Rad Khao vs. Gab Khao @ Any Restaurant

One of the main reasons I live in Thailand is because the food is superb. I like the freshness, the flavours, the spices, the prices, the waitresses, the variety, the speed at which it is (stroke can be) served and the fact that it is such a big part of Thailand's social culture. Why eat in when you can eat out?

As a man who doesn't enjoy washing up, it is also always a pleasure to go out and order a boat load of different dishes and then not to have to worry about washing anything up.

When I first came to Korat in 2004, I remember eating out a lot and being amazed by the number of items on the standard Thai menu. Some restaurants have an incredible selection, but if you want to eat any of the special dishes from a normal street food vendor you will struggle. Street vendors tend to have a much smaller selection, consisting of fried rice, stir fried chicken/pork/shrimp/squid with chilli and basil (pad krapow), noodles in gravy (rad na) and maybe a few other bits. Other small street vendors specialise in certain things like chicken and rice (khao man gai), noodles (kwetiau), Isan food and so on.

If you want to capitalise on all that Thailand has to offer (and if you want to keep a table of Thais happy), you need to go to a big restaurant and put in a big order spanning the full culinary spectrum; a soup (tom), a curry (gaeng), a stir fried dish (pad) and a salad (yam).

The dishes you order when you are in a big sit down restaurant will be much larger than those you order from a street vendor. This is because they are designed to be shared by the whole table. In the west, we are used to ordering a dish for ourselves and if someone tries to pinch anything off your plate, it is acceptable to get angry or annoyed. However, Thais share all food and keeping something to yourself is considered quite rude. This can take some getting used to. I have worked with western volunteers in the past who always order food for themselves, and end up having a single oversized dish that is supposed to feed a family (served without rice), while the rest of the group are feasting on a delectable banquet with a variety of dishes to choose from.

The truth is, you need to know when to order a dish for yourself and when to order for the team. There is a pretty decent rule that you can follow.

Gab Khao vs. Rad Khao

When you order food from a street vendor, your dinner will come served on rice ('rad khao' - literally meaning on top of rice). It will cost you about 25-80 Baht depending on what you have ordered and where you are.

When you order in a big sit down restaurant, you will be given a large plate with your choice of curry, soup, stir fry or whatever on it, but no rice will come with it. This is called 'gab khao' (which means 'with rice' - rather ironically meaning it will be served without rice, and that it is something you order to eat with the rice you already have on the table). It will cost between 60-150 Baht as it is designed to fill a few bellies.

If you want to order your own dish in a fancy sit down restaurant, your best bet is to ask them to make your order 'rad khao'. This will not only mean you are left with a manageable meal, but it will also make the price a lot more reasonable. You can always make your meal that little bit more special (piset) by adding a fried egg (khai dao).

Whenever I go to the beaches in Thailand, I find that most beach side restaurants tend to offer gab khao style meals (large plate with no rice), which is what makes the prices so high. I therefore always check if it's 'rad' or 'gab' khao before I order, and then make a decision as to whether I should eat it alone or share it with someone and order a side plate of rice.

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