Learning Thai - Useful Thai Words and Phrases for Dining Out

Floating Market near Bangkok
Floating Market near Bangkok

As a Thai native, I am proud to say that Thailand is a kingdom of gastronomic delight. The best way to enjoy an authentic taste of Thai is to venture into the streets where the locals eat. Foods from street vendors are unbelievably cheap; you can buy a bowl of noodle soup or a plate of pad thai for less than a dollar. Mom-and-pop restaurants tend to charge a bit more for their nice seating and ceiling fans, but still, it wouldn't normally cost more than $3 for a fulfilling meal. Anyway, don't assume since they cost so little, they must be low-quality. That isn't the case at all. Street food in Thailand isn't like fast food in America, but rather, it is good food cooked fast. Not trying any street food while staying in Thailand is almost as unwise as traveling all the way to Peru without seeing the Machu Picchu.

Everything comes with a downside, though. Unlike hotel restaurants and first-class eateries, most small diners and street vendors in Thailand don't have an English menu or staff members who speak fluent English. To avoid possible blunders and make sure you get what you want, you've got to learn some basic Thai words and phrases.

Learning Thai - First Thing First

For ladies, the pronoun you will use to call yourself is "chan." For men, it is "pom." I have heard men use "chan" every now and then, but only with their family and friends. In a conversation with restaurant staff, "pom" will be more appropriate. Also, in the Thai language, women sometimes say "ka" and men say "krub" at the end of a sentence. These words don't really affect the meaning of what's being said; they're only used as a way to show formality and politeness. (In this article, I'm going to use "chan" and "ka" in many examples, as I am a female. So if you're the opposite sex, don't forget to switch them to "pom" and "krub.")

Thai Words for Different Types of Meat and Seafood

English 
Thai
beef 
neua
calamari
plah meuk
clams
hoy
chicken 
gai
crab
poo
duck
ped
fish
plah
pork 
moo
shrimp
gung

Thai Words for Non-Meat Ingredients

English 
Thai 
bread
ka nom pung
cabbage
ka lum plee
cilantro
puk chee
chili
prik
cucumber
tang kwa
egg 
kai 
fish sauce
nam plah
garlic
kra tiem
lettuce
puk kad
noodles
kuay teow
onion
hom yai
peanuts
tuo lee song
pepper
prik tai
rice
kao
salt
gleua
sticky rice
kao neow
sugar
nam tan
tofu 
tao hu 
tomato
ma keu tet 
water
nam

Notes

  • The vowel "u" in the word "gung" (shrimp) is pronounced like "oo" in "cook."
  • The "g" in the words "gai" (chicken), "gung" (shrimp) and "gleua" (salt) is pronounced like "g" in "golf", NOT like "g" in "giant."
  • The Thai word for lamb is "neua gae" but don't bother trying to order it. It is not something you will find at street vendors or small diners. Only some restaurants specialized in Indian or western food sell lamb dishes. It's just not a popular choice of meat in Thailand.
  • I'm aware that the Thai word for crab doesn't sound very appetizing. But if you want to eat crab in Thailand, that's what you've got to say!

Pad thai
Pad thai

Learning Thai - Common Thai Dishes

Most street vendors sell only their specialities. For example, a noodle-soup vendor doesn't usually offer any rice dishes. Likewise, if you try to order a papaya salad from a satay vendor, they would just look at you as if you're out of your mind. However, there're also some street vendors and mom-and-pop shops that would cook virtually anything you fancy. They usually have a huge glass box in front, displaying the fresh ingredients they have. Some places write their menu on a large whiteboad. Some don't. All you have to do is tell them what dish you would like them to prepare, and they'll let you know yay or nay. I understand this might be troublesome to many tourists. You might want to try some simple dishes but can't remember their names off the top of your head. Don't be dismayed. Here's a little list of basic Thai dishes that most general food vendors make on a daily basis:

