Thai Language Thai Culture: Thai Restaurant-ese

Thai Language

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Thai Restaurant-ese…

Last month on my retirement blog (Retire2Thailand) I wrote about some simple Thai dishes I eat regularly. Check it out. I am sure you will like them too.

Writing about eating got me thinking that about the jargon used in Thai restaurants. It’s quite specific. And those who take the time to learn Thai restaurant talk just might be able to order what they want.

Today I’ll stick with generic restaurant and food words and leave the other’s for another time. Many restaurants in Thailand have English menus anyway, so after you get these words and phrases down, you can slowly build up your food vocabulary with the dishes you enjoy most.

Here is the trick to do just that. In a Thai restaurant, point to a dish or picture in the menu and say:

paa-sǎa tai wâa yang-ngai
How do you say this in Thai?


Write it down and the next time you order try it out. Hopefully you’ll get what you want. If not, then you’ll be trying something new, which is always a good thing.

Thai restaurants…

There are two words for your basic restaurant.

ร้านอาหาร /ráan-aa-hǎan/
ภัตตาคาร /pát-dtaa-kaan/

The first word is ร้านอาหาร /ráan-aa-hǎan/ and can be used universally. It literally means “food shop”. The second word, ภัตตาคาร /pát-dtaa-kaan/ (Sanskrit for “place of food”), is one of those fancy, HiSo words.

So which one do you use? The real answer is I almost never use the HiSo word. But the fun answer is, if each dish cost between 30 and 50 baht (a typical price here), then ร้านอาหาร /ráan-aa-hǎan/ is the way to go. If each dish is in the 100s of baht (not a place I frequent often, unless someone else is paying of course), then go with ภัตตาคาร /pát-dtaa-kaan/ just to be HiSo and cool.

Restaurants that serve noodles:
ร้านก๋วยเตี๋ยว /ráan gǔay-dtǐeow/ (noodle shop)

These shops will serve noodle dishes with rice noodles (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว /gǔay-dtǐeow/) or wheat noodles (บะหมี่ /bà~mèe/), in soup (น้ำ /náam/) or dry (แห้ง /hâeng/).

Restaurants that serve rice with side dishes:
ร้านข้าวแกง /ráan kâao-gaeng/ (shop serving rice with curry)

These shops have dishes already cooked and displayed in trays (both curries and other stuff). You simply point at the dish/dishes you like and they will serve them to you over rice. It is probably best, if you don’t know what something is but want to try it, to ask เผ็ดมั้ย /pèt mái/ – “is it hot (spicy)?” You’ll be glad you asked.

Restaurants with meals cooked to order:
ร้านอาหารตามสั่ง /ráan-aa-hǎan dtaam sàng/ “restaurant made to order”

These shops will cook whatever you tell them from simple fried rice – ข้าวผัด /kâao-pàt/ to vegetarian dishes – อาหารเจ /aa-hǎan jay/. The trick is that you will need to know the dish name before ordering or be really good with world-traveler sign language. At first it is probably best to go with what is already on the menu instead of ordering something complicated.

Restaurant people…

It is interesting that many of the words for people working in restaurants are borrowed from English.

The serving employee (borrowed from “serve”): พนักงานเสิร์ฟ /pá~nák-ngaan-sèrp/
The person who serves the food (borrowed from “serve”): คนเสิร์ฟอาหาร /kon sèrp-aa-hǎan/
A fancy word for “the service person”: คนบริกร /kon bor-rí~gon/
A word out of style now but used to be used often (borrowed from “boy”): บ๋อย /bǒi/

The person who collects the money: คนเก็บเงิน /kon-gèp-ngern/
Borrowed from “cashier”, the second syllable pronounced like “cheer”: แคชเชียร์ /káet-chia/

The person of the kitchen: คนครัว /kon-krua/
The father of the kitchen: พ่อครัว /pôr-krua/
The mother of the kitchen: แม่ครัว /mâe-krua/
Cook (borrowed from “cook”): กุ๊ก /gúk/
Chef (borrowed from “chef”): เชฟ /chép/

Words for things in the restaurant…

Table: โต๊ะ /dtó/ (said like the Homer Simpson expression, “dho!”)
Chair: เก้าอี้ /gâo-êe/ (two falling tones in a row; fun to say)
Menu: เมนู /may-noo/ (borrowed from “menu”), รายการอาหาร /raai-gaan-aa-hǎan/ (the list of food)

Plate: จาน /jaan/
Bowl: ชาม /chaam/
Glass: แก้ว /gâew/
Cup: ถ้วย /tûay/

A bit of confusion might occur when we use the classifiers (counting words) for all the above. The classifier for the above is ใบ /bai/. That is, only if they are empty. If they contain food or drinks then they are said differently.


