Food is a necessity to many Westerners but a way of life to Thais, who think that eating alone is some form of penance or punishment that farangs put themselves through. My wife even insists that food tastes less delicious when she eats alone. Every meal in Thailand is a great social event.
Dining Thai style means that you get your own plate of rice and then help yourself to the main dishes from several communal plates, taking just enough each time for a mouthful.
Thais commonly use a spoon in the right hand and fork in the left hand to eat. The fork is used solely to move the food about on the plate and help it onto the spoon. With soup dishes, a shorter, deeper spoon is often used and chopsticks are employed primarily with noodle dishes.
In some settings, particularly up country, Thais may do away with cutlery altogether and use their hands. In Isaan, for example, they often roll small balls of sticky rice in their right hands and then hold the ball in their fingertips and expertly pinch up food from the shared dishes. By the way, if you don’t have any soap or water, rolling sticky rice balls is a great way to get your hands clean.
Another Thai variation on the dining experience is to eat joop jip, which means to kiss the food. This involves taking tiny amounts of food with long intervals in between and is especially popular when a group of female friends get together to chew the cud.
To further emphasise the importance of food in Thai society, several idioms and everyday expressions make references to food. The most common small talk question is kin khao reu yang (literally: have you eaten rice yet?). A sen yai (big noodle) is an important person while kin haew (eat water chestnuts) means to have failed at something, and mai kin sen (not eating noodles) means that two people have fallen out. The list is endless.
Every time you see a Thai whom you know and they are eating, they will offer you some of their food. Don’t feel that you should join them or that declining will offend them. This is simply a pleasantry and is usually not intended to be taken literally.
Receive weekly updates on all the latest from Naked Farang by joining our Facebook group: Click here to join or log into facebook and then paste this link into the address bar: