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Dining Out the Thai Way - Plus a Glossary of Thai Terms

How to Order


Dining Out the Thai Way - Plus a Glossary of Thai Terms

Remember to Check your Spice-o-meter

D. Schmidt
Dining Out The Thai Way

What to Order

When visiting a Thai restaurant, think variety. You will want to order various dishes to ensure a balance of flavors and textures. And don’t forget the four Thai seasonings: salty, spicy, sour, and sweet—you’ll want to represent all of these flavours in the dishes you order.

In the West, a “normal” restaurant meal consists of a starter followed by the main course and dessert, with each individual ordering only for him/herself. In Thailand, however, there is no such thing as a starter; neither is there any dish that belongs only to one person.

In Thailand, a formal meal would include soup (served at the same time as all other dishes), which might take the form of a spicy curry. Several meat dishes would be ordered, including at least one fish or seafood dish. Vegetables take the form of stir-fries (perhaps combined with chicken or beef), or tangy salads. A noodle dish is usually ordered as well, which often combines vegetables, meat, and/or seafood. Desserts often include sticky rice and coconut as primary ingredients.

The number of dishes you order depends on the number of people seated at your table. As a general rule, Thais order the same number of dishes as people present; however, all dishes are shared and enjoyed together. For this reason, it is better to have many guests at the table rather than just one or two. The more the better is the Thai way, allowing you can sample a greater number of dishes and achieve a variety of flavors and textures.

When ordering in a Thai restaurant, don’t forget to specify your desired spice level, as neglecting to do so may leave your mouth burning. Remember that Thais eat their food extremely spicy, so don’t be too brave when ordering (unless chillies are a regular part of your diet). “Medium spicy” is probably “hot” for most North Americans. “Mild to medium” may be a safer bet.

Whenever I visit a new Thai restaurant, I always ask the server to recommend at least one dish which the chef does particularly well. This way you’ll be certain to sample the best of what that establishment has to offer. Also, it’s a good way to try out dishes you may never otherwise order for yourself.

If You are Vegetarian

Look for wheat gluten and tofu dishes on the menu. If none are listed, ask which dishes can be made vegetarian. Be sure to specify “no meat” when ordering, even if the description of your chosen dish does not list meat. Thais often use small amounts of meat and/or seafood when preparing their dishes.

What to Drink

Nothing goes better with spicy Thai food than a cold, light lager. If you like beer, ask your server for an authentic Thai brew like Chang or Singha. If you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage, try Thai lime soda, made from key limes. Alternatively, water and green tea accompany most Thai meals.

How to Read the Menu: a Glossary of Thai Terms

Use this list of terms to help you the next time you eat out at a Thai restaurant. Note that you will need to combine several terms to perceive the full meaning (e.g. Khao Padd = fried rice).

  • Hoi Malaeng Poo = mussels
  • Kaeng = curry
  • Kai/Gai = chicken
  • Kanum, Mee/Mii/Sen = noodles
  • Kao/Khao = rice
  • Kung foi = prawns
  • Makneua = eggplant
  • Maphrao = coconut
  • Moo = pork
  • Nam = water
  • Nam kathii = coconut milk
  • Nam phrik = chilli sauce
  • Neua = beef
  • Pad/Padd/Phad = stir-fried
  • Ped = duck
  • Phoo/Poo = crab
  • Pla/Plaa = fish
  • Takrai = lemongrass
  • Taohoo = tofu
  • Thua = bean(s)
  • Tom = soup
  • Yumm/Yam = salad

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