Not everyone may know about Thailand. But many have probably heard of Thai food. Thai foods are popular not only among Asian people, but they have gained recognition in Europe, Australia, and in America as well. However, many Thai dishes tend to lean toward the very spicy or very sweet side and foreigners may find the tastes a bit overwhelming. Often times, Thai foods at restaurants abroad are altered in order to suit the Western palates. One of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the authentic taste of Thai food is to come taste them in their birth country. Thai people love food, but they usually like to try assorted dishes in small portion. Foreigners who are used to eating a large portion in their country may find the amount of food served at a typical Thai eatery not very filling. A second helping could then be ordered. Thailand has many fancy restaurants located inside shopping malls, but if you really want to dine like the local, then a side street restaurant is a good option. Many of them serve delicious food and are fairly clean, however, if you want to play it safe, it’s better to order hot food and bottled water. Some of these side street restaurants may have a pitcher of water laying on the table for customers to help themselves, but the water inside the pitcher might not always be clean. Also, there are variety of cold salad dishes in Thailand. The famous papaya salad (som-tam) and cold meat salad (laab) are very tasty but be aware that if they are not properly prepared, you might end up with food poisoning. There is no sure way to tell if a side street restaurant is clean, but you could sort of tell by looking at the amount of customers eating there and the condition of the eating utensils. If there are hardly any customers in the restaurant and there are flies swarming the fresh vegetables (that may end up on your plate), it’s better to move on and find another place to eat.
Here’s the thing. Many Thais love sugar. They love it so much that sugar is poured (yes poured, not sprinkled) into foods and drinks. When ordering a bowl of noodles, it is common to see Thais add a spoonful of sugar, chili powder, and fish sauce. They would pour all these seasonings into their food without even tasting the food first to see if the extra seasonings were even needed. It is almost like an automatic action. Same thing happens at the stalls selling fruit juice and smoothie. Often times, the customers could choose the fruits or vegetables that are laid out in a tray and the vendor would blend them together to make the smoothie. Most of the time if not all, the vendor would then pour a ladleful of syrup into the blender whether the customer asked for it or not. If you are someone who does not like extra sweetness in your juice, make sure that after you selected your fruits and veggies for the vendor to blend, tell the vendor “yaa-sai-naam-cheuam” which means,”don’t put syrup”. Apart from fruit juice and smoothie, Thais like to drink very sweet coffee and tea. Those coffee you see selling at the small coffee stalls on the sidewalk? They are filled with sugar and sweet condensed milk. Unless you want to drink sugared coffee and tea, you may have to say “mai ow waan” which means “I don’t want sweet”. But if you want a bit of sweetness in your beverage, you could say “waan-nid-noi”.
Different people can tolerate different level of spiciness. A dish that is considered a little spicy for some people could be perceived as too spicy for others. That’s why when you order food, especially when ordering the famous Thai papaya salad (som-tam), count on it being spicy. If you couldn’t eat spicy at all or you could eat just a wee bit, it’s best to just say “mai-ow-prik” which means “I don’t want any chili”. In the Thai papaya salad, there is garlic in it so there is already a slightly spicy taste. If you tell the vendor you want a little spicy, sometimes a little spicy for them may be considered too spicy for you. Some people can tolerate several chilis but some people feel their tongues burning with just one. This is a little something to be aware of when ordering things to eat in Thailand. “A little spicy” tends to end up being quite spicy in the end.