Probably the most popular new cuisine to come to America in decades, Thai food is a remarkable blending of Chinese and Indian culinary traditions, with the brightness of tropical colors and flavors as well as unique seasonings and condiments. For a small country, Thailand has a lengthy coastline, so seafood is plentiful, but like most other countries in that part of the world, meat is scarce and costly, so chefs rely heavily on rice and noodles. There’s such variety in Thai cooking, however, that you’ll still be able to eat well at any good Thai restaurant. Here’s how to navigate the menu to find low-carb selections.
On the Menu
Perhaps the most famous Thai dish is Pad Thai, a noodle-based dish with shrimp, green onions, eggs, dried tofu, bean sprouts and chopped peanuts. And while the noodles may eliminate such dishes from your selections, the flavors and combinations that make Thai food distinctive, including coconut milk, lemon grass, tamarind, cilantro, turmeric, cumin, chilies, lime juice and kaffir lime leaves, can be found in plenty of other dishes that aren’t based on noodles or rice.
That means there’s a wide selection well worth exploring. For example, Nuuryungnamtok, similar to a main-dish salad, is made with sliced steak marinated in lime juice and mixed with chilies, onion, tomato, cucumber, coriander leaves and lettuce. You can find the same combination of flavors applied to sliced squid in Yum Plamuk. Similar dishes are made with pork, beef, or other forms of protein and dressed with a fish sauce along with salt, lemon or lime juice, garlic or shallots, and chilies.
Thai diners are fond of frog legs prepared in a number of ways, and while they may be difficult to find in Thai restaurants in America, they’re well worth a try if you come across them. Thai soups are notable for their blend of unusual flavors. Try Tom Yum Goong, a shrimp soup with straw mushrooms, seasoned with lime juice, lemon grass, and hot peppers; or Gai Tom Kha, made with chicken slices in coconut milk.
In general, it’s best to stick to dishes that are quickly sautéed with vegetables and lemon grass, basil, and other aromatic Thai herbs. You’ll get all of the flavor and none of the guilt of eating noodle dishes.
Have This Instead of That
- Tom Yum Goong instead of dumplings or spring rolls
- Sautéed shrimp or beef with basil, chilies and onion as a replacement for Pad Thai
- Sautéed scallops and shrimp with mushrooms, zucchini and chili paste instead of a curry, which frequently contains potatoes
- Sautéed beef, chicken or pork with shrimp paste and green beans rather than sautéed meat with black bean sauce
- Sautéed mixed vegetables instead of fried rice