Top 5 Tips for Eating like a Local in Thailand

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The two things that everyone seems to know about Thailand are that (1) the food is great, and (2) the food is cheap. But, if you wander away from tourist areas and join the locals for a meal, you’ll find that the food is even better and cheaper—one-tenth the price at home. If you want to eat like a local in Southern Thailand, here are a few things you should know.

1. Avoid the indoors

Four walls and a closed door? Back away—such establishments in provincial towns and cities are usually expensive and tend to cater to locals who want to spend their money on a Western experience. An indoor restaurant means air conditioning, and AC means high electricity bills—which translates into expensive food. As a general rule, locals eat al fresco.

2. Do drink the water, and the ice

You don’t need to keep your mouth shut tight in the shower or worry about brushing your teeth when you stay off-resort, but even locals don’t drink the tap water in Thailand. Homes and commercial establishments have drinking and cooking water delivered in five-gallon jugs. That means the pitcher of water on the table at your local eatery is safe to drink. And the cup or bucket of ice they bring to your table is also good to go—ice is delivered to restaurants on a regular basis. Locals enjoy their beverages iced cold, including their beer, so you should too! You might be charged for the ice, but it’s usually a nominal fee, and the ice with the pitcher of water is much cheaper than if you crack the bottled water that’s often sitting on the table when you sit down.

3. Eat with your right hand

Local restaurants often provide communal plates of fresh veg—cucumber, green beans, cabbage and various unidentified leaves. There’s also sticky rice, meat on sticks and various other finger foods to try. All of these should be eaten with your right hand. As is the custom in many non-Western cultures, in Thailand, the left hand is reserved for hygiene, and the right for eating. Even if you are reasonably sure that your hands are equally clean, it’s best not to gross out your fellow restaurant patrons.

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