Despite the fact that Thailand is a small country, its food is popular worldwide, and in 2017 there were 7 dishes from Thailand published on CNN’s “World’s 50 Best Foods” they were:
4th– Tom Yum Goong
5th– Pad Thai
6th– Som Tum
10th– Massaman curry
19th– Green curry
24th– Thai fried rice (side note– if you ever order this it typically comes with a vinegar sauce and lime. Make sure to add some of the vinegar and squeeze the lime. Start with a little, mix it together, and add more. It tastes soooo good)
36th– Moo Nam Tok
A country with a food culture this strong is ripe for exchange students to come and eat as much as they can. Since I am officially over halfway through my exchange, I feel a lot more comfortable not talking about Thai culture and my experiences. Here are some things that I have experienced in Thailand.
- Thai people typically eat with a spoon and fork. Theoretically, all Thai food is chopped small enough to be able to eat without cutting, but if that is not the case, then you can cut the food using the side of your spoon while you hold it down with the fork. Otherwise, you use the fork to push a bite-sized portion onto the spoon and eat.
- No, Thai people don’t use chopsticks to eat every meal. Chopsticks will be provided, however, for certain noodle/soup dishes (usually food they got from China or Japan). However, if Thai people see a foreigner, they usually just laugh, assume the foreigner cannot use chopsticks, and give the foreigner a spoon and fork instead.
- When eating “Thai style” or with several dishes in the center of the table, typically every person will have a plate of rice. You can then grab 2-3 spoonfuls of one plate. Eat that, then add another 2-3 spoon fulls from a different plate. Add more until you are full. Taking more than a few spoonfuls at a time can be seen as greedy, and in my opinion, Thai method also stops overeating.
- There is no such thing as “double dipping” or any general fear of sharing saliva in Thai culture. As long as you are eating with close friends or family, you are expected to use the utensils that you eat off of to serve yourself food, and no serving utensils will be provided.
- When you are done with all of your food, push everything (every grain of rice) into one corner of the plate to make it easier for the workers to wash the dishes.
- The most popular/famous Thai dishes are Tom Yum Gung and Som Dam (alt. Som Tum). Thai people love these dishes. Tom Yum Gung is a spicy/sour soup typically with shrimp (the Gung in Tom Yum Gung), but it can also be made with chicken (Tom Yum Gai), or with pork ribs (Tom Yum Gradong Moo). Som Dam is papaya salad. It is typically very spicy, but can very easily be made foreigner friendly by asking to not add peppers (mai sai prik).
- Pretty much anything involving a barbeque is to die for here. I often have barbequed pork (Moo Bing) for breakfast, and I also love Moo Satay. My host family, on the other hand enjoys barbequed pork intestines.
- I really, really like Moo Gra Ta. It is hard to explain, but it is essentially a large pan with a raised center and a trough around the edges that is placed over charcoal. The trough is filled with a mild broth, and after that you get access to a full buffet of different meats and vegetables. The meats cook on top of the raised area, allowing all the flavor to seep into the soup below, where the vegetables and various mushrooms are allowed to stew in the broth. The entire experience costs about 200 baht or $6 per person.
- Playing off the last one, it is very common in Thailand to eat the cuts of meat that are forsaken in the US. I still haven’t gotten used to eating the “nasty bits” of food, but I appreciate that Thai people do try to consume the entire animal (even if it means I now know how to eat chicken feet). This isn’t just limited to intestines or
feet either. Most of the time when you get fish, it comes fried and is served whole. It is your job to pick the meat off the bones, and it is fun to snap the fins off as a crispy, fried snack. It is also pretty common to cut cheap curries with coagulated blood. It doesn’t taste incredible, but is very healthy, and the taste can usually be ignored if you cut it into small pieces.
- This probably sounds super American of me, but the fried chicken in Thailand is to DIE for. Thai people love going to KFC with friends for a treat (which serves fried chicken much more similar to the US), but I personally prefer plain-old Gai Tawrd (Thai fried chicken, typically found at markets)
- Thai fruit is really good. I don’t have much more to add there, except here are some of the fruits I have tried that I never had before:
- Ironically, the word for guava is also the word for “white-skinned foreigner” which lead to some confusion the first time I went to the market and heard them selling guava for 20 Baht
- When there is a fancy event (retirement party, wedding, work party, etc), it is common to eat in the “Dto Jing” Style (which, ironically, means “Chinese Table”). Chinese culture dictates that you have to serve 8 full courses in order to have good luck, so when you eat Dto Jing, every table (even the empty ones) will be served 8 full courses. Each table typically has 7-9 people and a lot of food is typically wasted as each table is generally only able to eat half of the food they are served and every. single. table. gets all 8 courses. Although it is named after a Chinese tradition, Dto Jing in Thailand usually features mostly Thai food. A typical Dto Jing will include:
- An appetiser course with cashew nuts, 1000 year old egg, some fried pork skin, and 1-2 other items
- A whole fried fish
- Moo Daeng (red pork)
- A soup made from fish air sacks (which is surprisingly delicious)
- Another fish or a duck
- Stir-fried vegetables
- Some kind of Thai dessert (see below)
- One of the weirdest things for me to adjust to has been Thai people’s use of condiments. At many local Thai restaurants, especially when you are eating soups, there are small caddies with four compartments in them. Most Thai people, without first tasting the dish, will heap in a spoonful or two of sugar, vinegar, crushed red pepper, and soy sauce to enhance the four tenets of thai food– sweet, sour, spicy, and salty. Thai people are also generally very frugal, so they figure that if a restaurant provides something, they will eat it.
