12/03/13 10:15am

How to Order Authentically Spicy Thai Food

Zabb Elee's crabtastic Lao papaya salad.

Zabb Elee’s crabtastic Lao papaya salad.

Welcome to the fourth installment of C+M’s ongoing series of audio guides on how to order authentically spicy food in ethnic restaurants. As a service to C+M readers I’m compiling a series of audio guides demonstrating phrases in several relevant languages, which can be used to navigate ordering situations fraught with tricky cultural and language barriers.

If (like me) you’ve ever tried to order a spicy dish in a restaurant and been refused (or served a clearly less spicy version), this series of audio features is for you. We’ve already covered Korean, Indonesian, and Hindi / Urdu; this week’s lesson: Thai.

In this installment, Nongnoi, owner of Thai Thai Grocery in Elmhurst, Queens—a native of Ratchaburi Province in central Thailand, shares several phrases that will help ensure your next Thai meal is spiced to the max. In restaurants, you can simply order your food “Thai spicy” (“ped bab cone Thai ka”) and pray you’ll be up to the challenge. But in my experience, “Thai spicy” packs a very mean punch—even for hardened spice lovers.

Instead, Noi recommends requesting fresh green chilies or chili powder with your meal, so that you can directly control how spicy your food will be. That way you don’t risk getting a dish that’s too spicy for you to eat.

To ask for chili powder say, “kaw prik pon noi ka [change to kup if the speaker is male].” To request fresh bird’s eye chili say, “Kaw prik kee noo sod noi ka.” Want your food really spicy? Utter: “Tong kan ped maak ka.” And if you want the kitchen to make it like they wouldfor a Thai person say, “Ow ped bab rot chat kon Thai ka.”

At Noi’s grocery store, you can pick up imported Thai ingredients, like sambal (ground chili paste) and khanom chin (fermented rice vermicelli), as well as prepared foods like Thai “pork jerky,” som tum (raw papaya salad; call ahead to order), and various boxed meals (Saturdays only), and a broad selection of Thai potato chips.

In true Thai style, some of these dishes are spicy, but Noi sympathizes with those who have gentler palates. “In Thailand, of course they like spicy,” she says. “But I am…very picky; cannot eat spicy [food].”

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