Expand Your Thai Food Vocabulary

Updated: 6 days ago

If you love Thai food, you're probably familiar with one or two Thai words but may not know exactly what they mean.

Thai is a beautiful language, and in this article, we’ll look at some of the traditional names for popular dishes. That way, when you visit Thailand or even a local Thai restaurant, you can order dishes using their original Thai names.

The great thing about the Thai language is that most of the words are quite easy to pronounce. While it may take some time to learn which vowels and constants to emphasise, most words roll off the tongue quite easily, even for native English speakers.


Let’s start with something simple. If you see the word ‘Khao’ on a Thai menu, it means that the dish is served with rice as ‘Khao’ directly translates to ‘rice’. Popular rice dishes include Khao Suey and Khao Soi.

Tom Kha Gai

A very popular, spicy coconut and chicken soup. ‘Tom’ is a word that we see very often in Thai cuisine as the word translates to ‘boiling broth’ in English. ‘Gai’ means ‘chicken’, and ‘Kha’ means ‘galangal’, which is a root similar to ginger that is used frequently in Thai cooking.

Kaeng Khiao Wan

Kaeng Khiao Wan is the name for one of the most famous Thai dishes in the world: Thai Green Curry. ‘Kaeng’ generally translates to ‘curry’ but can also refer to a wide range of other soup-like dishes. The entire phrase of ‘Kaeng Khiao Wan’ literally means ‘Sweet Green Curry’. ‘Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai’ means ‘Sweet Green Curry with Chicken’.

Prik Nam Pla

Prik Nam Pla is not so much a Thai dish but rather a very popular ingredient used in Thai cooking: Fish Sauce with Chilli! ‘Prik’ translates to ‘chilli’, and ‘Nam Pla’ translates to ‘fish sauce’.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai is another very popular dish that directly translates to ‘Thai Stirfry’. When you start adding other words to ‘Pad Thai’, you may be able to decipher what ingredients are in the stirfry. For example, ‘Pad Thai Gai’ would be a Thai stirfry with chicken.

Nomh Gat

Nomh Gat is another very commonly used Thai ingredient in almost all Thai dishes and desserts. ‘Nomh Gat’ is none other than ‘Coconut Milk.’

Are you looking for delicious Thai food in Auckland? Here at SOHO Thai Kitchen, we offer modern Thai dishes as well as signature cocktails. Feel free to make a booking or order a takeaway to try our Thai fusion meals.

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