Survival Thai for Dining

Living in Thailand, you are exposed to some of the most fantastic, intense and delicious meals on Earth – so it’s really important that you aren’t held back from eating those wondrous dishes by a language barrier. Here I will give you some basic tools to get by in any restaurant.

So many delicious ingredients in Thai food
So many delicious ingredients in Thai food

1. The basics

Here are some basic words and forms that will help for most food-related sentences (if you want to get real precise with the pronunciations, visit my pronunciation guide here):

eat = gin (ginn)

rice = kao (cow)

restaurant = raan aa haan (ron uh hawn)

where = yu ti nai (yoo tee nye)

Why am I telling you the word for rice? Well, interestingly enough, in Thailand you do not say that you are going to ‘eat’ but rather you say that you are going to ‘eat rice’ because rice is so commonly included in meals.

So, if I want to ask a local:

Where should I eat?

I would probably say something like:

Gin kao yu ti nai ka? (remember, ka is the polite ending to a sentence for women, kap for men)

2. Ordering dishes

Fried rice - basic, but always delicious
Fried rice – basic, but always delicious

could I = kaa (kuh, the sound you make when you exhale quickly)

plate = jaan (john)

glass = gaew (gehh-ow, mix the two sounds together, like gao but with more of an ehh sound)

bottle = kuat (koo-wot)

bowl = chaam (chawm)

fork = saam (sawm)

spoon = chaan (chawn)

chopsticks = dta giap (tah kee-ehp)

Ok, so there’s a lot of words there, but the great thing is, with just those words above, you can order pretty much any dish you can imagine and ask for anything you might need during your meal. Here are some example sentences that you might use in a restaurant:

Could I have a bottle of Singha beer?

Kaa singha nung kuat ka? (if you don’t know your Thai numbers yet, check out this post)

Could I have a bowl of rice?

Kaa kao suay nung chaam ka? (kao suay is white rice)

Could I have one dish of phad thai?

Kaa phad thai nung jaan ka?

3. Modifications

Sometimes you want something a little different than the norm. While some people may give you a weird look, they are pretty accommodating. When you’re a foreigner and you like spicy dishes, it’s best to tell them you want it spicy because they might assume you can’t handle it. Here are some useful terms to know:

with (as in, put in) = sai (sigh)

without (as in, don’t put in) = mai sai (my sigh)

spicy = phet (pet, but with a little air on the p)

a little bit spicy = phet nit noi (pet nit noy)

not spicy = mai phet (my pet)

with tofu = sai tao hu (sigh dtow who)

with chicken = sai gai (sigh guy)

with beef = sai nua (sigh noo eye – say the ‘noo’ part really fast, emphasize the ‘eye’)

with pork = sai moo (sigh moo – just like a cow says – but when you say it, your tone should sound like a question – moo?)

with shrimp = sai kung (sigh goong, beginning ‘g’ is a really hard sound almost like a ‘k’)

So you could say something like…

Could I have drunken noodles with chicken, a little spicy?

Kaa phad kee mao sai tao hu phet nit noi, ka?

4. Get Crazy

There is no such thing as too much Thai food
There is no such thing as too much Thai food

As you start collecting your new Thai phrases in a little book (that’s right, go buy a book and write this sh*t down!) you’re going to learn all sorts of fantastic things to order. But for now, let me give you some basic orders so you know what to get (some of these also appear on my personal top 10 favorite Thai dishes on this post):

white rice = kao suay (cow sue why)

sticky rice = kao neow (cow knee ow)

fried rice = kao phad (cow pat)

spicy basil stir fry delicousness = phad ka pao (pad kuh pow!)

spicy and sour soup with shrimp = tom yum kung ( tome yum goong )

coconut sour soup with chicken = tom kha gai (tome kuh guy)

green curry = gaeng kiaow wan (gang kee ow wan)

red curry = gaeng daeng (gang dang!)

penang curry = gaeng penang (gang puh nang)

masaman curry (with potatoes, yum!) = gaeng massaman (gang moss uh mawn)

pumpkin curry = gaeng fak (gang fawk – be careful with this one, as it kind of sounds like you’re dropping an F-bomb)

mixed stir fried vegeteables = pak ruam (pock roo awm)

drunken noodles = phad kee mao (pad kee mow – fun fact, ‘kee mao’ can also be used to refer to a person as in, look at that drunk guy!)


Is there anything else you’d like to see in this guide that I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments and I will be happy to help you out if I know the words!


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