Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!…

Mar 20, 2012 2 Comments by

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!…

by The Guru

Thailand appears at first glance the most accessible of Asian countries which is why so many westerners choose to holiday here and often make their home here.  However, the culture and mentality can be very different so I will guide you through my top 10 tips for situations you may encounter  Thai food is one of the best things abiut Thailand and is well worth sampling but be aware that Thailand is NOT a cheap place to eat contrary to popular myth.  Sure, a beer and some noodles/rice on the beach or street will come cheap but once you look for better quality food, be prepared to pay more than back home!…

In no particular order, here are the top ten things you HAVE to know about eating out in Thailand.  Although each restaurant is different, there are some common unwritten rules:

Types of Restaurants – ‘Thai life is food’ in the same way as ‘food is life’ to them.  As a result of this and the warm climate, there are places to eat absolutely everywhere, even the most unlikely places.  Thais will stop whatever they are doing for food and as they do not like to walk too far, they will require a food stall in sight.  Normally there is one luckily for them and us…  These ‘street stalls’ are also very good generally and great value.  They serve a variety of food and a selection of plastic chairs and tables tops off the local experience.  Next up is the ‘just off the street stall’ which is a small simple restaurant usually in a shophouse and again the order of the day is no frills wholesome cooking mostly centred on rice or noodles.

Then there are more elaborate restaurants that range from good value to astronomical and you just have to use common sense about the price and read the menu first.  Two things to note are firstly that you can always order food into any bar – unlike the west, they do not mind – so consider eating there sometimes.  Secondly, also unlike the west, many of the best restaurants are to be found in hotels and this does not make them over-priced and boring, it is simply that a hotel is a good place for them to locate.

Food in Thailand is nothing short of amazing and it will set your taste buds on fire at any location.  Eat in some of the best restaurants in Thailand and you will experience world class food, settings and prices!  Be careful though as it is easy to forget the price when the currency is foreign to you and you have enjoyed the view from the highest open-air restaurant in the world…

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!… Sirocco

Ordering Food – Ordering can be a challenging experience as you will maybe have noted I did not mention world class service above.  More on this later but the point to remember when ordering is that the staff, no matter how beautiful, well dressed or proficient in English they appear, will probably get confused with your food order.  Most owners in despair have given up and taken the dreaded move to menus with pictures and numbers but this can still be a challenge.  Most staff are taught to read the order back to you to avoid mistakes so take the time to listen and by no account ever try to order off-menu unless you are someone who likes surprises!

All restaurants will have Thai food in case a girlfriend or wife does not want the western menu and in this case she can always order directly in Thai and it should arrive as requested and standards are consistently high.  For western food, it is very variable.  There are some horrors of attempts to serve dishes in their way but also I have eaten some of the best food of my life here – you have to know here to go, you really do.  This site has some good recommendations on places to eat or you can ask me on the forum for tips but as a general rule Bangkok and Pattaya have the best choice and standards and they are great value compared to other countries.  I rarely order western food in the countryside whereas the Thai food tastes great there…

Local Food – I cannot go into the whole range of Thai food here but suffice to say it is probably the most popular food in the world for good reason.  It is healthy, tasty and varied.  Of course, the staples are rice and noodles and they are hard to avoid – you will get rice even if you do not order it generally – but the accompanying dishes are numerous.  Most meats are used as are fish and these are fried, boiled or sautéed according to the dish.  Flavours are rich but can of course be very spicy too so do ask the level of spice – ‘phet’ means spicy in Thai.  They will be happy to adjust the dish for you as nearly all food is cooked freshly to order.

Vegetables are wonderfully fresh and there are many you do not easily find in the west used on a daily basis so enjoy the experience.  Interestingly, the food here will taste totally different to that you are used to in the west and the stereotypical dishes like ‘pad thai’ or ‘tom yum gung’, whilst widely available here are not local favourites so be adventurous and explore new things!

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!… Sirocco

Western Food – As already mentioned, the standards for western food are very variable.  Bangkok and Pattaya have outstanding restaurants that I keep going back to but I have sent back more dishes that I have eaten outside these two places.  Phuket is a high class location also with great western food but the tourists there seem to lap up the Thai food at every price point and this seems to be the focus.  Other places have great dining but it is sporadic and regional such as seafood in Hua Hin or sausages in Chiang Mai so do some research before you book.  The main problem is that unless the venue is five star, there is unlikely to be a western chef in the kitchen at all times and if not, the staff will creep back to old habits and start using cabbage with everything, for example, regardless of what the recipe requires!  Anyway, if you are a tourist here, you are here for the wonderful Thai food so enjoy that and if you are an expat you will know where to go by now…

Drinks – Water is often provided free of charge but otherwise it is available for a modest price.  Unless you are very particular, I would steer away from the imported waters offered in five star restaurants because not only will a bottle cost more than a plate of food but I see no reason to leave a carbon footprint to fly water across the globe when it is probably fresher here anyway!  Of course you cannot find an equivalent to the particular tastes like Badoit but otherwise there is still or sparkling here and it is good.

