Eating out in Thailand is fun, especially if you are with Thai people and eating at local restaurant. But before you go, it’s good to know Thai customs of eating out. So here is my short and semi-serious guide on the customs of eating out in Thailand.

A      as in Alcohol: Don’t be surprised when a bottle of whiskey (from local brands to internationally acclaimed booze…everything is possible) will be ordered with or shortly after dinner. Thais love their whiskey with lots of ice, lots of soda, lots of coke…and very little whiskey!

B      as in Beer: the most popular Thai beers are Leo, Chang and Singha (spoken Lee-Ooooh, Chaaaang and Sing). They are all lager- beers with 6+% alcohol, so be careful when you are used to Pilsner. Also widely available are Tiger (Singapore), Carlsberg (kind of Danish), Asahi (Japanese), San Miguel (Filipino), Hoegaarden (Belgium) and Heineken( Dutch) – some have a problem calling the last one a “beer”!

        as in Beer Girls: they are a part of almost every pub, restaurant and bar and foremost beer- promoters. You will easily notice them, as some are wearing an outfit in the colors of the company they represent…and that is just the least interesting part, as some of the dresses are rather…racy! I like to call them “beverage consultants”, because when you walk into a pub that doesn’t sell your favorite beer…just have a look around and chose beer- girl, you would most like to see at your table often, order that beer and…don’t let your wife find out about that!

C     as in Courses: It is simple: there are none. Everything from soup to salad will be ordered in one go and served when it is ready. The only exception is desert.

       as in Chilli: you will soon get the feeling, that it is the No.1- ingredient in every Thai- dish. Fish with chili, Chili- Chicken, glass noodle- salad with chili, Chili-soup or chili with chili and chili- paste. Rule of thumb: the more “red” in a dish, the more dangerous it is!

       as inCutlery:  depending on the place, you will get chopsticks, a short spoon for soups and/or fork and spoon. Unless you are eating steak (in which case you are hopefully NOT in a Thai- restaurant), there will be no knife, as most Thai- dishes come chopped into small pieces anyways.

       as in Condom: noooooooo! Not what you think! “Condom” in this sense is a rubber- foam container, to keep your beer cold!  

Enough in most restaurants

D    as in Digestive: For all middle aged and old Germans, Jaegermeister is not served as a digestive here. It is not the end of a hearty meal. It is the start of heavy drinking

      as in Desert. Some Thai deserts are plain delicious. Some are adventurous, to say the least. You can hardly go wrong with any kind of Thai fruit platter. Popular is “Sticky rice with mango”. Everything else almost certainly is on coconut base and too sweet or looks too strange for foreign taste.

E    as in Eating. An important part of Thai culture. Thais eat any time and anywhere. If they are not eating, they think about what to eat next.

F    as in Farang: a) the Thai- word for Guava. b) You!

      as in Facbook. After the rather long process of ordering the food and then waiting for it, when it finally arrives, you can not just yet start eating, because now it is time to take some pictures. If you are on Facebook and you have friends from Thailand, you know that Thais have an obsession with food and taking pictures of it. They will inform you, any time of the day, what they had to eat and document it, by taking pictures. In the day and age of mobile- phones and social media, this is a “normal” thing to do…I wonder, what they did, 20 years ago?!  

 

G   as in Galangal: It is an important part of many Thai dishes like Tom Kha Gai, the popular chicken- soup in coconut milk. Galangal is often mistaken for ginger and has a soapy taste and a soft, wooden texture. You love it or you hate it, there is no in between!

 

H    as in Heat. Don’t underestimate it, especially if you are only here on holiday. Sitting down, eating spicy food, having “some” drinks- the moment of truth comes when you leave the air conditioned zone…or simply get up! Be prepared to learn where the term “getting hammered” comes from.

I     as in Ice. You will be asked if you want ice (Nam Kheng =hard water) in your beer. Advantage: a) keeps the beer cold for longer and b) waters down the 6+% of the beer. The disadvantage is… it waters down the beer. To me as a German, it is almost a sacrilege. Do you put ice in champagne or a good red wine? No you don’t and also you don’t put it in beer. If your beer gets warm, drink faster!!! But be careful and see H!

