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Mar 17, 2008 02:44 PM

Thai Square: What's on the Thai Language Menu?

The waitress told me that a few dishes on the thai language menu are not on the english menu. anyone have further info on the dishes?

btw, saturday's som tum was as delicious as always, and the place was packed with thai people at 12:30.

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  1. nobody on chow has any idea? what about my chow pals who are devotees of thai square?

    1. I've been there a zillion times but didn't know there was a Thai language menu. Of course I can't read Thai anyway ..... If the waitress offered that information, why not just ask her what the dishes are?

      1. good advice from Dakota Guy. That's how we deal with the specials at Hong Kong Palace -- posted on the wall in Chinese only. Staff there always ready to be helpful. I've also been pleasantly surprised by asking, both at Thai and Chinese restaurants what the restaurant staff had for lunch today and asking for that. Most times it will be something fairly common or a specialty of the house, but most often with a twist on the usual flavors or textures.
        I'll be the first to acknowledge this works best in restaurants we frequently. I'll also acknowledge that the surprises aren't always to our taste. we'll always try it and, of course nev ewr complain. We always ask to take the remainder home with us.

        27 Replies
        1. re: ciaohound

          the waitress did not offer any information until she handed me the menu i asked her to give me from the table next door -- the menu that looked like photos and thai language (i didn't know if there would be english on it, too).

          i did ask if the dishes were the same, and as i said in op, she said some dishes were different. the place was packed, so i was not willing to hold her up for that (i was settling up).

          i did not realize they had a thai menu either, until i noticed it on the table next to me, with two thai ladies, and one was handed to a thai couple being seated. it has photos and thai language names/descriptions, but if you know how to tell what dish/meat those MIGHT be just from photos, you are better than me. (i am not ready, willing and able to eat everything that others might eat.) if there is time on my next visit, i'll inquire further before ordering. but to be frank, there are SO many things on the english menu that i have yet to try, it is a bit premature.

          1. re: alkapal

            I've run into this in some Thai restaurants and there are a few reasons for it. First, the Thai-language version is handed out to native Thai's who would prefer to select the food from their own language. Second, the Thai version likely has a few dishes that aren't on the English version because the taste is deemed a little harsh for most Westerners; fried rice with kapi (shrimp paste) for example. Third, stateside Thai restaurants often get creative and create their own dishes that are not traditional Thai and the pictures/Thai language narrative help the Thai natives figure out what is being offered.
            I am a Thai linguist and will be glad to xlate any menu items you can get a scan of.

            1. re: ThaiNut

              thanks. i have nary a problem with the concept of the thai menu. and it is just that possibility of the "harsh" food that keeps me from just pointing out some picture.

              1. re: ThaiNut

                ThaiNut, if you have a chance could you take a look at my scan of a barbecued fish dish, topped with minced pork and give me a translation. Is it just a Sukhotai dish? When I showed it to a girl at Thai Square, she said they didn't have it, but I would love to try it again.
                Thanks if you have time to do it!

                1. re: Ziv

                  The first three letters are P-L-AA giving 'plaa,' meaning 'fish. The next two letters in the string are an N with an i-vowel above it and an L. Under the Thai grammar rules, in any syllable ending with an L, that L is pronounced like an N, so here we have N-I-N. Plaa Nin is a Tilapia. The original Thai word for this fish was a "Nile Fish" because that is where it came from but the Thai have an almost impossible time pronouncing that ending "L" sound so it got changed to an "N" sounds. There are thousands of such words in Thai that started out as English or other foreign language but had to get slightly modified to suit Thai pronunciation. The next character is one of the "Kh" letters (The Thai alphabet has four different letters that make the "Kh" sound). On top of it is an ii-vowel (note the difference with the i-vowel in Nin) and the superscript is a tone mark giving this particular syllable a falling tone. Khii is a found-form indicating 'characterized by.' The last three letters make up a syllable pronounced 'Maw' The middle of the three is the letter M and the characters on either side together make up the 'aw' vowel. Maw means drunk. So these ending two words mean 'characterized by drunkenness.

                  Now this is probably a lot more than you wanted to know about the construction of that simple phrase but so many other people stole my thunder before I could get to answer you that I had to come up with SOMETHING. And, as 1-2 folks indicated, I doubt if there is any recipe book standard for making Plaa Nin Khii Maw. Certainly it contains a Tilapia fish and some sort of booze, likely red wine. But other than that the preparation would depend on the individual cook. When my (Thai) wife gets up I'll ask her if she can't come up with a somewhat standard recipe.

