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Basic Practices in Thailand When You Have a Dietary Restriction

fried street food thailand bangkok

If there’s a surplus of anything in Thailand, it’s definitely FOOD! Turn around any corner and you’ll see carts selling various yummy-smelling snacks and treats. However, for picky eaters and those with dietary restrictions, it’s not as simple as “I see it, I eat it.” This is when knowing certain phrases is useful – you can get knowledge of the ingredients used and inquire if they can make something suitable for you.

In this Thai Language multi-article series, we explore the basics of Muay Thai and what you need to get around and get what you need while in the country! Welcome to Thai Language – Part 4b.

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-Don’t forget to add ka or khrap at the end of all questions and statements to sound polite!
-Refer to Thai Language – Part 1: Basic Rules & FAQ’s for a refresher course for Thai language basics
-Refer to Thai Language – Part 4a: Food for food vocabulary

Contents

Observe

street food fish sauce cooking thailand bangkok
Photo by Egor Myznik

The most obvious thing to do first is to watch how they prepare the food. Street food vendors and a-haan dam sang restaurants will cook the food in a place visible to the public. Make mental notes of what it is they’re putting in that you don’t want in your dish. If you don’t know what it is, err on the side of caution and also add it to the mental “do not add” list. Then, simply say

mai sai __ (ไม่ใส่ __ ),
followed by the ingredients you do not want in your dish.

For example, for the vegetarian who does not want fish sauce or dried shrimp in the papaya salad, say mai sai nam bpla, goong haeng (ไม่ใส่น้ำปลา กุ้งแห้ง). It’s not perfect grammar, but it gets the message across, which is the point. (FYI: the more proper way to say it would be mai sai nam bpla lae mai sai gung haeng (ไม่ใส่น้ำปลาและไม่ใส่กุ้งแห้ง)

Ask the Right Questions

Photo by Bao Menglong

What if there was something that was premade and you have no idea what the ingredients of it consisted of? Let’s say, the soup stock for kuay teow (noodle soup). You can ask if it includes a specific ingredient by asking

sai __ mai (ใส่ __ ไหม),
filling in the blank with the ingredient(s) you’re cautious of.

For example, if someone cannot consume pork products and is worried about the soup base, they would have to ask sai moo mai (ใส่หมูไหม) (or the slightly more advanced and more correct form: soop tee tam jaak moo mai (ซุปที่ทำจากหมูไหม), to then they would get a nod or shake of the head.

If you follow a specific diet, you can also get directly to the point instead of observing, if you have a feeling the place may have what you need (this works best for people with diets that are easy to group and understand, such as vegetarians and pescatarians). You can ask:

mee aa-haan __ mai (มีอาหาร __ ไหม),
filling in the blank with the “type” of food you want according to diet.

The answer you will get will either be mee (yes, we have) or mai mee (no, we don’t have). Vegetarian can either be said as jay (เจ, much stricter and religious version of a vegan diet, less likely to encounter) or mangsawirat (มังสวิรัติ, less strict and may still contain animal byproducts, more likely to encounter). Pescatarians can use the term ta-lay (ทะเล) to fill in the blank when looking for seafood dishes.

You (Usually) Get What You Pay For

Indoor sit-down restaurants, where it’s not likely to be able to see or interact with the person cooking the food, will sometimes have more options suitable for dietary restrictions or picky eaters, especially if it is a higher-end one. However, this can be a double-edged sword if the restaurant is very local and you are limited to just pictures on the menu – always make sure to ask enough questions to ensure you will get a dish suitable for you.

Generally, if you need stricter cooking guidelines and fewer language barriers, you will have to pay for it in terms of dining setting (street food versus a specialty indoor sit-down restaurant).

Phrases and Vocabulary

EnglishRomanizationThai
Don’t put __mai saiไม่ใส่ __
Does this contain __?sai __ maiใส่ __ ไหม
Is this made from __?nee tam jaak __ maiนี้ทำจาก __ ไหม
Do you have ___ food?mee aa-haan __ maiมีอาหาร __ ไหม
vegetarianjay / mangsawiratเจ / มังสวิรัติ
sea(food)(aa-haan) ta-lay(อาหาร)ทะเล
to havemeeมี
to not havemai meeไม่มี
Need more food vocabulary? There are plenty more available here.

Stay tuned for the next parts of the series, where we will be tackling specific food restrictions by religion, allergy, and intolerance.

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Currently training and fighting full time in Bangkok. Originally from NYC. instagram.com/angelasitan

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