Two plates: จานสองใบ /jaan sǒng bai/
Two plates of food: อาหารสองจาน /aa-hǎan sǒng jaan/

Two bowls: ชามสองใบ /chaam sǒng bai/
Two bowls of noodles: ก๋วยเตี๋ยวสองชาม /gǔay-dtǐeow sǒng chaam/

Two glasses: แก้วสองใบ /gâew sǒng bai/
Two glasses of water: น้ำสองแก้ว/náam sǒng gâew/

Two cups: ถ้วยสองใบ /tûay sǒng bai/
Two cups of tea: น้ำชาสองถ้วย /nám-chaa sǒng tûay/

Fork: ส้อม /sôm/
Spoon: ช้อน /chón/
Chopsticks: ตะเกียบ /dtà~gìap/
Knives: มีด /mêet/ (almost never seen on a Thai table)

The official classifiers for fork and spoon is คัน /kan/ which I have never heard spoken. For some reason this is the same classifier used with cars and motorcycles. But most people will just use อัน /an/. There are two classifiers for chopsticks, whether you are talking about one chopstick, ตะเกียบหนึ่งข้าง /dtà~gìap nèung kâang/, which is fairly useless unless you are cleaning out your ear, or a pair of chopsticks, ตะเกียบหนึ่งคู่ /dtà~gìap nèung kôo/. ข้าง /kâang/ and คู่ /kôo/ are also the classifiers for things like shoes (one shoe หนึ่งข้าง /nèung kâang/, a pair of shoes หนึ่งคู่ /nèung kôo/) and other things that come in pairs.

Words for drinks:
Drink (in general): เครื่องดื่ม /krêuang-dèum/ (that which you drink)
Water: น้ำ /náam/
Soft drinks: น้ำอัดลม /nám-àt-lom/ (carbonated liquid); also น้ำขวด /nám kùat/ (liquid in a bottle)
Beer: เบียร์ /bia/ (borrowed from “beer”) indicating that this drink did not exist until it was introduced by an outsider.
Alcohol (the normal word in use): เหล้า /lâo/, สุรา /sù-raa/ (the more fancy word)
Ice: น้ำแข็ง /nám-kǎeng/ (hard water)
Ice water: น้ำแข็งเปล่า /nám-kǎeng bplàao/ (empty ice – probably because there is no soft drink or alcohol in it).

Restaurant verbs…

To order: สั่งอาหาร /sàng aa-hǎan/ (order food)
To cook: ทำอาหาร /tam-aa-hǎan/ (make food)
To serve: เสิร์ฟอาหาร /sèrp aa-hǎan/ (serve food)
Self serve: บริการตัวเอง /bor-rí~gaan-dtua-ayng/ (serve yourself)
Bill/check (when calling for it): เก็บเงิน /gèp ngern/ (collect money), เก็บตางค์ /gèp dtaang/ (collect coins)

Also when calling for the check, and I am reluctant to include the following because it is such a weird borrowing of two English words is, เช็คบิล /chék bin/ (borrowed from “check” and “bill”). If you want to be cool when asking for the check then use one of the first two and leave the last to those who want to impress others by using a borrowed (however weirdly) English phrase.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand

7 thoughts on “Thai Language Thai Culture: Thai Restaurant-ese”

  1. Table: โต๊ะ /dtó/ (said like the Homer Simpson expression, “dho!”)
    Chair: เก้าอี้ /gâo-êe/ (two falling tones in a row; fun to say)

    those made me laugh 🙂

    And really like the practicality of this post. I’m re-posting!!! Thanks!

  2. Hugh,

    Off topic, but are you making a Vol 3 for your language guide? The end of Vol 2 is in sight, and i fear the worst….

  3. Martyn,

    You bring up a very interesting phonetic point. The Thai vowel อ is heard by differently by different people. I am going to guess that you are British. Here is why. My British friends hear the vowel sound “อ” as if it had an “r” at the end, whereas most Americans hear it as “aw” or as the vowel in “or” without the “r”. This is the reason why the Thai word for doctor หมอ /mǒr/ when transcribed has an “r” at the end.

    This is an example where a person’s background not only has an effect on how they say things (an accent) but also how we hear things. If you would find that the Thai word for spoon ช้อน should be transcribed as /chorn/ then that is ok with me. The transcriptions I used come from the Thai-English English-Thai Software Dictionary.

    I have said this before, the best way to learn how to say something in Thai is to hear it said by a native speaker and then repeat it just as you heard it.

  4. Hugh – Maybe my hearing is not what it should be, actual fact it’s not, but I’m sure I hear the word Spoon: ช้อน /chón/ as chorn. There definitely sounds like there’s a R in it to me. Or to put it another way, there’s a R in it innit. I know a lot of Thais have difficulty pronouncing R’s but I’m confident(ish) that when I hear spoon in Thai it’s more chorn than chon. You’ve confused me.

    Good post and most handy for just about any foreigner who heads to Thailand.

  5. Farang

    No problem. ก๋วยเตี๋ยวสองถ้วย is what I would usually say too – although now I usually only eat one. When I was younger I once ate 5 ถ้วย. How ones metabolism does change.


  6. Sometimes I get a cup of noodles, but really just a bowl.


  7. Every morning I used to order the same thing from a local ร้าน until one day the owner saw me and asked: “เอาเหมือนเดิมไหม” which I used from that point on as, “I’ll have my usual.”


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