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Thai Food for the Unadventurous

Posted By in Expat Life, Thailand, Travel Tips | 23 comments

Thai Food for the Unadventurous

You know how people always say that the Westernized versions of various worldwide cuisines are dramatically different from the authentic cuisine? The stock saying that food in China, for example, is nothing like Chinese food in North America? Well, this maxim definitely holds true in Thailand. Before coming to Thailand, I would have said I like Thai food, but then I arrived here and realized that I had no clue what Thai food really is.

I also found out that it’s one thing to boldly sample local cuisine when you’re on the road, but it’s an entirely different situation when that unfamiliar food becomes your basic diet. The thing about living in the-middle-of-nowhere Thailand is that the street stalls aren’t cooking up truckloads of Pad Thai and spring rolls (known foreigner favourites) the way they are in more touristy cities, like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. At first, living in a place with few English speakers, where menus are entirely in Thai (barring those few rare and precious places with picture menus) made it challenging to navigate the world of Thai food. During my first few months in Thailand I found myself either pointing uncertainly at the street stall selections, with no clue what I was ordering, or defaulting to flat khao pad gai  (chicken fried rice) because I didn’t know how to ask for anything else.

I was raised on a relatively bland meat-and-potatoes diet, and no matter how hard I try, there’s only so much spiciness I can handle in any given meal and still find it enjoyable. So, for everyone else who wants to branch out from Pad Thai without involving copious quantities of chili peppers, here’s my guide to the most delicious, non-spicy Thai foods:

Tab Tim

Tab Tim: non-spicy Thai food

This is a whole tilapia fish, which can be served boiled (tom) or deep fried (thawt). Once I got over the guilt of having the dead fish face stare at me whilst I consumed it, I realized that this is a pretty delicious dish. The best part is that it seems to be a little different everywhere I eat it, with each restaurant preparing it with a unique blend of spices, and serving it with various kinds of sauces.

Gai Pad Sapparod

Gai Pad Sapparod: non-spicy Thai food

Call me easily impressed, but even after having this dish countless times, I still get excited by its presentation in a hollowed-out pineapple. The pineapple is filled with peppers, tomatoes, onions, and other veggies, along with cashew nuts and chicken in a sweet and sour sauce. It’s tasty both on its own, or served over rice.

Pad See Eiw

Pad See Eiw: non-spicy Thai food

This dish of wide rice noodles, chicken and Chinese broccoli fried in soy sauce is reminiscent of Pad Thai. It’s a good fall back when you’re not sure what to order because virtually all restaurants and street stalls have the ingredients to make it. Plus, considering that I consume gallons of rice on a weekly basis, it’s kind of nice to mix it up with noodles every once in a while.

Pad Pak Ruam Mitr

Pad Pak Ruam Mitr: non-spicy Thai food

With so many Thai meals consisting mainly of meat and rice, this is how I get my veggie fix.  “Ruam mitr” literally means “everything mixed together”, so you’ll basically get a mixture of whatever veggies the restaurant or stall has on hand, all stir-fried in oyster sauce. We tend to order a plate of this with almost every meal just to add some leafy greens into our day-to-day diet.

Moo Daeng

Moo Daeng: non-spicy Thai food

This is barbequed pork covered with a sweet, red sauce.  A restaurant close to our home serves it with a sprinkling of garlic, which is a particularly tasty addition. Order this along with pad pak ruam mitr, and either khao pad kai (fried rice with an egg) or khao plao (plain white rice), and you’ve got an awesome dinner.

Khao Kha Moo

Khao Kha Moo: non-spicy Thai food

This is a basic, but tasty dish consisting of braised pork leg served on a bed of rice. It’s an easy meal to spot when you’re perusing street stalls due to the fairly conspicuous large pork leg stewing in a enormous pot of soy sauce.  I like to ask for mine “Mai aow nang”, or without skin, because despite my carnivorousness, skin kind of creeps me out.

Goi Tod

Goi Tod: non-spicy Thai food

Sometimes I complain that too many foods in Thailand are deep fried, but warm, deep fried bananas are one greasy treat with which I have absolutely no qualms.  There is a particular food stall near our home, where the lovely owner fries the bananas with honey, creating a perfect, sweet snack that I’ve been known to eat an ungodly amount of.  This is one indulgence that I will mostly certainly miss when we leave.

Cha Nom Yen

Cha Nom Yen: non-spicy Thai food

A drink consisting of tea mixed with condensed milk and served on ice. This sweet drink couldn’t be more perfect for those sticky, humid Thai afternoons. If you want a show with your drink, at JJ market in Bangkok, you can see skilled Thai tea makers preparing the drink with extra style and flourish.

