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    How to Eat in Thailand

    How to Eat in Thailand
    Napassorn Soontracharn Jul 15, 2014
    Features

    In Thailand, food is very important. It takes up roughly 50 percent of the things we care about (alright, maybe not 50, but close enough), and food and food-sharing are inherent to Thai culture.

    But to a non-Thai, the intricacies of how Thais eat might not be that obvious. This article is for those of you who have only recently set foot in the Land of Smiles, to those of you who have lived in Chiang Mai all your lives, and especially to those of you who may have been startled by our very ordinary, everyday customs about food.

    At least, to us they seem ordinaryÖuntil you look back at them wearing a different pair of spectacles. They say you donít tend to notice how strange a place really is unless you move away for some time. This is my experience as a Thai person looking back to the food culture in Chiang Mai after three years abroad in England. Of course, Iím not going to get into how youíd hold your teacup or how much milk you pour into said cup and which way you stir, because frankly, we Thais donít take milk in our tea unless its sweet and cold and served with tapioca balls. But tea culture aside, my purpose here is to see if I could help you untwist your knickers, understand a bit more about Thai food culture, and tell you that itíll all be fine in time!

    We force-feed people.

    Itís our way of being friendly. If you come in close enough contact with a Thai person, and by this I mean stepping over the line of being complete strangers, chances are that weíll try to force-feed you at some point. You could be hanging out at a pub with some mates and strike up a conversation with a Thai chap, who then might start offering you some of his food. My advice? Say ďWhy yes, thank you!Ē and help yourself to some. Youíre not being rude, and neither are you stealing anybodyís food, and weíre not being flirty or smarmy with you either. Itís just how things are, especially in an easygoing city like Chiang Mai. We wonít necessarily be offended if you donít take up the offer, but we do expect you to say yes, so if you have any space in your stomach to speak of, just go for it!

    Personally, Iíve spent the entirety of last year force-feeding members of a club which I was part of. In the beginning, the poor English folks were flabbergasted, to say the least, but I was not going to relent, and over time they got used to this oddity, and were fed and happy. Sometimes we Thais donít understand why this doesnít happen more often in other parts of the world. Having good food and sharing it is our definition of happy, after all. On that note, another tip: if you want to ingratiate yourself quickly to a group of Thais, just bring snacks!

    Food is part of our greeting.

    Once you get past the initial awkward stage of being acquaintances and randomly getting offered food, it only gets more intense from there onward. A colloquial, albeit traditional, greeting in Thai roughly translates as ďHello, have you eaten?Ē This is something you would say to somebody you know relatively well. The younger generations might not live by this rule, but thereís no guarantee the question wonít crop up in your conversation with them at some point. You could be stopping by at your Thai friendís house, theyíll pop the question, and if you respond in the negative, chances are that youíll be offered some light snacks in no time (yes, we stock up on these ďsnacks for guestsĒ and they range from biscuits to pork scratchings). Arrive at meal time and there is absolutely no chance youíll talk your way out of not joining the meal. We wonít even care if youíve already eaten, because, really, ďhave some more!Ē

    Whatís ours is yours, whatís yours is ours.

    Once youíve no choice but to sit down at that dinner table, youíll find, if you havenít already, that thereís no such thing in Thailand as dishing up individually. This reiterates my emphasis on ďsharing.Ē On a customary Thai lunch/dinner table (breakfast is a different matter), you will have your own portion of rice, and the other, more colourful dishes will be scattered about the centre of the table. Most likely, a serving spoon will be present in each dish, and what you do is serve yourself a bite-size portion of one or two dishes at a time Ė not more. Youíll find that youíll have to put down your utensils to pick up the serving spoon rather often, but itís an unspoken rule for us that serving yourself all you can eat right at the start of the meal would make you look like an unsociable git. (Of course, we donít consciously entertain this thought and we arenít seeking out to nitpick your table manners, so relax!)

    There are plenty more baffling things about our food and food-sharing customs, so keep an eye out and youíll find that they are very deeply ingrained into our everyday culture. You donít tend to notice how particular these things are when you are from here, and it takes quite a lot of thinking to discern how normality in a place could be peculiarity in another.

    But one thing is for sure: as much as the next Thai person does, I find food and food-sharing fascinating, not to mention delicious. And that is something I absolutely couldnít and wouldnít do without!

    CHIANG MAI CITY NEWS

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    khonrai (15-07-14), Marie (15-07-14), RickThai (29-10-14), Susana (15-07-14)

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    Re: How to Eat in Thailand

    I really enjoyed his writing style and hope to see more of it.

    Many (maybe most) cultures share the trait of offering guests food but Thailand has it's own unique way of sharing at the table.

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    Re: How to Eat in Thailand

    We force-feed people.
    Quite true.

    I was just telling another member recently about how my Thai friends keep putting food on my plate when we dine together, as if I couldn't do it myself. Hahaha! I consider that as a thoughtful gesture, though, and I appreciate it. However, one particular male friend (not boyfriend) of mine has the habit of even pushing edibles inside my mouth, usually by chopsticks, as he says "try this, this is very good" -and there I open my mouth obligingly to catch the food. LOL Sometimes I just say "mai ao, im laaoh" ('don't like, full already') That practice discomfits me a bit because in my culture that only happens between boyfriend-girlfriend, husband-wife or parent- small child. But my other Thai friends assure me not to get embarrassed because it is only an innocent gesture among close friends when sharing a meal.
    Last edited by Marie; 16-07-14 at 12:05 AM. Reason: spelling

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    Re: How to Eat in Thailand

    Quote Originally Posted by Marie View Post
    Quite true.

    I was just telling another member recently about how my Thai friends keep putting food on my plate when we dine together, as if I couldn't do it myself. Hahaha! I consider that as a thoughtful gesture, though, and I appreciate it. However, one particular male friend (not boyfriend) of mine has the habit of even pushing edibles inside my mouth, usually by chopsticks, as he says "try this, this is very good" -and there I open my mouth obligingly to catch the food. LOL Sometimes I just say "mai ao, im laaoh" ('don't like, full already') That practice discomfits me a bit because in my culture that only happens between boyfriend-girlfriend, husband-wife or parent- small child. But my other Thai friends assure me not to get embarrassed because it is only an innocent gesture among close friends when sharing a meal.
    Your posts reminds me of when I first met my soon-to-be bride's Grandmother. The elderly lady was feeding a puppy some rice, and when my wife (now), introduced me, the lady grabbed a handful of rice from her plate (not the puppy's thankfully) and shoved it directly into my mouth! I smiled and managed to swallow it, but I couldn't help thinking about how dirty her hands probably were, since she was feeding and playing with a puppy!

    To this day, I remember how she scooped the rice up with with curved fingers and then used her thumb to push the rice into my mouth. I still eat rice this way sometimes (when I know my hands are clean).

    RickThai

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    Re: How to Eat in Thailand

    Very good writing. Thanks a lot.

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