Eating out in Thailand

9. February 2015

It is common for Thai people to eat out a lot; cheap and tasty street food, market food and small inexpensive restaurants often make it as cost effective, and a lot less hassle, to eat out rather than to cook at home.  Additionally, cooking facilities in many Thai homes are restricted to a gas burner with a large wok; kitchens in homes are usually not as you would find in western countries.

When eating a Thai meal you will typically be given a fork and a spoon, and chopsticks are used for noodle dishes.  Knives are seldom used at mealtimes.

The main food in Thai cuisine is rice.  It is eaten with almost every meal.  There are no certain meals that are eaten at different times of the day, and the same meals may be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Noodles are also fairly common, and soups are popular.


A Thai Cooking Demonstration

A Thai meal is prepared with four taste elements in mind; sweet, sour, salty and bitter.  The aim is to balance these flavours and create meals that use these four tastes in harmony.  A major aspect of Thai food is a spicy taste, often produced by using chilies.  Cucumber is often served on the side of meals to cool the mouth after eating spicy food.  Fish sauce is often used to give meals a salty taste.

Other herbs and spices used in Thai meals include garlic, lemongrass, mint, basil, ginger and pepper.  Lime and coconut milk are features of some dishes.

If you do not want your food spicy, ask for NO spice; if you say a little, generally cooks will use a little amount for a Thai person, which is often still too much for many westerners.

You will often be given a selection of different accompaniments with your meal.  Fish sauce with chopped chilies and a splash of lime juice and garlic is often provided.  Others will likely include dried chili, a chili vinegar and pepper.  If you see sugar, don’t be surprised; sugar is used to take away too much spiciness.

Beef and lamb are rarely found in Thai cuisine, with the main meats being chicken and pork.  Fish and seafood, especially shrimp, crab and squid are also widely used.


Being a vegetarian, as I am, in Thailand can be tough!  As many dishes are made with fish sauce, you must specify that you do not eat meat and also not to use fish sauce when cooking.  This can confuse many cooks, who will then offer a basic choice of meals only.  Vegans will struggle even more, as eggs are also often used in many Thai dishes.

If you do not eat meat, some useful phrases for when eating out in Thailand include:

Gin mang sa wee rat – I am vegetarian

Gin jay – I am vegan (although in its strictest interpretation it also excludes other foods, such as chilies, onions and garlic)

Mie sie nam blah – Do not use fish sauce

If in doubt, look for a bright yellow sign with a red figure that looks like the number 17.  This sign indicates a vegetarian restaurant.


Vegetables with Rice

Some of my personal favourite Thai dishes include somtam, which is a spicy papaya salad, pad gap prow, a dish made with chilies and basil, fried rice, fried vegetable with rice, vegetable tempura, deep fried vegetables, often served with a sweet chili sauce, vegetable pad siow, a noodle dish, red, yellow and green curries, and I love eating salted corn from street sellers.  Other popular dishes include tomyam gung, which is a shrimp soup, pad thai, which are fried noodles, and masaman curry.

There are many delicious dishes to try in Thailand, so be adventurous and try the many different delightful treats.  Don’t be scared of trying street food either – look for where the locals are heading and you know it will be a good choice.


Noodle Soup