One of the things I’ve learned from traveling around the world is that some foods have different names depending on the region. Spices, in particular, go by many names. Some of the spices you’ll find in Thailand are indigenous to the region an you may not be familiar with them, but they’re what make the food so great. Before you go, here’s what you should know.
Kha – one of my favorites, ข่า or galangal (a root similar to ginger) is used in many dishes, especially soups.
Khing – ขิง or ginger, is used in a lot of stir fry dishes.
Bai Makrut – ใบมะกรูด or kaffir lime leaves are used in soups, curries, or chopped finely into meat dishes like larb. Don’t eat a whole leaf. If you love kaffir lime leaves, buy them in Thailand where they’re much less expensive. (just keep them in their original packaging so you don’t run into issues at customs)
Bai toei – ใบย่านาง or pandan leaves are very common in the region. Pandan leaves are often wrapped around beef, chicken or other foods and deep fried. They’re very edible when cooked.
Takhrai – ตะไคร้ or lemongrass is a highly used spice/herb. I love lemongrass flavored tea now!
Phrik khi nu – พริกขี้หนู or Chili is literally translated as mouse-dropping chili. No wonder most people call them Thai Chili.
You should also be familiar with a few pastes/condiments that are frequently used and include many of the favorite Thai spices:
Kapi – กะปิ or shrimp paste can be smelled a mile away. It’s made by fermenting ground shrimp and salt.
Nam pla – น้ำปลา or fish sauce is used extensively in Thai cooking. You’ll also recognize the smell, but depending on its use, you may not notice the flavor. Believe it or not, there’s a more pungent version of fish sauce called Pla Ra or ปลาร้า.
Si-io dam or Si-io khao – ซีอิ้วดำ or ซีอิ้วขาว is soy sauce! The first is dark soy and second is light soy and it’s pronounced (soya dam or soya cow)
Manao – the most common fruit, almost none of the locals will know it by its English name, lime. Thai’s serve lime with almost every noodle and rice dish and you may find yourself asking for more manao (man ow) มะนาว
Farang – besides a slang word referring to tourists, farang is a guava. ฝรั่ง (fah rang)
Khao – you might be familiar with the word Khao because it’s common in may city names (Khao Lak for example). Khao is a word you should learn as it’s a staple in the Thai diet, it means rice ข้าว (cow)
There are dozens, actually thousands, of words you could learn, but learning just a few will help you get along in Thailand, especially when ordering food.