Ordering In Thailand with a Food Restriction

A Second Helping From MTG Writer at Large Angela Chang


Don’t add/don’t put in _____ = Mai sai _____  ไม่ใส่

I’m allergic to _____ = Chan paa _____ ฉันแพ้

Now let’s learn a few new words that have to do with food:

Chilli = prik พริก

milk = nom นม
MSG = pong choo-rot ผงชูรส

Nuts = tua leesong ถั่วลิสง
meat = neuha-sat เนื้อสัตว์

egg = kai ไข่
seafood = ah-han ta-lay อาหารทะเล
shrimp = goong กุ้ง
fish = bplah ปลา

crab = bpoo ปู

pork = moo หมู
chicken = gai ไก่

beef = neuh-wua เนื้อวัว

duck = bpèt เป็ด

fish sauce = nam bplah น้ำปลาgluten = bpaang แป้ง

NOTE: Thai is a tonal language, and Thais know that most foreigners struggle with the tones and are pretty forgiving if you pronounce something wrong. But try practicing the words on your own a few times to minimize hassle. Google Translate has a “speak” feature that’s great for you to reference pronunciations with your own.

Now that you have a very general understanding of the language structure for these phrases, you can swap words in and out to suit your needs when it comes to eating healthy, or if you have any dietary restrictions.

I eat vegetarian = Gin maung sa wirat กิน มังสวิรัติ

Beware that this is a very LOOSE version of vegetarianism and they may still put in non-noticeable ingredients that are NOT vegetarian, such as fish sauce, meat stock, or dried shrimp). If you aren’t strict with being vegetarian, then great. If you don’t want to take chances, take a look at what they have in front of you (the good thing about food stalls is that all the ingredients are often laid out right there) then list what you don’t want included one by one by using “mai sai __________”

I eat vegan = Gin jay กินเจ

You can use this even if you are vegetarian to make sure they don’t put anything in that’s not vegetarian-friendly, then tell them to add egg and etc. into the dish. For example, you can order “pad thai jay” (vegan pad thai) then tell them to “sai kai” (add egg).

If you ARE vegan, it’s best to remind them not to put in egg, even after you say you want the food item to be “jay.” Most people know that meat and fish are not part of the vegan diet, but not everyone will know about egg not being part of it; much like many places outside of Thailand aren’t sure what veganism specifically constitutes.

When ordering from a street food stall that does not only cater to your diet, don’t be SUPER strict—meaning don’t ask them to wash the griddle/pot/wok/whatever they’re cooking on (and probably only have one or two of) just to make your dish. They usually scrape out anything left in there, put some water in and pour it out, and wipe it before cooking the next dish.

The good thing is that most Thai cuisine is cooked WITHOUT butter and dairy, with the exception of roti. The actual meaning of “jay” also includes the omission of strong-odor herbs like onion and garlic, but many places in Thailand let this slide, especially if it’s a street food stand. Most vegetable dishes I’ve ordered “jay” have hunks of garlic in it (which is fine with me), but if you go to a restaurant that is “jay” for Buddhist reasons, you won’t find any garlic in your food. There are some restaurants that will ask if it is okay for you to eat onions and garlic.

If you eat Halal, say

I am Muslim = chan moot sa lim ฉันมุสลิม (informal for both female and male)

This will be okay when you are eating casually. This is a better phrase to say because most, unless they have good friends who eat Halal or are Muslim themselves, don’t understand “halal”. Here’s how to check if it’s a safe place for you to eat:

1- Do you see the “halal” symbol on the stand or restaurant? Yes, you will see the sign if it is a Muslim-friendly eatery as there are plenty of Thais that are Muslim. You do? Great. Order to your heart’s content. These places are usually run by Thai Muslims.

2- You don’t see the halal symbol or you’re not sure? It’s best not to order the chicken and beef (unless you aren’t very strict when it comes to chicken and beef) because it will be very difficult to find out if it is certified Halal. In these types of places, find out what sort of meats are available. Point and say “Nee arai?” (what is this?) then listen for “moo” (pork), “gai” (chicken), “bplah” (fish), or “neuh” (beef). State that you are Muslim, and just order it with seafood (or chicken/beef if you are not too strict) or order it vegetarian if it is a dish that permits such (in other words, it’s a dish that will still be the dish it is with the omission of an ingredient or two). Obviously, if it is a curry that was premade with mystery meat in it, it will be not be likely they can make you a new batch free of mystery meat. After you order, specify to not add pork (“mai sai moo”)

2- Almost everyone knows Muslim people don’t eat pork, but it is not common knowledge (at least in Thailand) that the other meats should be Halal as well. By stating you are Muslim, order the dish to your dietary restrictions, then reminding them not to add pork into it, you are demonstrating a fool-proof method that makes sure what you’re eating is safe for your dietary needs.

If you’re gluten-free, it’s a bit tricky because you’ll receive looks as if you have three heads if you say you’re allergic to gluten in Thai (“bpaang”). you’ll have to do some of your own research into common thai dishes in Thailand and their ingredients. If it contains an ingredient you can’t have, you’ll have to order the dish then specify “mai sai ______.” If you’re not sure if something pre-made has a certain ingredient in it, you can point and ask “sai _____ mai?” (did you put ______ in it?)

Soy sauce = see-ew ซีอิ๊ว
flour = bpaang (same word for gluten)

Note: Fish sauce is usually gluten-free, but not always.

If it looks like they’re frying glutinous foods in the same oil, it’ll be best to stay away from places like that. If you see a dish that has a thick layer of sauce on it, be sure to ask if there’s flour in it. Sometimes it might just be cornstarch, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This applies to foods cooked in the same pan—use your judgment.

If you do have dietary restrictions, you can state your restriction, then remind them not to put in something that may not be obvious to that restriction. For example, many people everywhere know that eating vegan means no meat, but don’t always know that it also means no egg. So when ordering fried rice at a street stall in Thailand, you can either tell them how you want it done (kao pad jay), tell them how you eat (gin jay), and then remind them of the not so obvious (mai sai kai). (You can also do this in another order if stating your restriction first,then ordering the dish, then add the reminder. “Gin jay (pause to make sure they understand). Kao pad, mai sai kai.”

Don’t have a dietary restriction but can’t handle spicy food? Most places will tone down the spiciness if they know you’re a foreigner, but you can also tell them “mai sai prik” (don’t add chilli), “mai pet” (not spicy) or “pet nid noy” (little bit spicy).

If you forget how to say something in Thai, it’s okay to point! …As long as you’re not too pushy or rude about it. If you don’t remember how to say chicken, just point and say “sai” (put in) or “mai sai” (don’t put in). If your dish was particularly hard to communicate across but it was done, just thank the person who made your food/took your order sincerely, especially if you plan on coming back! (Although with “difficult” orders from foreigners, it tends to be a memorable moment..so if you stop in the next day, they’ll probably know what to put in and what not to!)

Practice a few phrases and save them to your phone in case you get shy when ordering. Always use your judgement when ordering, especially if your allergy is severe. Be safe and happy eating!

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