Beer is limited to a choice of around half a dozen beers but the particular taste of Singha (pronounced ‘sing’) is great to enjoy with a Thai meal or for the figure conscious, try a San Miguel Light.  Be warned that at the time of writing this article, it is the only low calorie beer here.  You will be offered Singha Light or Chang Light but these are examples of Thai marketing at its best as they decided to go for the full calorie and low alcohol interpretation of ‘light’ which is not much use to anyone really.

Sadly, wine is the biggest disappointment in Thailand.  Choice is limited, quality is poor and the price is astronomical.  The government, in their infinite wisdom, sees it as a luxury (whereas whiskey and beer are not of course) and they impose a 420% tax, yes a whopping four hundred and twenty percent, on every bottle imported.  As there is a no decent wine made in Thailand, you are stuck with paying triple what you would in the west for a mediocre bottle in the hope it has not sat in the port for a week at 40 degrees getting spoilt.  Try telling the French that wine is a luxury!

Spirits are also expensive if imported for the same reason but cheap if locally produced.  Also be aware that Thai whisky is actually a rum but don’t tell them that!

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!… Sirocco

Service – I do not want to be too harsh here but the standards of service are pretty poor in restaurants.  The staff mean well and they always smile but good service is a skilled operation and they do get confused and your order will be forgotten or mixed up so just be prepared for that.  Remember they are on low wages and they mostly have little education so their enthusiasm is good to see and makes up for things generally.

On the positive side, they will go to the end of the earth to get you cushions, give you your food in a doggy bag and cater to your needs in any way they can so most people enjoy the attention in the end and this overcomes the confusion.  To get their attention, the polite way is to say ‘nong kap’ if you are man and ‘nong kah’ if you are a woman, regardless of their gender.

Smoking – early in 2008 smoking was banned in all places with air conditioning and serving food so you will be very happy if you are a non-smoker.  There are open-air places that allow an area for smoking so that caters for the smokers among you otherwise you will have to go out for a puff unless you know the owner and he knows the local police!

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!… Sirocco

Hygiene – One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how good the hygiene is in Thailand.  You will already have noticed that Thais never have a body odour and they also take great care of their food.  In a country this hot, that is a small miracle.  Of course, if you eat roadside, you do increase your chances of a bad stomach but the incidence is very rare compared to other countries.  One thing that you must however be aware of is the tendency in Thailand to undercook everything.  This is great for fresh vegetables and some seafood but it is disastrous for meats like pork and chicken.  I have to send these back on a weekly basis so do the same if you want to avoid being ill as they really do have to be thoroughly cooked especially in Thailand!

Extra Charges – Generally there are no hidden charges in restaurants.  Some cheeky Italian venues will add on a cover charge and there is also the gold card scam that gives you 50% off the food but then charges service charge on the full amount before discount but otherwise bills are pretty transparent.  Simpler venues will not add service or vat (7% here) but five star venues will add 10% service charge and then 7% VAT as a standard procedure.

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!… Sirocco

Paying the Bill – When you want to leave you should ask for the bill by saying ‘check bin’ or ‘gep tang kap/kah’ and it will arrive (eventually).  Please not that the standard in Thailand is to leave a small tip anyway regardless of whether service as included so 20 to 40 THB is a nice gesture on the plate.  Those who need a receipt for business purposes should give their business card as Thai law insists that the company name goes on the receipt. This is a pain and it takes forever for them to try to copy all the information out so you might want to just take the first receipt and claim it that way if you work outside Thailand where they operate normal accounting systems!

Thai life and culture revolves around food so eating out is a must-do at every level.  There are some great experiences to be had so enjoy your meals and I hope these tips help…  Please share YOUR experiences and tips here!

- The Guru

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Asia, bangkok, chiang mai, Hua Hin, Krabi, phuket, thailand

About the author

I have traveled and lived all over the world - 95 countries and counting! I have information you can't find elsewhere and I share it here to promote healthy discussion about the world's people and cultures.

2 Responses to “Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out In Thailand!…”

  1. Bruce says:

    A lot of the food that locals eat in TH are not of export quality. e.g. prawns / shrimp. The cost to produce export quality food products may be too high for the local market.

    So while thai food can taste good, are any peps concerned with the chemicals and additives (pesticides – banned substances) used in producing / preparing your food at both the production level and the retail level?

    e.g., costa rica has decent food, but most of their foods have too many chemicals…they have the highest incidence of GI / colon cancer in the world.

    These ‘additives’ I believe will not benefit the body in the longrun.

    Is anyone concerned?

    Activists in Thailand call for ban on four toxic pesticides- AgroNews…ailand-eng.pdf

    Dangerous Levels Of Pesticides Will Poison Thailand's Food Plan – Thailand News – Thailand Forum

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    • The Guru says:

      I agree here too. The Thai attitude of Mai Pen Rai is to blame for many things from pesticides to getting run over regularly on the sidewalk by motorcycles. Thais simply don’t complain. They are conditioned not to…

      Let’s hope things change and people in Thailand realise they have a voice!

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