J     as in Joke. Thais are great practical jokers. One of their finest moments is taking a “farang” (foreigner) out to dinner, ordering some food and wait for him to ask “Is this spicy?” The answer brought to you with a sincere smile or stone cold seriousness will be “No! Not spicy!” If you believe it, you losse! You fill your spoon, bring it to your mouth (will most likely not notice some of the easy- to- be- amused members of your party, who start to giggle) and start eating it. Then look into happy, laughing faces while you struggle with the lump of molten lava in your mouth, try to breath, though your throat is filled with your swollen tongue and all kinds of fluids run from your forehead, nose and eyes. 

 

K     as in Kill someone. What you want to do after J. Don’t! Be a good sport.

L     as in Lemon grass. Another important ingredient in Thai food and also one (like Chili and Galanga) that adds to the taste, but should not be eaten.

 

M    as in Meat. This is a short round up of Thai vocabulary. “Gai” is chicken, whereas “kai” is egg. “Nuea” is beef, whereas “Moo”, strangely enough, is pork. “Kung” or “Gung” means shrimps. “Pla” is fish and “pla muek” is squid. “Talay refers to “seafood” (“talay” means ocean. So it makes sense, somehow). “Hoi” refers to any type of seashell creatures such as clams and mussels.

N     as in Noise. If you like to take in your dinner in a quiet and cultivated atmosphere with some light jazz or dinner music playing, you are definitely wrong in most Thai style restaurants. The level of noise is sometimes ear- shattering. Many restaurant either have loud music (live or otherwise) playing or turn on  TV that shows football matches or Thai soap operas. Even if they do not have this kind of entertainment, people are laughing and talking and screaming. It is the way it is. When Thais go out, they like to have fun. Just go along with it and you will be fine.

       as in Napkins: in some mid- prized restaurants you may actually get a real napkin. In the “cheaper” range, there mostly will be a dispenser on the table. Sometimes it contains no more than a roll of toilet paper. As the saying goes: for some, it is toilet paper… for others, it is the worlds longest napkin.

O     as in Order: in Thai- restaurants and with the Thais it is almost never “every man for himself”. Dishes will be ordered for the whole table and everybody shares. It is a communicative way of ordering and eating. The only disadvantage: with everybody having a favorite dish and matters have to be discussed thoroughly, it might take some time, until the order is done and the food arrives. Don’t go out hungry, when going out with Thais.

P     as inPayment: most likely, you are the “guest” and will not be asked to share the bill. Since foreigners are generally seen to be “rich”, it would be a mistake though, not to offer your share. After you get refused twice…just forget about it! It is different, if you explicitly are the host, though! 

as in Prik Nam Pla:  It means fish sauce with chilli. Usually there is a small bowl of Prik Nam Pla on every table. The sauce itself is there to put some more salt into the dish, if you need it. Be very careful with the chilli, though. If you are not a fan of fishy smell, stay away from it.

Prik nam pla...the water of life!

Q    as in Question: If you don’t know something: ask! It may make you look like an idiot sometimes, but it might save your tongue in other cases, f.e. if you do not know, how spicy a certain dish is. But remember J.

.R    as in Rice: There are basically two forms of rice; “khao suay” is the normal, white and steamed rice available everywhere. “Khao niaow” is sticky rice and very popular in most Isan style restaurants. If you don’t order a noodle-dish or a dish that already and by definition includes rice (f.e. “Khao pad” = fried rice with….), you have to order rice separately. Otherwise you will not get any! 

 

Khao Niao/ Sticky Rice

S    as in Spicy: When asked if you “can eat spicy”, no matter how much of a tough guy you think you are and no matter how many times you had the “beef sezuan with extra sambal olek” in your local Chinese restaurant, play it safe and say “No”. Spicy” in Thailand means at least “hot as the lower realms of hell”. I have seen grown up men crying like little babies. The phrase to learn is “Nid Noi” (meaning “a little bit”. It has to be spoken in a tone of voice that says “Please, have mercy”) or “Mai Pet”  (meaning “not spicy”…whereas how spicy “not spicy” is, totally depends on the pain, the cook is still able to feel, after years and years of chili- abuse)! Never try to counter “spicy” with a cold alcoholic beverage- it only makes things worse! 

      as in Straw: Don’t be surprised if some Thais, especially the ladies, drink their beer through a straw. It is common here for reasons I can not even try to begin to understand.

