With friends visiting from out-of-town, we thought that now would be the perfect time to explain how to eat Thai food. Although we won’t be diving into the intricacies, we’ve brushed up on Thailand’s utensils, condiments, and dining etiquette, which is a bit different from not only what we’re used to back home, but other Asian cuisines.
Contrary to how many people may think all Asian cuisine is eaten, Thai food is typically eaten with a spoon and fork, not chopsticks! Food is typically sliced into bite sized pieces that can be easily handled with these two utensils. No knife is needed.
But why both a fork and a spoon? Thais typically hold the spoon in their dominant hand and use the fork to guide food onto the spoon, and then the spoon goes into the mouth.
When we first were learning how to eat Thai food, we were tempted to keep the fork in our dominant hand like we would back home and use the spoon as a scoop. We figured out soon enough that’s not quite how to do it, although it still works just as well.
For soups and soup-like dishes, Thai food is served with chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon. An example of a dish eaten with chopsticks is khao soi, a northern Thai noodle curry dish.
Hold the chopsticks in your dominate hand and the soup spoon in the other. Eat directly from the chopsticks and sip on the broth using the soup spoon. Or, use the chopsticks to pick up bits of meat, veggies, and noodles and place a small amount of each in the spoon. Scoop up some broth and eat from the soup spoon for the perfect bite!
Another favorite of ours is beef noodle soup, which is served with fresh sliced of beef and thin or fat rice noodles in a clear broth. This dish is also eaten with chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon.
Sticky rice, believe it or not, can be used as a utensil, too. Tear off a piece of sticky rice about the size of a quarter, flatten it a bit between your (clean) fingers and create an indentation in the center, and then sandwich it around the shreds of meat and veggies. It’s also great for mopping up sauce.
Salt, pepper, sugar caddies, and sometimes ketchup typically sit on restaurant tables back home. But in Thailand, there are a different set of condiments. You can typically find small dishes containing sugar, dried red chili flakes, white vinegar (often containing slices of fresh chilies), and fish sauce. Sometimes there’s even MSG on the table, which looks like long thin grains of salt.
Sometimes there will be a small dish of homemade fish sauce and sliced hot Bird’s Eye Chilies, often accompanied by fresh lime slices and cloves of garlic.
Angela’s favorite condiment is the fresh hot chilies scooped out of the fish sauce. Chris’s favorite condiment is the dried red chili flakes.
Thai food can be spicy, so it’s not unusual to find yourself reaching for a napkin when your nose starts running. But wait, don’t blow your nose. Instead of honking away, simply wipe. A soft, quiet blow is also acceptable. We’ve never witnessed a local Thai blast away, but when tourists do it, it’s so disrupting that we feel embarrassed for them!
In addition to condiments and napkins, toothpicks also often make their debut onto tabletops. If case you need to get rid of something between your teeth, don’t pick your teeth with your fingers or a utensil. Instead, grab a toothpick and cover your mouth with your other hand. Although for a moment we look like we are playing a baby harmonica, it’s better being discrete.
Those who’ve eaten Thai food know it can be highly interactive. In other words, there can be quite a bit of finger food.
Sometimes there’s a basket of raw greens (lettuce, herbs, spring onions, long beans, to name a few) are placed on the table to be eaten along with your dish. It’s kind of like a salad, crunchy and refreshing.
It is also not uncommon for meat to be left on the bones. Slow cooked dishes may include rough cut pieces of meat with bones, cartilage, and skin intact. You have to work hard for the edible parts, especially for something such as oxtail or chicken feet.
Have Fun Learning How to Eat Thai Food
Our visiting friends were relieved to know that they would be using chopsticks a lot less than they thought. See, Thai food is easier to eat than some people realize! Taking some time to figure out how to eat Thai food is a surefire way to fully enjoy what’s already a delicious cuisine.