In Thailand, food is everything. It plays a huge role at social events such as weddings, funerals, and festivals. Thai people love their snacks – something that becomes immediately clear just by walking down any street. On every street corner, you’ll encounter various food stands, all of which sell a huge range of different foods: everything from spicy soup and chicken fried rice to fried grasshoppers. In short: there’s a whole new culinary world for you to discover in Thailand!
Rice: Thai cuisine’s most important ingredient
The most important ingredient in Thai cuisine is rice. Whether breakfast or dessert, it’s going to come with rice. Funny fact: the literal meaning of the phrase “I’m hungry” in Thai is “I want to eat rice”, which is hardly surprising, considering it’s the world’s number one exporter of rice.
However, rice isn’t just Thailand’s most important food source, it’s also a sacred symbol associated with certain rituals and traditions. The Thai, farmers especially, believe in the goddess Mae Phosop, also known as the “rice goddess”. It’s believed that Mae Phosop guards the rice crops and ensures that they grow well, which is why many farmers perform various ceremonies to appease her. Therefore, spilling rice or throwing away cooked leftovers is frowned upon in Thailand. It’s insulting to the rice goddess.
Types of Thai rice
Jasmine rice, or “Khao Suoy” (beautiful rice), is the most used type of rice in Thai culinary tradition. The sweetly aromatic, oblong grains go well with most dishes.
Fried rice, or “Khao Pad”, is usually made up of Khao Suoy leftovers. Good with fried pork, chicken or chili, and fish sauce.
Sticky rice, or “Khao Niaw”, is eaten by hand and served with dishes influenced by northeastern cuisine, such as grilled chicken (gai yang) and spicy papaya salad (som tam). This rice is really good for dipping into various accompanying sauces. In addition, it’s the main ingredient of the most popular Thai dessert: mango sticky rice.
Food etiquette in Thailand
In Thailand, it’s common to take off your shoes before entering a restaurant or someone’s house. People eat sitting cross-legged on the floor. Dining tables are only used by the rich and are completely different from the ones we’re used to; they’re incredibly low to the ground and still require you to sit on the floor.
And, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Thai do not eat with chopsticks. They eat with a spoon and use a fork to scoop the food onto the spoon. The fork never enters the mouth. Many Thai kitchens won’t have knives in them, as most Thai meals are served in bite-sized portions. Only when eating noodles or Chinese food, will they use chopsticks.
When going out for dinner, the richest or oldest person is expected to pay. Caution: if you’re out for dinner with Thai people, they will definitely see you as the richest person! Always bear that in mind to prevent any misunderstanding.
Street food in Thailand
Thai people love to snack all day long. This is why there are so many food stalls with such wide-ranging foods and snacks. The most curious delicacies can be found in Bangkok’s busy streets and markets, particularly on Khao San Road. How about some fried scorpions, beetles or locust? Thankfully, there’s also a whole host of different kinds of food stands; ones that have a more appealing selection of Thai culinary treats, such as rice porridge with ginger and meatballs, fried noodles with shrimp cubes and tofu (pad thai), or a spicy salad with grated papaya and chili (tom sam). Check out our top 10 favorite Thai dishes here!
Not all food stands are good quality or hygienic. For a better chance of not becoming ill while traveling, make sure the area around the food stand, or indeed the person selling the food, exemplify a certain level of hygiene that’s acceptable. Whenever possible, choose places where you can actually see the food being prepared.
Thai cooking class
Would you like to learn how to prepare Thai dishes? No better place to do that than in Thailand itself, obviously. There are lots of places that offer cooking classes and workshops. Places that will allow you to try out the local dishes and, at the same time, teach you how to prepare them yourself. In most cases, you’ll start out by visiting the local market. Not just because of the freshness of the ingredients, but also to find out more about traditional herbs and spices used in Thai cuisine. After that, it’s time to prepare the food yourself. Enjoy!