As in Salt. As mentioned before, adding salt to your dish is usually done through “prik nam pla” (see P). In most local restaurants, you will not even find salt on the table. The obvious and practical reason behind that: the humidity makes the salt stick. But apart from that, Thais love to put salt into the strangest things, like the -usually sweet- coconut milk, that comes with deserts or soft- drinks and orange juice!

 

T    as inToilets: be ready to be surprised, positive as negative. Positive, when the installment is clean, air- conditioned and there may be a friendly guy or lady, who hands you a hot towel and gives you a short neck and shoulder- massage, while you are washing your hands! Negative (the cheaper the restaurant…) if you find yourself on a squat- toilet (which is an adventure, especially after you had some of the whiskey or one or the other beer too many) and when you find, that the hygienic- standard of the facility would make things actually worse, if you washed your hands after business.

as in Tip: For your general understanding, there is no need to “tip” anyone at almost any time as all bills include a “service charge”. But of course, everybody will be happy to accept a little “extra” when you enjoy a good service. It is a slippery slope you have to walk there. 10% of the bill is sure okay in a fancy restaurant but it may make you look silly in a local eatery. Let’s put it this way. If your bill is 480 Baht and you pay 500, it is okay to leave the 20 Baht as a tip. If the bill is 499 and you pay 500, 1 Baht is not okay and seen as an insult. If you come with Thai- friends, you best ask them, before you tip.

 

U     as in Unforgettable: …needs no explanation! Just take in the experience!

V     as in Vegetarian: as everywhere else in Asia, Thailand also has a vegetarian- food- culture. If you see triangular yellow flags with red writing on a food- stall or a restaurant, the food is “djae” (vegetarian). Other restaurants and food- stalls offer vegetable dishes, but they are made with f.e. oyster- sauce and seasoned with fish- sauce, so it depends on just how vegetarian you are and how many sins you may forgive yourself. One of my Thai- friends once asked, if a soup she wanted to order was vegetarian and what was in it. The answer was “yes, totally vegetarian” and it contained “noodles, vegetables and squid”. Obviously, squid must be seen as a plant….

W     as inWaiters: whatever you do: keep one eye on your drink. Especially if you ordered a bottle of beer or the table shares a bottle of harder booze. The waiters will refill your glass every time it even gets halfway to the empty- mark. This will also be done by the respective beer- girl, which might be even more dangerous, as you actually might like her to refill your glass as often as she can! Sometimes it will also be done by one of your (lady-) friends, in which case you take what you get! Never order your whiskey to be topped up, because you think you can take the “2-finger-rule”! (see H)

        as in Whiskey: There are different kinds of whiskey, that may be ordered. In “cheaper” joints, it may be Johnny Walker Red Label (or “red”) or Seangsom, a Thai-whiskey that is more like a rum. If you are in an upscale bar, Chivas, Johnny Walker Black Label (or “black”) or Jack Daniels may be served. Other brands are 100 Pipers, Benmore or Blend 285 (they are not too bad, if you have a reserve of Aspirin beside your bed). They usually come with mixers (soda, Coke, Seangsom goes well with Sprite) and ice. If you are in a “cheaper” bar or restaurant, do not order Johnny Walker, simply because no one will understand you. Said whiskey is only known as “Red” or “Black”. So, order “Red Soda” or “Black Coke”

A fine selection

          as in Water: in some (very cheap) restaurants or at some food vendors, it is free! Otherwise, mostly ladies or the poor guy who is driving order it! 

X    as in X-cellent. Thais are very proud of their food. If you are asked if you like Thai food, just say “yes” and see their faces light up like Christmas trees!

Variations of "delicious"