How to Order Noodle Soup in Thailand

Noodle or Kuay Teaw can be regarded as one of the Thai national dishes. You can find it in all variety and in every part of Thailand. How complicated can this be? It can be as complicated as ordering coffee at Starbucks actually. Ordering a bowl of noodle soup is pretty much the same!

If you walk into a noodle shop and order "One Kuay Teaw" or in Thai "Kuay Teaw Charm Neung" - the question to follow is "With Soup or Dry?" (Nam Rue Hang). Then the guy will give up asking considering you won't understand him anyway... and decide on your behalf what you should have.

The few tips below hopefully boost your confidence enough to explore the rich world of noodle soup in Thailand!

The 3 Steps
  1. Pick your noodle type.
  2. Pick how you like the soup.
  3. Tell them what meats and bits to include or exclude from your dish.
1) The Noodle
  • The noodle is called Sen. I've list all the Sens I can think of but the common ones are on the top of the list.
    • Flat noodle: Sen Yai ** (p.s. the word Sen Yai is also a slang meaning "having connection -- more on this later")
    • Small flat noodle: Sen Lek
    • Vermicelli: Sen Mee. This is equivalent to Bee Hoon in Hokkien (Penang/Phuket Style)
    • Egg noodle: Baa Mee
    • Glass or clear Vermicelli: Woon Sen
    • Instant noodle: Mama
    • Thick chinese noodle: Kiam Ee
  • If you happen to be on a low-carb diet or permanently trying to lose weight just like me, noodle soup without the noodles is possible.  Say Kow Lao for this instead of Sen xxx.  
2) The Soup
  • With soup is Nahm (which literally translates as water).
  • Without soup is Hang (dry). Kuay Teaw Hang often comes with a soup bowl on the side.
  • Pink noodle soup is Yentafo. This is not available everywhere - check first by asking Mee Yentafo Mai? Usually Yentafo comes with Sen Yai but you can pick other types of noodle here.
  • To have it pre-seasoned, with soup is Tom Yam. This can get spicy though. The non-spicy option is Tom Yam Mai Sai Prik (Tom Yam style without chili).
  • The pre-seasoned option without soup is Yam Hang.
  • Note please that Tom Yum and Yum Hang are usually not available in Beef Noodle Soup shops.
  • And now for the brave - if you want blood in your soup add Nam Tok to the end.  It makes the soup slightly thicker that's all.  This is only available from boat noodle style... notice the boat in front of the shop which is a good clue
So far so good -- you're able to say Sen Lek Hang, Sen Mee Nahm, Baa Mee Yam Hang, Sen Lek Tom Yam, Sen Mee Yentafo and so on!

3) The Meats and Bits
  • If you want everything - say Took Yang (everything).
  • No entrails is Mai Nai which is the short saying from Mai Sai Krueng Nai.
  • Blood is not considered entrails for most noodle soup shop, so say Mai Leo-od if you don't want it.
  • The tricky part is when you want to choose the type of meats in your soup I guess. The choices are varied depends on what type of shops you're in:
  • Beef Noodle Soup: pick from meatballs (Look Chin), small cut beef (Nuer Sod), and the melt-in-the-mouth beef (Nuer Peuay). Again, they usually don't do Tom Yam soup. Example: Sen Mee Nahm Neur Sod
  • Pork Noodle Soup: pick from pork balls (Look Chin Moo), fish balls (Look Chin Pla), minced pork (Moo Sub). Many of my colleagues don't really like fish balls and any reconstituted meat much. If you are one of those say Moo Yang Diew, meaning pork only. Moo is pork.
  • Yentafo: often includes blood so don't forget to say Mai Leo-od if you really don't like it.
  • Chicken Noodle Soup: usually not complicated, served with Chicken, blood and meatballs in the soup. Say Gai Yang Diew if you only want chicken. Some places also serve slow-cooked drumstick as an option -- this is Nong Gai.
  • Duck Noodle Soup: Kuay Teaw Bped, is similar to the chicken noodle soup. Pick from cut meat (Neur), drumstick (Nong), wings (Bpeek), blood (Leo-od), intestines (Sai). Example: "Sen Yai Nahm, Neur, Nong, Sai Mai Leo-od".
  • Crab Noodle: Kuay Teaw Poo usually is very simple. Just pick the noodle and soup and that's it. I will talk about the special Crab Noodle in Chinatown soon.
Most noodle soup comes with Bean Sprouts. If you don't want this say Mai Ngawk. The word Ngawk is the short way of saying Tua Ngawk which means bean sprouts here. I know that Ng can be tricky to pronounce... it's useful to repeat in full Mai Aow Tua Ngawk I know! If you hate vegetables and don't want any in your soup, say Mai Sai Pak Loey - this means no vegetables whatsoever.

Imagine you're at Starbucks now. Put the basics together and there go your perfect noodle soup! Mine is simply Sen Lek Tom Yam Moo Yang Diew. What's yours?
Ba Mee Tom Yam
Kow Lao Tom Yam Gai
Woon Sen Tom Yam
Sen Mee Nuer Sod
Kow Lao Yen Ta Fo
Sen Yai Nuer Sod Nam Tok