English 
Thai 
fried rice  
kao pad 
fried egg
kai dow
green curry
gaeng keow wan
red curry
kaeng ped
pan-fried noodles
pad se-ew
papaya salad
som tum
pan-fried noodles with gravy
rad nah
omelette 
kai jeow 
rice soup
kao tom
salad
yum 
non-spicy soup
gaeng jeud
noodle soup
kuay teow nam
spicy meat salad with toasted rice powder
laab
spicy pan-fried noodles with chili sauce and basil
pad kee mow
spicy stir-fry with basil leaves
pad kraprao
spicy stir-fry with red chili paste
pad ped
spicy clear soup with lemongrass
tom yum
stir-fry with oyster sauce
pad nam mun hoi
stir-fry with garlic and pepper
pad kratiem prik tai
soup with thick coconut broth and lemongrass
tom kha
sweet and sour stir-fry
pad preow wan

Notes

  • To specify what kind of meat you would like with these dishes, just say the meat after the name of the dish. Here are some examples: "kao pad gai" (chicken fried rice), "pad se-ew moo" (pan-fried noodles with pork), "tom yum gung" (spicy lemongrass soup with shrimp), etc.
  • The word "ped" in gaeng ped (red curry) and pad ped (spicy stir-fry) is not pronounced the same way as the word "ped" that means duck. The sound "p" in the former is a soft one, like when you say "pine" or "pepper." The sound "p" in the latter is what linguists call "unaspirated" which is very close to the "b" sound but not quite. This is very tricky, I know!
  • The Thai word for "grilled" is "yang." To order grilled meat, you have to say the name of the meat before "yang". For example, "plah yang" means "grilled fish."

 

Thai Words for Eating Utensils

English 
Thai 
chopsticks
ta-kieb
fork 
som 
knife 
meed 
spoon 
chawn 

Useful Thai Phrases for Dining Out

English: I would like to get (name of the dish)

Thai: Chan kaw (name of the dish)

("Kaw" basically means "please." By saying "chan (or pom) kaw," it means "May I please have...")

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: I don't want it spicy.

Thai: Mai ow ped na ka (or krub)

OR Chan (or pom) tan ped mai dai

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: Make it just a little spicy, please.

Thai: Ow ped nid noi na ka (or krub)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: Make it very spicy, please.

Thai: Ow ped mak na ka (or krub)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: I'm a vegetarian. I don't eat meat.

Thai: Chan (or pom) tan mung-sa-wi-rut. Chan (or pom) mai tan neu sad na ka (or krub)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: I still haven't gotten what I ordered.

Thai: Ah-han tee sung yung mai dai ka (or krub)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: This is not what I ordered.

Thai: Nee mai chai tee chan (or pom) sung

OR chan (or pom) mai dai sung ah-han jaan nee

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: Please make it quick. I'm so hungry.

Thai: Tum reaw reaw na ka (or krub). Chan hew jing jing. (Try to put on your sad face when you do this. Make sure you don't look bossy!)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: Where's the restroom?

Thai: Hong nam yu tee nai ka (or krub)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: One more of this, please.

Thai: Ow nee eek neung tee ka (or krub)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: It's very delicious. I really like it.

Thai: Aroi mak ka (or krub). Chan (or pom) chob jing jing.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: May I get a take-out box?

Thai: Kaw glong sai ah-han dai mai ka (krub)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: Check, please.

Thai: Keb ngeun deuy ka (or krub)

OR chek bin ka (or krub)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: How much?

Thai: Tow rai ka (or krub)

***To learn how to say different numbers in Thai, visit my previous hub: Learn Basic Thai.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

English: Thank you.

