‘chicken’, ‘beef’, ‘seafood’,
‘vegetables’, and so on.
The names of dishes might be written in Thai,
sometimes also in English, but the descriptions will
always be in English.
If you want to order using the Thai names,
pronounce them phonetically.
snacks are tasty, so I recommend not skipping the
appetizer section. Satay-
slightly sweet marinated chicken or beef on skewers- is a
great first-time starter, as it’s not spicy at all.
Spring rolls are popular- they are typically made
from chopped vegetables and shrimp or pork and can come
either fried or not, with both versions being less greasy
than typical Chinese egg rolls.
Fish cakes, which you can think of as a relative of
the crab cake, are also on many Thai menus.
As these dishes are brought out, little dishes of
dipping sauces will accompany them.
Some are sweet, some are hot, some are salty, some
are not. Double-check
with your waiter as to which sauce goes with which
you’re not feeling very adventurous, beware of the soup
and salad choices. Salads are not the lettuce and tomato concoctions that
we’re used to. They
may well be hot (both temperature and spicy hot!) and be
made up of mostly beef and citrus such as pomello, or
shredded fruit, like papaya with chili. “In a salad expect all the 5 elements: spicy, sweet, salty, sour, and with aromatic Thai herbs, to
make it really unique,” says Chef Ian.
Soup is often served at the same time as the rest
of the meal, not beforehand.
Tom Yam Kung (also spelled Tom Yum Goong) is the
most famous Thai soup.
With its mix of hot and sour flavors, it epitomizes
what Thai food is. If
you want something milder, though, try the Tom Kha Gai-
it’s a delicious coconut chicken soup that can be served
as mild as you like (be sure to specify!), and is what I
For ordering main dishes, try to include a
different meat with each dish.
Also, have a mix of spicy vs. mild, and saucy vs.
dry. A good
combination for Thai food virgins is a green chicken
curry, pad thai noodles with shrimp, spicy beef salad, and
some mixed vegetables.
If the restaurant seems like it’s got a good
supply of fresh fish then deep-fried fish is often nice
popular dish that’s one of my favorites is olive rice,
being tastier than plain rice, but a nice change from
fried rice. Whether
you choose plain or olive rice, each diner will get their
own plate or bowl of rice; bring food from the shared
dishes, and keep it with your rice until eating you’re
ready to eat it. So
do you need rice? “With
some of the certain dishes, like curry,” Chef Ian
explains, “We recommend to have it with rice.”
Share more tips of your own
is abundant with exotic fruit, so you will usually find
fruit drinks on the menu.
Lime juice, pineapple juice, mango, lychee and
coconut-based drinks might all be available. For alcoholic drinks, the most well-known Thai beer is Singha.
Kittichai creates cocktails such as the lemongrass
martini and lemon basil mojitos.
dessert, the choices will typically range from the very
familiar cut fruit, such as papayas, to the ubiquitous
mango sticky rice, which is usually popular with kids.
Coconut is also commonly found in Thai desserts,
such as coconut ice cream, cake or Kanom Krok,
restaurants traditionally offer both tea and coffee.
The coffee is strong-roasted.
“It is like Vietnamese coffee.
It is very strong, very intense,” says Chef Ian.
The tea, meanwhile, originates from India and is a
rich orange color. Drink
both with milk and sugar, if you like.
“We drink our coffee and tea really sweet.
We put sugar in and use condensed milk a lot.”
No matter where you live these days, you should be
able to find a Thai restaurant nearby.
Most will serve a combination of Thai street food
(like satay), and Thai Royal Cuisine (like the typically
beautifully presented deep fried fish dishes).
By ordering a balanced menu, and keeping your mind
and taste buds open and ready for a powerful blend of
flavors, you’ll likely enjoy your first time eating Thai
food. For me,
it’s become one of my most favorite cuisines.
DO’S AND DEFINITELY DON’TS
for the waiter’s help to order a nice mix of food
for your group, as well as the right amount.
It takes a while to learn how to choose the
right balance of flavors, as well as how much food is
in each dish.
your chopsticks to serve food from the shared dishes
to yours, if no serving spoons come with the dish.
Also use them to eat any noodle dishes you
order, like Pad Thai.
Your fork and spoon silverware are for eating
the other dishes.
of bones in fish.
In the U.S., some deep-fried fish will be
de-boned, so as to make it easier to eat, but if
you’re not sure about your own fish, ask the waiter.
how spicy is spicy at that restaurant.
With dishes where you can specify how spicy
you’d like it, some restaurants have a spicy scale
out of 10. Get
an understanding of the scale before you pick a number
(like, is a 5 similar to mild barbecue wings, or hot
eat the whole lime leaves or lemongrass stalks that
might be found in your tom yam goong.
Just leave them at the bottom of the bowl along
with any small chilies that might be too hot
(remember: Typically, the smaller the chili, the
hotter it is!). These
items may also be found in other dishes too,
especially the curries.
hoard food by grabbing heaps of what you want from the
shared serving plates and keeping it all on your own
plate, leaving none for anyone else!
eat rice and noodles in the same bite.
They are both starches and should be eaten
leave your utensils all over the place.
There will usually be a stand or holder for
your chopsticks and sometimes spoons too, when
you’re not using them.
Silverware can rest on your plate in the
American way. Leave
the ceramic spoon on a plate underneath your soup
bowl, or in your soup bowl when you’re done.
Suggest more DOs and DON'Ts
Thai- The famous noodle dish, made with flat rice
noodles, and added seasoning, as well as usually shrimp.
Ask for the chili on the side of you aren’t sure
how hot you want it.
Can be made with chicken, beef or seafood, this is
a popular curry, where the sauce is made from a fresh
cilantro and coconut base.
Not to be missed.
Yam Goong- (also called Tom Yam Kung) The soup
that’s hot, sour, sweet and spicy, tom yam goong is a
clear soup that usually has shrimp in it too.
Kha Gai- Coconut-based
chicken soup. Ask
about the spiciness.
The Thai version of a kebob.
Usual choices are chicken and beef, satay is
typically mild and comes with a peanut dipping sauce.
Sticky Rice- The most popular dessert for all ages.
Exactly what it says it is.
Curry- The Thai version of beef and potato stew.
Not particularly spicy.
Nua- Spicy beef salad.
more Thai food term items to the list
food is a pretty good choice for people with kids.
Most kids like chicken satay, and most Thai
restaurants serve this. It is also possible to get plain rice, stir-fried vegetables
or noodles. Kids
who are willing to try new dishes would probably like
pandan chicken, which comes in fun pandan leaf packages
and has a sweet accompanying sauce.
They might also like tom kha gai, if they like
of course, would probably also go over well.
Food (is it easy to find things that American kids will
Level (how different is this from standard American food):
What do you think?
Rate Thai food yourself!
eat Thai food where the Food Virgin go to:
Thompson, Thompson Hotel, New York, NY 10012 (212)