A highlight for many people on a Thailand holiday is experiencing Thai food culture. Traditional rituals, great hospitality and fresh, vibrant flavours ensure Thailand is a food lover’s delight, with exciting offerings on every corner- from busy street stalls to more luxurious restaurants.
Thailand is the world largest exporter of rice, and it is the staple part of a Thai diet. Rice is by no means just a food source in Thai culture but is also associated with certain gods and traditions, differing in certain regions. It is unacceptable in Thailand to leave rice on your plate to be thrown away, as it is widely believed that it will anger the ‘god of rice’ a female deity who ensures that everyone will have enough food to survive upon.
The interest in Thai food culture has increased worldwide and is now a popular cuisine to eat in the Western world, with dishes such as Thai green curry and fried rice and noodles populating many menus. However, as many travellers to Thailand will be able to vouch for, the native Thai food will taste very different to recipes adapted for Western palates, where the presence of Chilli is often pared down and restaurants often divide their menus into starters, mains and desserts, which is uncommon in Thailand.
Eating out in Thailand is often a social affair as dining alone is considered to be bad luck. Individuals will usually order one dish each and will share the meals between the group. It is considered a mark of respect and sophistication when an individual listens carefully to the orders of others around him and chooses a dish to complement his companion’s choices. A typical Thai dining experience will include four different flavours all consumed together: salty, spicy, sweet and sour.
A common ritual in Thailand is to remove shoes before entering a restaurant or house and to sit cross-legged on the floor to enjoy a meal. Dining tables are mostly used by the very wealthy and are even then close to the floor and usually made from teak.
Presentation is a key part of Thai food culture and chefs often strive to create delicate and intricate carvings from fruits and vegetables. Most people will have probably have seen examples of such creations such as flowers made from carrots, which have been submerged in ice water to retain their vibrant colour and strong texture.
Contrary to popular Western beliefs, most Thais do not use chopsticks to eat (apart from noodles) but favour spoons and often only use forks to shovel food onto the spoon, rarely placing it into their mouth. Many Thai recipes are created using bite-sized portions of food so the need for knives is exempt.
Snacking is a cultural norm, with street stalls offering a variety of fares, from chicken and beef satay, to spring rolls, and sticky rice rolled into small balls. Once a meal has been eaten, it is likely that the person deemed most wealthy or senior in the group will pay the bill. If a foreign person is dining with a group it is often considered to be them, so remember this if you are invited to a meal out whilst on your Thailand trip.
If you have adventurous tastes and want to experience real Thai food culture, why not look out for edible critters such as scorpions, beetles and a variety of bugs, many of which are deep fried and sold in Thai markets- perfect for a crunchy snack!