Thai Food and Thai Cooking Lessons in Thailand

Thai food and Thai cooking

A Recipe for Success at Gecko Villa

Thai food is extremely varied, although the main differences largely reflect the Kingdom's geographical regions.

At Gecko Villa, we will be happy to prepare either North-eastern specialties, or more central Thai dishes - although we can also prepare Western food and even a delightful Indian vindaloo should you so wish! Just let us know what kind of food you prefer, and what your tolerance for chillies is... We will be delighted to introduce you to the wilder side of Isan cuisine if you are brave enough, but rest assured that we are equally happy preparing more "suitable" dishes.

Should you be interested in a Thai cooking lesson, just let us know and we will be happy to show you how to concoct your own Thai dishes!

Check out our recipes page for a few suggested menu items with their recipes, or our Top 5 Places to Eat in Udon Thani page if you plan to visit the town.

Thai food and Isan Food

Most locals eat rice three times a day. The most common type is "sticky rice," which can be rolled into a ball with the fingers and dipped into a sauce. Occasionally, people eat noodles rather than rice. Pladek or fermented fish paste is an ingredient in many indigenous dishes. Hot chillies are also added to foods. Other common seasonings are lime juice, lemon grass, mint and coriander leaves.

A typical meal in the region consists of rice, fish, vegetables and beef prepared in a variety of mouth-watering ways.

Let us show you how to concoct a number of these dishes: you will be surprised at the depth and intricacy of flavours that can be kindled up in only a few simple steps!

Traditionally, people take off their shoes and leave them outside the eating area, and food is served on a straw mat. Everyone sits cross-legged in a circle and the food is placed in the centre. Food is usually eaten with the fingers. People may also drink a type of whisky made out of rice called lao kao. Of course, you may find the large teak dining table more comfortable...

The philosophy of Thai food

You will only very rarely see a Thai cook with a measuring device - and when you do, this is normally in a cooking class for Westerners. In fact, Thai food is quite forgiving and, once you have understood the basics, you will enjoy playing with the quantities and ratios of various ingredients used.

In Thai cooking there are four elements: sour, sweet, creamy and salty. Heat sits on top of the four flavours, whilst consistency or texture is also paramount. Chopped peanuts can add crunch, coconut milk can add silkiness, and long stewing can ensure softness. The secret of a good dish is the right balance of the flavours - you will find that there are "sweet spots" where the flavour just tastes right.

Types or categories of Thai dishes

Many aspects of a Thai meal differ significantly from western meals.

Drinking Dishes: ("Kap Khlaem") these are primarily accompaniments to drinks - or "nibbles" to be enjoyed with a cold beer or glasses of Thai whisky. They include deep fried sun dried beef, cashew nuts with chillies, fermented pork sausage with chilli, or any variety of what may be considered snacks in the West.

Appetizers: these are similar to western appetizers, although often these are eaten more as snacks during the day rather than as a first course. The concept of a "first course" in general is alien to the Thais, and soups or similar are all served centrally, with each guest helping him or herself to whatever dish is desired.

Main Courses: These are dishes eaten with rice. Unlike with western food, there is actually no one "main course" in a meal. You will frequently have 1-3 different dishes per person that everyone shares. The main course can be subdivided into types of cooking:

  • Yum: this literally means to mix. Meat with herbs and spices, vegetable with spices, meat and vegetables with spices mix with sauce. Some sauces are sour and spicy, some are spicy and sweet.
  • Gaeng Jeud: clear broth soup with vegetable or meat or both.
  • Gaeng Ped or Gaeng: spicy broth with or without coconut milk. The majority of gangs use curry paste and coconut milk.
  • Thord: pan fried or deep fried, (i.e. Tod Mun is fried fish cakes).
  • Laap: finely chopped (rather than minced)
  • Yang: grilled (i.e. Gai Yang is grilled chicken)
  • Pat: vegetable or meat, stir fried.
  • Tom: Boiled as a soup.

Thai Desserts: The majority of desserts are made of coconut milk, flour and sugar, or sticky rice and sugar in pandanus leaves. There are three parts in making dessert. The first is the flavour of the dessert which could range from different types of flour to fruits. The second is the syrup which is sugar and water. The third part is coconut milk and a pinch of salt. Some are served with crushed ice and made a wonderful summertime dessert. Fresh fruits are often served as a dessert.

Exotic specialties of north eastern Thai food: Eating Thai insects and more

At night, around Gecko Villa, you may notice a purplish blue glow near the houses of farmers. These are lights serving to attract insects, a free and ready source of protein and delightful flavours. A huge variety of very "fast food" is available.... ask to catch and try some! If you see men and boys with lights on their hats in the rice fields at night, they are probably hunting for frogs to stew or fry, or for field mice to consume.