Smoothie

Smoothie: non-spicy Thai food

You’ll see no shortage of smoothie stands in Thailand, where it’s pronounced “smooty” because Thai doesn’t really incorporate the “th” sound.  These stands usually have a variety of fresh fruits and syrups on display, allowing you to point to whichever ones you want, and then have it all blended together.  It can be a good light breakfast option if you don’t feel like starting your day with rice and chicken.

Thai people are generally pretty entertained when Westerners attempt to speak Thai, so compliment your meal by saying “arroy” (the “r” sounds more like an “l” depending on the region), which means delicious, and you’ll find yourself being congratulated on having mastered the Thai language.

 

What are some of your Thai food favourites?

23 Comments

  1. tammyonthemove January 10, 2013

    This is such a helpful post. Like you, when I visited Bankgok last year, I only ordered the usual suspects of Pad That, spring rolls and green and red curry. I must try Gai Pad Sapparod. That just looks so juicy and delicious. Yum!
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    • waysofwanderers January 10, 2013

      Thanks, Tammy! And I'm sure you'll love gai pad sapparod – sweet and sour flavours like this don't seem to be used a lot in Thai cooking, but I wish they were because I'm a big fan.

  2. Steph (@20YH) January 10, 2013

    Oh wow! These all look amazing, and while I have nothing against a good plate of pad thai (who would?!?), I bet these are a lot yummier too! Can't wait to make it to Thailand when we can try all this stuff for REAL!
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    • waysofwanderers January 10, 2013

      Thanks, Steph! I'm sure you guys are going to really enjoy it!

    • waysofwanderers January 11, 2013

      Anytime! The food is just one of the reasons why Thailand is worth checking out. I hope you make it out there.

  3. ednaz January 11, 2013

    While I'm all about the spice — I could live off tom yam soup — this is a great idea to start off those who don't know much about Thai food. Hopefully after a few of these dishes (or maybe even with them) people would venture off into 'wilder' Thai food territory!
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    • waysofwanderers January 13, 2013

      I totally admire people who can really handle the spice. I love tom yam too, but I definitely have to balance it out by having some milder foods with it. It's tasty, but crazily spicy depending on where you get it!

  4. Julika January 12, 2013

    Great post! Sadly, I have absolutely no experience with the Thai cuisine, since Thai food (even the Westernized version) was/is quite hard to come by in the areas I lived at so far. I saw so many yummy photos online lately, but sometimes it's really hard to even tell whether a dish is vegetarian or not. So this post really was a major help, and I'm already excited for my first taste of Thai food someday! I'm pretty sure that Tilapia dish will be my absolute favorite! And the smoothies, of course 🙂

    • waysofwanderers January 13, 2013

      Thanks, Julika. If you're vegetarian, there are a lot of delicious veggie curries that you'd probably love! These tend to be on the spicier side, but you can always ask for it "pet nit noi", which means "only a little spice".

  5. Agness January 12, 2013

    Where is my favourite Pad Thai dish with a tone of peanuts :)? That's by far my favourite Thai food. I'm getting hungry and missing a lot the fresh fruits and Thai noodles.
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    • waysofwanderers January 13, 2013

      There's nothing like a fresh mango, or one of those really tasty mini-bananas – I love the fruit! I do enjoy a good Pad Thai, but weirdly, there's very few places to get it around where I'm staying. Plus, it's so popular with tourists, if we order it too much we get mocked by the Thai people for always eating "ahan farang" (foreigner food).

    • waysofwanderers January 14, 2013

      Pad See Eiw is the closest thing I can find in Thailand to comfort food – it's so warm and hearty.

    • waysofwanderers January 17, 2013

      When I first got here I couldn't stomach the idea of eating chicken before noon – but now chicken and sticky rice is one of my favourite quick breakfasts!

  6. cubiclethrowdown January 17, 2013

    I am planning to head to Thailand next, but was really worried about the food – I'm allergic to peppers! This list has put my mind at ease…thank you!!
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    • waysofwanderers January 17, 2013

      I'm glad you found it useful! Just trying to help out other spice-o-phobes like myself.

  7. Peter Lee January 21, 2013

    This post is nice and you have included plenty of Thai food which is in fact my weakness. Gai Pad Sapparod is the best thing I have ever eaten. I love its presentation and the way it is served as a dish in a hollow pineapple.

  8. Angela February 8, 2013

    I never knew it was called Pad See Eiw but I LOVE IT! The noodles have such a nice chewy feel to them, I only know one restaurant that has it but I'm gonna ask around on the street. Thanks!
    And what I always ask for on the street when there is nothing I recognize: chicken with basil. (I always forget all the names of the dishes).
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    • waysofwanderers February 9, 2013

      Chicken is usually a pretty safe bet too. I've seen a few streets stalls where they literally roast an entire chicken, and then give it to you on a stick when you buy it.

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