When visiting Thailand, you will be amazed when ordering Thai food by all of the menu choices available. However, the best food in Thailand is oftentimes not found in a restaurant catering to foreign tourists.
While the food in these restaurants is excellent, you might find it to be a little expensive.
The best Thai food is most of the time found in outdoor venues with basic tables, plastic chairs, electric fans and canopies to keep the rain out. In these venues, the staff probably will not speak English too well so it is quite handy to have some Thai phrases and simple words for ordering food.
While there are many phrases and words, here are some to get you started. As you master these, you will naturally be exposed to others. Also, if you don’t know this already, when you say something in Thai, you should end it with the word “krub” for a male speaker and “ka” for a female speaker.
Ao (pronounced like “cow” but without the c) – This word means “I would like.” It is one of the words used frequently when ordering Thai food. For example, if you would like to drink soda water with your meal, you would say, “Ao nam soda krub/ka”.
Khaaw (with a rising tone) – This is a polite way to make a request. For example, to ask for plain water you can say, “Khaaw nam plao krub/ka.”
Check bin or Kep Tang – This phrase lets the waitperson know that you are ready to settle the bill.
Phat (pronounced almost like the English word “pot”) – Any food with phat at the beginning means stir-fried. A favorite stir-fry dish among foreigners in Thailand is Phat Thai which is stir-fried noodles mixed with peanuts, bean sprouts, and lime juice.
Pla – This means fish. When ordering Thai food, fish dishes will typically start with this word followed by what type of fish it is.
Moo (pronounced with a rising tone) – This is the Thai word for pork. Just as with fish, it is usually the first word in the name of a dish followed by its type.
Nua (pronounced with a rising tone) – This is the Thai word for beef.
Keaw / Laad kaew – Keaw is the word for rice. Rice is optional for some dishes. If you want your Thai dish “over rice” then you would add the phrase “laad kaew” when ordering Thai food.
Nam chim – this is the phrase for the various sauces that Thais love to dip their food in. The phrase “nam chim” literally means “dipping” or “tasting” sauce.
Ped / mai ped – Thai food is famous for its spiciness. However, not everyone can handle it. “Ped” means spicy and “mai ped” means not spicy. Many restaurants will accommodate your request.
Pak – Thai word for vegetables. A popular Thai dish of stir-fried vegetables is “pad pak ruam mit.”
Nam kang – This means ice. Usually ice is brought in a metal bucket for you to add to your glass as you need it.
Nam plao – This means clear or plain water. The Thai word “nam” means water.
Nam soda – this means soda water. Many people in Thailand bring their own spirits to a restaurant and nam soda is a popular mixer.
Bier – this is pronounced just like the English word and means beer.
A typical session when ordering Thai food might go like this:
Waitress: Ao arai, ka? (The word “arai” means “what”. The question means, “What would you like to order?”
Customer: Ao pad pak ruam mit, gra pow moo laad kaew, krub. (Remember, a man ends a sentence in “krub” and a woman ends a sentence in “ka”. The man ordered stir-fried vegetables and basil pork over rice)
Waitress: Duam arai, ka? (The question means, “What would you like to drink?”)
Customer: Nam plao, krub. (The man ordered plain water).
Of course there are many more words and phrases that are used in Thai restaurants. This is just a simple starter. As you visit the dining establishments in the land, try to learn one more phrase each time. You will find that many wait staff are happy to coach you a little when ordering Thai food if they speak English.