The Curry Stall

Working Thais, especially office workers, will on most days take their midday meal at a khao gaeng or curry stall. You'll find these eateries tucked in between buildings or in small shop houses anywhere near large concentrations of offices. Although usually simply referred to using the term khao gaeng, the full 'proper' Thai term is khao rat gaeng, which basically translates to "rice with curry on top."

Curries at the stall
The typical offerings at the curry stall

Although the Thai word gaeng is generally translated as 'curry', the word actually refers to a wide variety of dishes ranging from the stew-like curries to clear soups (tom and gaeng jeud). In addition to curries, the "curry" stall will also sell stir-fries (pat pet) and spicy salads (yam). Taken together, these dishes represent the full range of Thai cuisine and all the herbs, spices, vegetables and staples that have been incorporated into everyday Thai food.

One item you'll almost never find in a curry stall is the dish most people think of when Thai food is mentioned: tom yum. Although heavily identified with Thai cuisine internationally, the spicy soup consisting of chili, lime and lemon grass makes only a rare appearance on the everyday table in Thailand.

Most young working Thais, if not living at home, stay in simple one-room apartments with only basic cooking facilities. Their appliances will usually be limited to a refrigerator, electric kettle for making hot water and maybe a rice cooker. Rather than cooking, an evening meal may well consist of another stop at a curry stall to select some items for takeaway. These will be packed in clear plastic bags secured against leakage with a rubber band. The the bags will be put in a lightweight plastic shopping bag along with small bags of chili sauce and steamed rice for the customer to carry home.