                  1. re: ThaiNut

                    Hi Thainut ;) I enjoyed your explanation!

                    Someone once told me the tale of the origin of Keemao way back; the dish was named pad keemao because it was created on the fly to serve some drunkards with few staple ingredients the cook had left in the kitchen. I don't know if it's true or not, but I rather like the story :)

                2. re: ThaiNut

                  thainut, could you tell me the name of this dish described as:
                  Thai Basil & Chili Noodle
                  Stir-fried flat rice noodle with basil, green beans, green & red peppers, onions, chili and:
                  Minced Chicken or minced pork.

                  I used to get something like it at a resto here in dc called pan-asian noodle house on vermont near k. it was ambrosia!!!!

                  also, look at this dining guide for people in thai restaurants, made by one of our fellow hounds, cee. thanks cee!

                  1. re: alkapal

                    I'm curious to see Ziv's scan, too. I'm Thai who grew up in Thailand (granted, that doesn't mean I know all about Thai cuisine) and I haven't seen such dish.

                    As for the Thai basil & chili noodles with minced meat, I'm going to guess it's Pad Keemao since it has Thai basil and noodles. If it's Holy basil, then it's Pad Kaprao, though I haven't seen Pad Kaprao with noodles. But, I guess anything is possible. It's hard to tell sometimes because they often use Thai basil instead of Holy basil here, reason being that the latter is a bit harder to find. And our problem doesn't end there; adding one more spice (Kra chai) to Keemao base and you'd get Pad Cha. There.. take your pick!

                    1. re: brooke

                      Hi Brooke, I linked to my scan of what the Sukhotai waitress wrote at the bottom of my request, the hyper link is the pink square at the bottom left of my previous entry. I didn't know any other way to get the photo into my post. Sukhotai was a pretty sleepy little city, but it did have great Kuay Tiew Sukhotai at Thai Noodles Sukhotai 2, great name for a cafe... And this grilled fish with pork, that I don't know the name of, was completely addictive. I got it at the night market and it was consistently outstanding.
                      Thanks for any info!

                      1. re: Ziv

                        Oh! sorry Ziv. I didn't realize it was a link to a picture (thought it was an icon). It says - Pla Nil (Tilapia) Keemao. That definitely falls under Thainut's 'creative' category :)

                        1. re: brooke

                          i love pad kee mao, but it is wide rice noodles stir-fried. doesn't match ziv's verbal description: "barbecued fish dish, topped with minced pork."

                          1. re: alkapal

                            I asked the waitress to write down the name of the barbecued fish with pork, and she wrote the recipe for Fish with Drunken Noodles, or Pla Kee Mao? Perhaps I should have had only one Chang beer... It was just a regular grilled fish, about 15" long, with the diagonal cuts to facilitate grilling and then at the end a long lengthwise cut to open the fish up and to allow the minced pork to pile into the center of the fish. So you kind of worked from the ends of the fish to the center and from the top of the pork to the bottom.
                            The pork part of the dish isn't too dis-similar to basil pork served at hawker stalls all over Thailand, but it was more spicy and rich, and it just complemented the fish in a very nice way. Should have taken a picture of either the menu or the dish, my loss.
                            Thanks very much for translating it! Sorry for highjacking the thread with my questions!
                            Man, I wish I was anywhere in Thailand right now...

                            1. re: Ziv

                              Actually, Pla Nil Kee Mao could match the description given, because kee mao doesn't actually mean "drunken noodles"--it just refers to the garlic-chili-basil sauce that goes w/ the noodles. In general, "pad" ("stir fried") is used as shorthand for "gway tiow pad" (or "noodles, stir-fried"), but you can theoretically have almost anything "kee mao" style, and Thai cooks in the U.S. seem to be adopting the Chinese takeout model of mixing and matching starches, meats, and sauces/styles of food. So tilapia kee mao isn't that weird at all. (The pork stuffing is a bit odd, but in my book very few things are harmed by pork stuffing, so I'll definitely be trying this dish out.)

                              More importantly, though: they have Chang at Thai Square? I thought nobody imported Chang. All the more reason to pay T^2 another visit...

                              1. re: sweth

                                i think ziv got chang in thailand resto.
                                and thanks for clarifying "kee mao" and the "shorthand".

                          2. re: brooke

                            Pla nhil kee mao!!?? hahahaha!!! That would be a new one--but with possibilities. Can someone provide the recipe?

                        2. re: brooke

                          Hmm... is Thai basil and holy basil the difference between kee mao and kra pao? I've always wondered about that.

                          And kee mao plus galangal/kra chai sounds great, too. Anyone know of a place in the area that serves Pad Cha?