Thai: Kob khun ka (or krub)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Few Extra Tips on Food Safety

During my twenty years of living in Thailand, I don't think I had ever gotten ill from eating street food. Many big cities in Thailand, especially Bangkok, might have the most horrendous traffic and pollution on the planet, but when it comes to food, the hygiene standards are reliable at most places. Yet, I don't think tourists should be too careless about it. To stay healthy on your trip and avoid food problems, please take these precautions:

  • Street vendors that cook the food right in front of you are the best. Avoid outdoor places that let precooked dishes sit in trays for hours. Usually some flies would sniff the heck out of those foods before you get to them! Only some street vendors make an effort to keep the flies away, so just don't take a risk. You don't know what else those flies have sniffed along the way.
  • You might have tried Thai food before in your hometown and think you can handle the spiciness. Well, don't be so sure about that. My boyfriend always orders "medium spicy," whenever he visits a Thai restaurant here in California. If he orders "medium spicy" in Bangkok, however, I think he might burst into flames. To save your tongue from unexpected level of spiciness, ask for something just a little spicy the first time you try Thai street food.
  • "Som tum" or green papaya salad is one of the best Thai dishes ever created, though you should be picky about where to buy it. Avoid getting som tum from a street vendor and opt for a mom-and-pop restaurant instead. Some locals like to have raw fermented fish in their papaya salad, and street vendors don't always clean their salad mortar after completing those orders. Therefore, the bacteria from the raw fish would likely linger in the mortar until the end of the day. For locals, there's no problem with that, but I'm not sure whether tourists' stomachs could handle it. To enjoy som tum without jeopardizing your wellness, a mom-and-pop shop is a good place to visit. They tend to clean their cooking devices many times a day and even have separate mortars for different types of papaya salad.

 

More by this Author


Comments 20 comments

E. A. Wright profile image

E. A. Wright 5 years ago from New York City

Very useful list of phrases. Awesome.


Peter Owen profile image

Peter Owen 5 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

I also cannot take the spices. Tasty, but my stomach explodes


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago

I should carry this hub with me whenever I visit Thailand--well, in the ipad. Very cool and comprehensive, thanks for breaking such a complicated language down for people like us. Rated up.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

This is so great! And now my stomach is rumbling and I have the WORST craving to go to Thailand... and eat myself silly!! I'll bookmark this for future reference :D


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

Om, thanks for the Thai language lesson. I especially like the phrases. I haven't found a good Thai restaurant since I left the New York area.


readabook profile image

readabook 5 years ago from Texas

Very helpful. I love Thai food and sometimes the menus here in the states are a little bit confusing. I should be able to figure them out now.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

@E.A Wright - Thanks!

@Peter Owen - Yeah, I understand. Thai food could be too intense sometimes.

@anglnwu - You wanna carry this hub with you? I've got a better idea; maybe you should carry ME with you instead! hehe

@Simone - Thanks for bookmarking this, Simone. I eat myself silly all the time, even when I'm not in Thailand.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

@KoffeKlatch - You're welcome. Hope you find a good Thai restaurant soon!

@readabook - Hey! I haven't seen you on HP for a while. Thanks so much for dropping by.


PETER LUMETTA profile image

PETER LUMETTA 5 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

Excellent! I live in Bangkok and you hit the nail on the head. Good refresher course for me and one of the main resons I love Thailand. Bravo!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Thanks, Peter. Glad to you found this hub helpful. :)


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

Great hub. This time I will get it right. Thanks for bridging the language gap.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

You're very welcome. Have fun learning Thai! :)


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

Ah once again you've provided us with very useful information. Thanks for the learning tool as to useful phrases when dining out. We all tend to get a bit uneasy while experiencing a new restaurant now, with your help, the dining experience will be much better. :) Katie


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Thanks for dropping by, Katie. Glad you liked this! :)


alispaisley profile image

alispaisley 5 years ago

This is great information at all.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Thank you. :)


smile51everyday profile image

smile51everyday 5 years ago from dream land-mamamiya

Dear Teacher, pretty awesome, but a little difficult to pronounce it...hahaha...


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Dear Student, I agree the pronunciation can be difficult. Yet, you have no other options but to PRACTICE. Be diligent and you will sound like a real Thai some day. =D


Marina Petrovic profile image

Marina Petrovic 5 years ago from Serbia

I looooove your Hub! Do you teach Thai online ?


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

No, not really. So far I've written only two articles about the Thai language. Not like real teaching. Thanks for dropping by. :)

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working