- The favorite condiment of Thailand, though, is not included anywhere above list. It
is ketchup (much to my absolute dismay). This is typically added to any an all “aa-haan farang” or “western food” and it goes for everything from pizza (usually about one to two packets of ketchup per slice of pizza, topped with 1 tablespoon of oregano) to pasta (using a squeeze bottle, draw a tight spiral from the center of the dish until there is, scientifically speaking, a lot of ketchup) and crepes (one popular combination is a crepe with a thin layer of egg, a smattering of ham, and the aforementioned spiral of doom)
- Another thing Thai people enjoy consuming is fried insects. My friends also enjoy having a laugh at my expense as I try and eat them in all their weird crunchiness.
- I am really not trying to complain too much, though! Many Thai snacking habits I enjoy way more than American. For example, the most common snack at my school is some kind of protein. They are cooked everyday and we will typically go to the minimart on our campus to get some between classes. Arguably the most popular is a fried chicken breast. The fried part is very thick, so any student that wants their snack to be healthier can easily peel away the fried part and just eat the chicken. There are plenty of other options though, such as sausage, fried shrimp rings, and other types of sausage.
- Kit Kats… so many flavors
- Here are some of my favorite snacks at school:
- Thai Oreos– more bitter than in the US
- Jack and Jills– Like knock-off oreos, but more…rich? My favorite flavor is matcha
- Chakuza– carbonated honey and lemon green tea
- Green Mangoes– Thai people usually eat with sugar and red pepper, but I have also had it with “sweet fish sauce” which is actually pretty good.
- Fries with Cheese Powder– picture the powder from Annie’s Mac and Cheese poured over fries
- Apples with Salted Plum Powder
- Paprika Potatoes– Potatoes cut in the shape of penne pasta and covered in paprika seasoning
- The most common kind of Thai Dessert is any variation on fried dough topped with sweetened condensed milk. I am definitely a fan.
- My favorite kind of Dessert is called Bua Loy. It is warm coconut milk with pastas made from rice flour. It is also really easy to make, which is exciting because it
seems like the perfect kind of think to eat on a cold, rainy day (which we do not have in Thailand).
- Of course there is Mango Sticky Rice! Unfortunately, mangoes have been out of season the last 2-3 months, so I have been sorely deprived.
- Crepes– Are really popular in Thailand, and the style is very different from French Crepes. They tend to be crispy and you can add many choices of sides (some people make savory crepes too with combinations such as egg, ham, and ketchup or pork floss)
Non-Thai Food– Some of the best Thai food I have been able to try here hasn’t actually been Thai, but has been from a different area where I would not have tried without this exchange.
Shabu– following in the vein of Moo Gra Ta, shabu is an all-you-can-eat buffet, but instead of a barbecue it utilises a hot pot, and it tends to feature Japanese ingredients. One popular chain restaurant is Shabu-Shi, where all of the ingredients circulate through the store on conveyor belts and there is also a sushi bar
- Bingsu– I cannot express the extent of my love for this Korean dessert. I had it my first night in Thailand and have been in love ever since. It takes creamy shaved ice and adds various toppings (such as fruit, ice cream, cocoa powder, or Oreos). On top (as with many desserts here) is condensed milk.
- Vietnamese Food– Generally considered to be one of the healthier cuisines, it is just really good food.
- Western food– is just generally a little…off here. For
example, a common pizza would be a typical crust, cheese sauce (a la mac and cheese), cheese, and a variety of seafood (they also obviously have more classic pizzas too).
It is also interesting, because the Western style of eating (featuring one main dish and potentially a side or two) is completely foreign here, so if we decide to treat ourselves to a pizza dinner (as western food is wildly expensive here), it will typically include one small pizza and 3-4 other dishes that are considered as important as the others. Thais also have several pasta dishes that utilize Italian pasta, but have plenty of peppers and spices for the Thai palette.
- Thai Tea– Obviously to die for. You can find it basically anywhere from Seven Eleven to roadside coffee stands to your fanciest restaurant, and often it costs <$1
- Matcha Tea– also incredible, although I prefer it more as a snack flavoring
- Thai Sodas– There are a lot of sodas for sale here (They all have very generic names such as “Red Soda” so it is pointless to name them). I have seen lime added into them before, but in general I find them to be too sweet.
- I have said it before and I will say it again– even in places that are known as tourist havens such as Thailand, most everyday people struggle from underdeveloped infrastructure. Therefore, all drinks we consume have to be from a bottle, which is as much of an ecological nightmare as you imagine.