                          1. re: sweth

                            sweth: I will have to confirm with another friend who's a Thai food guru about this issue (keemao vs. kraprao) again when she's online -- I know there are more details in term of accompanying herbs (fresh peppercorn for one thing) and such; but the consensus among my other Thai friends who were present (on MSN) at the time was as discussed above.

                            Kra Chai and galangal are two different things though. I attached the pictures below for identification: kra chai is the one with the green background and the other is galangal. As to the availability of Pad cha, I know I've seen it somewhere but couldn't think of the place. You may be able to request for it from Thai restaurant that you frequent and pretty friendly with the staffs. Doesn't hurt to ask ;)

                            1. re: brooke

                              Sorry about the confusion; in my experience most Thai places just use galangal (that is, "kha") in dishes that call for kra chai (I think "fingerroot" is the English name, but nobody I know knows what fingerroot is so I generally just use the Thai name), so I was saying that I would be excited about a kee mao with either.

                              The best part of all of this is that my Thai expat friends are moving back to DC in a few weeks, so I'll have some folks to go looking for new dishes with. (Dining alone makes it much more difficult to sample a variety of weird things on a menu that you can't necessarily read.)

                              1. re: sweth

                                Yes, 'Krachai' is the Thai word for 'fingerroot' and which gets its name from looking like a bunch of long thin fingers. Galangal (kha) is sometimes used in place of krachai because krachai is so hard to fine. Krachai can be found in powdered and bottled and (sometimes) frozen form in Asian for stores but from what I have seen on the INTERNET about the only place you can order it fresh is from Australia, and U.S. Customs might have something to say about that. Krachai is a critical ingredient in Thai 'Jungle Curry.' I plan to post a recipe for Jungle Curry on Chow after the next time I make it when I can take some pictures.

                            2. re: sweth

                              Here's the basil story.

                              The scientific name for what is commonly called "Thai Basil" is Ocimum basilicum and in Thai the leaf is known as Bai Hua Rapha. It has a subtle licorice small. The leaves are hairless. In Thai cooking it is mostly used in curries though there are some shellfish dishes that also call for it.

                              Another commonly used basil in Thailand is called Ka Phrao and it's scientific name is Ocimum tenuiflorum. This is commonly called Holy or Sacred Basil. It has a smell of cloves and the leaves are slightly hairy. In Thai cooking it'll be used in any dish incorporating the name "Ka Phrao," like chicken stir-fried with basil (Kai Phad Kra Phrao).

                              I don't recall every having Pad Cha but my wife says that it is a mix most commonly used on seafood and is VERY spicy. Yum, yum.

                          2. re: alkapal

                            As Brooke says below, Phad Kiimaw is probably what you described but let me get back to you on that after I confer with my wife who is Lord of all things Good and Edible within the ThaiNut household. As for Cee, though I have been ChowHounding only a couple of months I have quickly come to realize that Ms. Cee knows her stuff.

                            1. re: alkapal


                              Okay, CINCPANTSFAM just got up and agrees that this would be a Phad Kii Maw dish, but with the addition of the green beans and peppers which are not automatics when making a Phad Kii Maw. If it contains chicken than it'd be Kai Phad Kii Maw and if it had pro it'd be Muu Phad Kii Maw.

                              I envy your location. We lived in MD before moving here to Western NC and my guess is that the Northern Virgina, DC, southern MD area has one of the finest concentration of good Thai places of any area in the country. I still think that Bangkok Garden, in Columbia, MD, is the best and most authentic Thai restaurant that I have ever been to on the east coast. Sadly, we now live in a virtual desert of dumbed-down ersatz Thai food (sigh!).

                              1. re: ThaiNut

                                thanks thainut. how do i get my kee maop with the ground chicken, instead of sliced chicken which is now the norm?

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Print the attached scan and hand it to the waitperson. It says: "When making the Chicken Phat Khii Maw, please use ground chicken instead of sliced chicken. Thank you." The
                                  wording I used assumes that you are a male; if you are not,
                                  let me know and I'll make a word change.

                                  1. re: ThaiNut

                                    thanks thainut. i need the ladies' version, please.
                                    MAN i love chowhounds! (no pun intended!) ;-)

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      Okay, here's the version to be used by ChowHounders of the lady variety.

                      2. went to thai square last evening. got my pad kee mao with ground chicken, just by asking in english. next time, i need to get them to use less oil, and char the noodle edges. the waitress said, remind them to turn up the heat on the wok really high.

                        gosh, i miss pan-asian noodle house's version. it had to be the best in the world.