One of the things we love so much about Thailand is the abundance of delicious food everywhere. There is so much choice it can be overwhelming at first, but here’s an easy distinction between two kinds of Thai-street foods for you:
Kao rad gaeng versus aharn tam sang.
Kao rad gaeng is what you see in the picture below – the dishes are already prepared and ready to eat. You just walk to the vendor, point to the dishes you want and they’ll serve it on a plate of rice. You can mix several dishes on one plate, and in fact most Thai’s choose 2 different dishes per plate of rice.
Aharn tam sang on the other hand is food that you order, and then the vendor prepares it freshly for you.
At first I thought that aharn tam sang (freshly prepared after you order) is always the best choice, but the truth is: it all depends on the vendor. Some kao rad gaeng vendors offer absolutely stellar cuisine.
A typical kao rad gaeng dish costs between 20-50 Baht ($0.65 – $1.60), and it’s a popular choice especially during lunch-breaks when people are rushed for time.
How to pronounce it:
kao = cow (like in purple cow)
rad = just make sure you pronounce the a like in ask (and not like in man or rat or red).
gaeng = gang (like in street gang)
What it means: ข้าวราดแกง
kao (ข้าว) = rice
rad (ราด) = to pour on, to cover with
gaeng (แกง) = curry (although the term is used more flexible in Thai than it is in English)
So it means something like “cover rice with curry” (or given the wide variety of foods than can be used to cover the rice: cover rice with a topping).
The nice thing about kao rad gaeng is that it’s a neat opportunity to try new foods and explore dishes you’ve never tried before. With the low price, it’s not even so bad if you try something and don’t like it – but every once in a while you will find something that is surprisingly delicious which you would otherwise never have tried. If that happens, make sure to ask the vendor what this is called and write it down. Otherwise you might end up with the memory of a superyummy meal that you won’t get again because you don’t know how to order it, which can be a pity. (Yes, I speak from experience – been there, done that) 🙂
One of the best ways to travel around Thailand is not to follow the guidebooks or websites, but to follow your taste-buds. Usually places where you find good food are also places where you can meet great people. And great people can lead you to awesome experiences 🙂