20 Thai Food-Related Words You Should Know
By Kelly Iverson
Foodies simply flock to the Kingdom. From the abundance of unique dishes originating from Isaan to curries that put India to shame, there are so many delicious dining options to choose from in the Land of Smiles. Those visitors hoping to enjoy Thai cuisine to its fullest should know at least a handful of words to successfully take on Thailand’s menus and more. Here, 20 Thai food-related words you should know.
1. Náam bplaao – Plain water
Thailand’s heat can be brutal. The capital is also the hottest city in the world, in terms of having the hottest temperatures all year-round. Because of this, you are going to want a water bottle (or two) on hand at all times. Beat the heat by knowing the phrase, náam bplaao. The word plain is added because oftentimes, if you order water, you will be given soda water instead.
2. Pay – Allergic
While many of these words are sure to make your trip that much more enjoyable, having an allergy can put a traveler in a life or death situation. Do not risk not knowing this important word when ordering at any restaurant or vendor, because you can never be too sure what is being put into your food.
3. Mawng sa vee rat – Vegetarian
So you are able to devour all the eggs and milk in the world, but that does not mean you are suddenly a carnivore. All the vegetarians out there may have it a bit easier in terms of dietary needs in comparison to vegans, but the word for vegetarian is a bit of a mouthful. If you are a vegetarian and are unable to eat meat, be sure to tell a vendor, mawng sa vee rat.
4. Hiu – Hungry
Though we doubt that Thailand’s busy streets will ever come up short in terms of food, you never know when you are going to find yourself with hunger pains and no Thai cuisine in sight. If this happens, you are going to want to know how to express that you are hungry, or hiu.
5. Kem – Salty
No flavor is left behind in the making of a Thai dish. Diners will be surprised when they get a spoonful of sweet in a dish that is supposedly spicy, and vice versa. Salty is no exception. One of the saltiest dishes in Thailand is pla kem (salted fish), which visitors will find on streets across the Kingdom.
6. Too-eh lee-song – Peanut
The biggest allergy many people seem to be burdened with is to peanuts. From pad Thai to different curries, there are several dishes in which one of the ingredients is a handful of peanuts. Save yourself (literally) by knowing this helpful phrase.
7. Kaeng – Curry
Thailand’s celebrated curries are a must-try dish for those traveling through the country. If a menu lacks photos or any type of English equivalent to these delectable dishes, you are going to want to know how to ask for it. From massaman to phanaeng to green curry, you can never go wrong by ordering kaeng.
8. Pet – Spicy
Thai vendors normally tend to take it easy on foreigners when it comes to how spicy (or lack thereof) they make a dish. Not all visitors will have this happen, however, and find themselves gulping down anything in sight to make the burning stop after devouring some sort of Thai cuisine. If you do not like spicy food, say, mai pet. If you are on the other end of the spectrum and enjoy a meal that makes your mouth light on fire, say, pet mak! Consider this your warning.
9. Phak – Vegetables
From bitter, Thai eggplant to the popular fukthong (pumpkin, contrary to its vulgar-sounding name), there are many vegetables taking up space on menus across the country. This phrase is especially helpful for vegans and vegetarians, as one of the most popular (and most available) dishes they will be ordering is pad hpak, or mixed vegetables.
10. Náam khaeng – Ice
In addition to needing water, you may want a handful of ice cubes in tow when dining at one of Thailand’s outdoor eateries. Know how to order ice, or náam khang, and make your drink that much chillier.
11. Chon gâew – Cheers
Many Thai people love to drink booze with their meals. From signature Thai beers, like Chang, that are dirt cheap, to the whiskey that somehow makes it way to dinner tables across the Kingdom, you are likely to see many people bringing some type of alcohol to the table. Join them with your own, and know how to say the phrase, chon gâew. This phrase translates to “crash glass.” You may even make a few friends in the process.
12. Guaidtiao – Noodles
Many of Thailand’s most famous dishes are noodle based, though this type of cuisine was actually brought over by the Chinese. From khao soi (Thai coconut curry soup) in the north of Thailand to the country’s most legendary dish, pad Thai, you are going to want to know how to order noodles, oftentimes having to use the word guaidtiao.
13. Tao-hoo – Tofu
Unlike many Western countries, Tofu is in abundance in Thailand. Travelers can easily substitute things like gi (chicken) or moo (pork) with fried or egg tofu, and it is delicious. This word can especially come in handy for those vegans and vegetarians making their way to the Land of Smiles.
14. Bpriao – Sour
First they are sour … well, then they remain sour. Sour might not be your most desired of flavors, but it certainly makes an appearance in many of dishes in Thailand. Sour fish and sweet and sour pork are some of the most noteworthy of dishes are at least a bit bpriao, meaning sour.
15. Waan – Sweet
From refreshing juices, to thick, creamy coffees, many foodies coming to Thailand will be surprised by how astoundingly sweet everything seems to be. Waan means sweet, and this can be a helpful word to know. As coffee lovers, this word is especially handy when asking the barista to omit this from your coffee.
16. Kâao – Rice
Rice is a staple of the Thai diet. Unless you are ordering some type of noodle dish, diners are almost guaranteed to be served a good helping of white rice with most meals. Another popular type of rice you might want to remember is sticky rice, or kâao niaao. This dish is a staple in the north of Thailand, and served with popular dishes including som tum (papaya salad) and sai oua (northern Thai sausage).
17. Jae – Vegan
Dietary needs are hard to follow in a foreign country, especially when they are incredibly strict. A vegan diet, though doable, is oftentimes difficult to abide by. Eggs and milks are hiding in the most inconspicuous of dishes, so be sure to tell a vendor gin jae (eat vegan) before ordering anything on the menu.
18. Ponlamaai – Fruit
The Land of Smiles is home to some of the most delicious (and strange) fruits in the world. From the smelly and intimidating durian,which is covered in spikes and so potent that it is not allowed on some public transport, to the famous mango paired with sticky rice, there are plenty of fruits to tantalize your palates with.
19. Aahăan tá-lay – Seafood
With over 1,500 miles of coastline, seafood in Thailand is certainly in abundance. Some of the most noteworthy dishes are made up of some type of water-dwelling creature. From tom yum gûng (spicy shrimp curry soup) to gang som blah chon (deep-fried snake head), you are going to want to try at least one of these noteworthy dishes. If you are on the lookout for the freshest seafood in town, be sure to know how to say seafood, or aahăan tá-lay.
20. Aroi – Delicious
Thai food is delicious, and the more you express this to your vendors or those waiting on you for a meal, the better your time around the dinner table will be! Tell your server that the food was aroi, and you will at least receive a smile in return.
Kelly is a freelance writer currently exploring the City of Angels. When she isn’t scouring the streets of Bangkok, she’s reading fiction and taking one too many photographs. Visit her Facebook page for more for her work.