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What can I eat in Thailand?

traditional thai food - fried rice with vegetable

What can I eat in Thailand?

Special diet-related needs and Thai – Food

It is generally known, that in our civilised world food intolerances and allergies are becoming more and more part of our everyday life. It is a sad truth. Many of us are affected and have to be even more careful about which nutrition they are going to consume. Furthermore alternative diets have become a new trend in today’s society. Options for vegetarians and vegans have highly been increasing during the last years.
Therefore this should be a little guide, a little aid to orientation, in an unknown culture with strange food patterns, for all those, who cannot or don’t want to eat everything.

Fortunately Thai kitchen is really flexible. Most of the dishes are prepared on-time and are mutable, meaning; a guest’s wish can easily be followed. Consequently everyone will find at least something to be happy with.
As there are numerous intolerances and allergies in the world, they cannot all be included in this article. But in the following you should find some helpful advices concerning the most common once …

Glutamate (white crystalline powder, that intensifies the taste)
In Germany artificial flavours are highly discussed considering health problems, wherever in Thailand they are just common. Glutamate has no flavour itself, but it is generating a richer taste.

No glutamate – mai sai pong-schu-rot – ไม่ใส่ผงชูรส

Gluten intolerance / celiac disease (if gluten from cereals like wheat, rye, spelt, etc. make you sick):
Basically Thai people use a lot of rice products. Noodle dishes can be prepared with rice noodles or glass noodles and even desserts might be produced with rice flour. But that is not to be taken for granted. For sure you should avoid yellow noodles, as they are made of wheat flour and eggs. Furthermore wheat flour is often added to soy sauce, which is part of many Thai dishes. An alternative to soy sauce might be fish or oyster sauce and sometimes it is no problem to just leave it out.

No soy sauce – mai sai sod-tuua-luang – ไม่ใส่ซอสถั่วเหลือง

Lactoseintolerance (if milk products cause problems)
Milk is seldom in Thai dishes. Here you have to be more careful about your drinks. A typical Thai ice tea or Thai coffee contains usually lots of sweetened and condensed milk – most often from the brand „Carnation“. The white liquid might also serve to sweeten desserts, like Thai pancakes. Furthermore in soymilk (e. g. from Lactasoy) at the supermarket may be added a little percentage of cow milk.

No milk – mai sai nom – ไม่ใส่นม

Fish and seafood
Thai people love it. They are most commonly found in form of fish sauce or dried shrimps in a dish, due to its aromatic effect. Sometimes you do not even taste it and you would be surprised how many dishes are enriched by these ingredients.

No fish sauce – mai sai naam-plaa – ไม่ใส่น้ำปลา
No oyster sauce – mai sai naam-man-hoy – ไม่ใส่น้ำมันหอย
No shrimps – mai sai gung – ไม่ใส่กุ้ง
No seafood – mai sai ahaan-talay – ไม่ใส่อาหารทะเล

Nuts
There are some dishes that traditionally include peanuts or cashew nuts. But for sure that’s not a must.

No nuts – mai sai tuua – ไม่ใส่ถั่ว

Leek
The use of garlic and onions is for many cooks a matter of course. Who however wants or needs to avoid it, should not keep quiet about it. Especially complicated is it for an allergy sufferer to order curry, as most types of curry paste contain garlic. The people working in the kitchen might not know about it, if it is not homemade.

No garlic –mai sai gra-tiam – ไม่ใส่กระเทียม
No onions – mai sai hom-yai – ไม่ใส่หอยใหญ่
No spring onions – mai sai dton-hom – ไม่ใส่ต้นหอม

Fructose
Lemons and limes are used to add a little acidity to the food, whereas tamarind paste gives a sweet and sour flavour. Who is allergic should better ask.

No Lemon – mai sai ma-nao – ไม่ใส่มะนาว
No Tamarind – mai sai ma-kam – ไม่ใส่มะขาม

Diabetes
For a diabetic it is not easy to find something sugarfree in Thailand, because Thais love it sweet. Even hearty dishes might sometimes include a bit of sugar.

No sugar – mai sai naam-tan – ไม่ใส่น้ำตาล

How about vegetarian and vegan kitchen?

But besides all the intolerances and allergies also do exist those people who decided by themselves, may it be for ethical or other reasons, to abstain from certain food. Vegetarians and vegans are in Thailand maybe not as common as they are already in Europe. But if you know what to order or where to go there will be no problem at all.

I do not eat meat. – Phom (m)/ Chan (w) mai gin nuuasat. – ฉันไม่กินเนื้อสัตว์
I do not eat pork/ beef/ chicken/ seafood/egg – Phom (m)/ Chan (w) mai gin muu/ nua/ gai/ ahaan talay/ kai – ฉันไม่กินหมู/ เนื้อ/ ไก่/ อาหารทะเล/ ไข่
No fish sauce – mai sai naam-plaa – ไม่ใส่น้ำปลา
No oyster sauce – mai sai naam-man-hoy – ไม่ใส่น้ำมันหอย

In bigger cities you may find some Buddhist restaurants which offer so called Jay Food. The dishes neither include meat nor garlic and onions. It is like a small paradise for veggies.

Vegetarian Festival 

The vegetarian festival takes place every year during the ninth month of the Chinese calendar. This is commonly in October. For a period of about 9 days people celebrate, thereby following a strict diet excluding meat and garlic. Sex and alcohol are out of question as well. Many restaurants take part in this event, so that vegetarians find a place to eat easily. Furthermore, there are numerous ceremonies and tributes to gods. Many participants try to reach a state as if in trance to perform several acts of self-mortification, like edgy body piercings or running over hot coal stones. For sure this festival is an impressive event for each and every visitor.

Finally one can say that every Thai kitchen has its own recipes. The fried rice in restaurant A may not be the same as in restaurant B. Therefore it is important to ask again and again, if an ingredient you try to avoid is part of the dish you want to order. If you fear not to be understood, as you do not speak Thai and English is not always an option, it might help to take a paper with a Thai translation with you. As mentioned before, don’t worry, Thai people in a kitchen are most often really flexible and will try to make you happy for sure.

I am allergic to … – phom (m) / chan (w) pee … – ฉันแพ้
Is there … in the food? – nai aa-haan me… – ในอาหารมี…ไหม
Not spicy – mai pet – ไม่เผ็ด
Really tasty – arooi maak – อร่อยมากๆ