Other unusual foods you will find dotted through local wet markets include water bugs - try them deep fried and sprayed with some sauce. They are both crunchy and creamy! Rod fai duan (a worm that eats bamboo) are particularly prized. Silkworm Cocoons. A fat oval bug with visible sections: these are the cocoons of a silkworm after they unravelled the silk. Deep fried grasshoppers or " Isan popcorn": don't forget to remove the legs as these can get stuck in your throat!

Ingredients commonly found in Thai cooking: Thai translations


  • Bamboo shoots naw mai
  • Banana flower hua blee
  • Bean sprouts tuwa gnog
  • Bitter melon mara
  • Cha plu leaf cha plu
  • Chili pepper prig
  • Chinese broccoli / kale kanah
  • Chinese water spinach pak boong
  • Cucumber tangua
  • Eggplant makua
  • Green onion ton hom
  • Napa cabbage Pak Gahd Kow
  • Pea eggplant Makua Puong
  • Pumpkin Fug Tong
  • Shallot horm daeng
  • Stinky Bean Sataw
  • Thai chili pepper prig kee nu

Herbs and spices

  • Anaheim pepper prig
  • Cilantro pak chee
  • Cilantro root raag pak chee
  • Curry powder pong gari
  • Dried whole chili prig haeng
  • Galangal kha
  • Garlic kra tiem
  • Ginger king
  • Ground dried chili pepper prig kee nu bonn
  • Ground pepper prig thai bhon
  • Holy basil gra pow
  • Kaffir lime leaves bai ma-gruud
  • Lemon grass ta krai
  • Green peppercorn prik Thai ohn
  • Spearmint sa rra nee
  • Thai basil hora-pa
  • Turmeric kha min
  • Young ginger khing ohn


  • Clear noodles woon sen
  • Fresh egg noodles bamee
  • Fresh flat rice noodles goew tiew - sen yai
  • Thin rice noodles kanom jeen

Sauces, pastes and preserves

  • Curry paste prig gang
  • Curry paste green prig gang kew wan
  • Curry paste masaman prig gang masaman
  • Curry paste yellow prig gang leung
  • Curry paste red prig gang ped
  • Dark soy sauce siew dum
  • Dark sweet soy sauce si ew waan
  • Fish sauce nam pla
  • Fried garlic gratiem jiew
  • Fried shallot hom jiew
  • Ground fresh chili paste nam prig pow
  • Palm sugar nam taan peep
  • Pickled fish Pla rah
  • Shrimp paste ga pi
  • Soy sauce si ew
  • Sriracha sauce nam jim sriracha
  • Coconut milk ga-ti
  • Oil nam man


  • Black sticky rice kow neuw dum
  • Cooked rice kow suay
  • Jasmine rice kow hom mali
  • Rice - Thai long grain Kow
  • Sticky rice kow neeow
  • Toasted rice kow kua


  • Thai tea cha
  • Young coconut ma pow ohn


  • Barbeque pork moo dang
  • White pork sausage moo yaw
  • Chicken Gai
  • Eggs Kai
  • Beef Neua
  • Frog Gop
  • Pork Moo


  • Clam hoi
  • Dried shrimp goong haeng
  • Mussels hoi malang puu
  • Oyster hoi nang rom
  • Shrimp goong
  • Catfish pla dook
  • Fish paste pla kuud
  • King mackerel pla insee
  • Mudfish pla chon
  • Red snapper pla gapong dang
  • Thai mackerel pla tuu
  • White pomfret pla jalamed


  • Banana glauy
  • Durian Turian
  • Green mango ma muang dip
  • Green papaya malagaw dip
  • Kaffir lime ma-gruud
  • Lime manow
  • Mango ma muong
  • Papaya malagaw
  • Pineapple sapparot
  • Tamarind ma kam piek

Tips and substitutes for cooking Thai food overseas

Genuine, fresh ingredients are always the best. If unavailable, you may use the following substitutes, and bear these tips in mind:

  • Fish sauce (Nam Pla) Fish sauce is one of the most important ingredients in the Thai cuisine. Fish sauce is used instead of salt.
  • Galangal (Khaa) Galangal look similar to ginger but tastes completely different. It is sold fresh or dried. You can freeze galangal in a plastic bag.
  • Kaffir lime leaves (Bei Magrud) The leaves can be stored in a freezer for a long time. As a substitute you can use strips of lemon peel.
  • Lemon grass (Ta Krai) Fresh lemon grass can be stored in the refrigerator. As a substitute you can use strips of lemon peel.
  • Palm sugar As a substitute you can use brown sugar.
  • Rice vinegar As a substitute you can use mild white vinegar.
  • Tamarind (Makaam) You can use lemon or lime as a substitute.
  • Thai basil (Bai Horapah, Bai Graprau, Bai Mangluk) As a substitute you can use European basil.