You’ve been in Thailand for a few days now, and on every street corner you see Thai people with their heads down, chopsticks and spoon in hand, slurping up noodles and broth from enormous bowls. You’re itching to venture into street food and try your own, but pointing and smiling isn’t quite cutting it. You want that one—but how do you order it?
That bowl you’ve been eyeing is called guai tiao, or noodle soup. The basic ordering equation is as follows: noodle + broth + meat = meal.
There are six main varieties of noodles:
1. Sen lek (narrow rice noodles)
2. Sen yai (wide rice noodles, like the one’s you’ve probably eaten in pad see yuu)
3. Woon sen (Vermicelli noodles)
4. Mee (glass noodles)
5. Ba mee (yellow egg noodles)
6. Gee-ow (dumplings filled with minced pork)
There are half as many broth variations:
1. Tom yum (broth seasoned with shallots, crushed chilies, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, lemon grass, and galangal)
2. Nam dtok (broth cooked with fresh cow or pig blood)
3. Haeng (without broth—sounds strange, but it’s like a Thai version of spaghetti!)
And, there are two kinds of meat almost always available:
1. moo (pork)
2. nua (beef)
A word on meat: pork will always be on hand, with beef making sporadic appearances. Chicken (gai), unfortunately, is seldom available at guai tiao stands.
Add it up:
The most standard order is “guai tiao moo,” which will land you with a clear broth, narrow rice noodles, lookshin (meat balls) and strips of meat. If you’re a bit more adventurous, try throwing together different noodle-and-soup combinations. For example, my personal favorite is “ba mee tom yum nua,” or egg noodles with tom yum broth and beef. If you want a soup without something, simply put “mai sai” in front of whatever it is you don’t want; “guia tiaw mai moo sai lookshin,” for example, will get you plain brothed pork soup without mystery meat balls).
Now, off you go—time to slurp it up next to the locals. Don’t forget to give compliments to the chef with an “aroy mak!” and a grin. Bon appetit!