How to order food like a Thai: 15 essential words and phrases you must know for eating out in Thailand

How to order food like a Thai - a handy phrasebook for the adventurous traveler in Thailand!

There's nothing like going to a local restaurant and trying a new dish when you are traveling in Thailand. Sometimes, travelers in Thailand feel intimidated by ordering local food, and stick to tourist restaurants. Don't be afraid! A big smile and a positive attitude will be the key that unlocks the door to lots of delicious dishes.

Even if the menu is printed entirely in Thai, chances are the server, or another customer, will be able to speak enough English to help you order something nice.

Here are some of the most simple and important phrases to make ordering food at any Thai restaurant super easy!

  • Don't forget, the Thai language has something called a "polite participial". Just add the word "Krap" (if you are a man) or "Ka" (if you are a woman) to the end of every sentence to make it polite. It's like saying "please" and "thank you" all in one.

  • Example: Ao Nam Plow Krab (I would like water, please) - see below:
how to order food in Thailand

1. Ao - I would like

This is probably the most useful phrase! When you sit down at a restaurant, this is how you order something. Just say "Ao Nam Plow" (I would like a water) or "Ao Pad Thai", and the server will know just what to bring you!

2. Mai pet - not spicy

The first and most important phrase that I learned before I began venturing out to restaurants in Thailand. Warning: Thai food can be VERY spicy! If your stomach isn't used to spicy food, it could really ruin your trip, or at least your meal. If you don't want to eat something spicy, just say "Mai Pet".

3. Pet nit noi - just a little spicy

If you like a tiny bit of spice, just ask for "Pet Nit Noi", but be warned! What is "just a little spicy" to a Thai chef might be "super spicy" to the tourist's palate.

4. Pet maak - very spicy

Only request your food to be "Pet Maak" if you are very, very brave...

5. Nam plow - water

If you do ask for "Pet Maak", you'll probably want to order some "Nam Plow", or drinking water.

6. Nam kang - ice

Water is usually served un-chilled over ice in Thailand. Don't worry! The ice should be perfectly safe If the ice is the tube-shaped kind with a hole in the center, it's made at a factory and delivered, or in an ice machine. This type of ice is made from clean water and you don't have to worry about it at all.

7. Piset - "special" (large portion)

Feeling hungry? Just order your dish "Piset". This word literally means "special", but when you are talking about food, it's how you ask for a larger portion. For 10-20 baht more, the chef will give you an extra-sized helping.

8. Moo - pork

Confusingly, "moo" means pork. In Thai, the meat goes after the dish. For example, pork fried rice is "Khao Pad Moo", and pork Pad Thai is "Pad Thai Moo". Easy!

9. Gai - chicken

 "Gai" means chicken. Chicken is probably the most popular meat in Thai cuisine.

10. Pla - fish

Seafood is also really popular in Thailand. "Pla" means fish. Be careful, though: the bones are almost never removed. Only order fish if you are able to eat around fish bones.

11. Khao - rice

"Khao" is rice. It's served with almost every meal. Sometimes the server will ask you if you want rice. If you want to order more, just ask for "ao khao".

12. Pad - fried

"Pad" means fried. You can order the famous Pad Thai, or a simple dish of "Khao Pad" (fried rice).

13. An ni - this one

If you don't really know what you want, or if the menu is entirely in Thai, just point to a picture on the menu of something that looks good, and say "Ao An Ni" ("I would like this one"). Be adventurous, and you won't be disappointed! Maybe you'll discover something new that you love.

14. Check bin - I would like the bill, please

When it's time to pay, just signal the server and say "Check Bin". They will bring you a bill. Tipping is not required, or even expected, in Thailand.

15. Aroi - delicious

After your meal, telling the chef that it was "aroi" will go a long way! Thai people are fiercely proud of their cuisine (and for good reason), and the chef will be delighted with your compliment.