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Thailand is a food paradise and has a wide range of restaurants, from street food stalls to five-star ambience, that can serve almost every need and taste.
While many restaurants in tourist areas and upmarket locations are likely to understand English and have English menus, many eateries do not have that, especially street food stalls.
So learning some Thai words and phrases for ordering food will be useful if you want to try the local cuisine in an authentic atmosphere and likely a cheaper way.
In big cities like Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, you can easily find street food almost everywhere, and both days and nights. There are different types of street food stalls.
Many street diners offer one meal or just a few options like Khao Man Gai (chicken with rice), pork noodles, or Som Tam salad. Some bigger restaurants offer a wider selection of meals which known among Thai as “Aharn Tam Sang (made-to-order food)”.
The single-menu stall is quite easy to order food from because you will know right away which dish is to be served.
However, most vendors can also customize the dish to suit their customers’ need. It is quite common to ask for extra rice, extra meat, very spicy or not spicy or even remove some vegetables you hate from your dish.
Unlike in the West, Thai people do not have specific foods for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Most dishes can be eaten at any time of the day. For example, they might have a curry rice for breakfast, and have it again for dinner. But some might prefer something quick and easy to grab like Khao Niao Moo Ping (Sticky Rice and Grilled Pork Skewer) which is usually sold in a set of one small plastic bag of sticky rice and a few pork skewers, while some may have it for an afternoon snack.
You can eat Pad Thai for breakfast, lunch or dinner as you wish. Most Thai people usually have a quick one-dish meal for breakfast and at lunch, while dinner will be their big meal with a variety of dishes to be shared with friends or family.
In general, street food culture in Thailand is quite relaxed and flexible, and it can be fun if you know some basic Thai words and phrases and some of your favorite dishes or what you want to try.
One of the most useful Thai word/phrases to remember is ‘Khor’ (ขอ) which is equivalent to the word ‘Please’ or ‘Can I have…’ in English.
You can say “Khor + food/thing that you want + khrap/ka”.
For example, if you want to ask for an English menu, you can say:
"Khor menu Pasa Angkrit noi khrap/ka" (Can I have an English menu, please?)
If you want to make an order, you can say:
"Khor Khao Man Gai khrap" (I want to order/have the chicken and rice dish).
Another useful phrase is “Me + object + mai + khap” which means "Do you have (object)?".
For example, if you want to order a chicken curry, but are not sure if they have it, you can ask:
"Me Keang Gai mai khrap" (Do you have curry chicken?)
Ordering a made-to-order dish seems to be a bit complicated, but it is easier than you think. It is usually a combination of your choice of meats, the spiciness level and type of noodles or rice.
As an example sentence, if you order a rice dish with stir-fried Thai holy basil leaves with chicken and fried egg:
"Khor Khao Pad Gra Pow Gai Kaidao khrap" (Can I have a dish of rice with stir-fried holy basil leaves with chicken and fried egg, please?)
When you order a bowl of egg noodles with roasted pork, you can say:
"Khor Ba Mee Moo Deang khrap" (Can I have a bowl of egg noodles with roasted pork, please?)
Thai spiciness is a challenge for many and everyone has different level of tolerance for spicy food. So if you think you may not handle it well, here are some phrases that will be useful to remember, especially when you order dishes like Som Tam salads and other Thai salads, Tom Yam, and curries.
"Gin Phed Mai Dai Loei" (I cannot eat spicy food at all)
"Gin Phed Dai Nid Noi" (I can eat spicy food, but not that much)
"Chop Gin Phed Mak" (I like to eat very spicy food)
If you want to tell them how you like your food spicy you can say:
"Phed Nid Noi" (A bit spicy)
"Phed Glang Glang" (medium spicy)
"Phed Mak" (very spicy)
If you want the vendors to not put any chili in your food at all, you can tell them:
"Mai Sai Phrik" (Do not put chili)
You can also apply the word "Mai Sai" to other ingredients or seasoning, for example if you don’t want the vendors to put MSG in your food, you can say:
"Mai Sai Pong Shu Rod" (Do not put glutamate)
Let’s try to practice this and hope you have more fun and tastier experience next time you visit local Thai restaurants.