Thai Food & Cooking Terms

By Gayot Editors

Don’t know your tom kha kai from your tom yam kung? Have no fear. Whether you’re dining at a five-star restaurant, an authentic eatery, or simply ordering takeout under a time crunch, our guide to Thai food terms will arm you with the necessary culinary lingo needed to negotiate any Thai menu.

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Kaeng (or Gaeng): large and diverse category of Thai dishes; loosely translates as “curry”
Kaeng massaman: a variety of coconut-milk curry
Kaeng phed: a red, coconut-cream curry

Kaeng som is a famous sour curry from southern Thailand

Kaeng som: hot-sour curry
Kapi: fermented shrimp paste; vital ingredient in nam phrik, or dishes flavored with hot chili sauce
Kai (or Gai): chicken
Khai: egg
Khao: rice
Khao suai: white rice
Khao phad: fried rice
King: ginger
Kung: prawns


Lab (or Larb): dish of minced meat, chilies, and lime juice


Mu: pork


Nam: sauce
Nam pla: fish sauce
Nam phrik: a hot chili sauce
Nuea: beef


Ped: duck
Phad: fried
Phad king: fried with ginger
Phad phed: fried hot and spicy
Phad Thai: pan-fried rice noodles with chicken, shrimp, eggs, peanuts and bean sprouts
Phrik: chili pepper
Pla: fish


Sriracha: a spicy chili condiment named after the city of Si Racha, Thailand where it was first produced


Tom kha kai is a spicy and sour hot soup

Tom: boiled; often refers to soup
Tom kha kai: chicken coconut-cream soup flavored with lemongrass and chilies
Tom yam kung: hot-sour shrimp soup flavored with lemongrass, lime and chilies


Yam: flavored primarily with lime juice and chilies, resulting in a hot-sour taste; usually ‘salads’ but can also be a Thai noodle dish or soup
Yam pla: raw fish spiked with lime juice, chili, lemongrass, mint and fish sauce