Last Update: November 2021
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There are loads of articles on the web telling you that Thai food culture is just about street food snacking and spicy flavors. There is no denying, it’s all true.
However, the true essence of Thai food culture goes way beyond that. It lies in the bond between the Thais’ passion for food and their strongly developed sense of social society. Don’t worry, this is not a philosophical article. Allow me to explain.
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Thai Food Culture
Thai people love food, we all know that and nowhere is this more visible than in the Thai capital Bangkok. Next to numerous restaurants you will find food stalls and makeshift kitchens lining the streets everywhere. Some of them offer an extensive menu, while others only sell snacks or maybe just one particular dish that the vendor is highly specialized in.
Many Bangkokians don’t even bother to cook at home, ever. And why should they when food availability is so abundant, cheap and usually delicious. The Thai take advantage of this by eating the whole day through (or at least six times a day). It’s not the clock telling them when to eat, they just follow their appetite.
But food in Thailand is also an important social activity to the extent that it hacks into the core of Thai culture. There’s a whole plethora of unwritten food etiquette rules that revolve around family and friends. Sharing is the key word here, sharing your food with family, friends, neighbors, visitors and even strangers.
First of all, in Thai society it’s considered bad luck to dine alone. Of course at times it can not be avoided, but if there’s the slightest chance the Thai will choose to share their meals. Groups of family, co-workers or friends can be seen at food stalls and restaurants occupying long tables to enjoy a common meal.
Second, instead of ordering a dish for each person they will share all the dishes among the group in a dinner “family style”. Can you imagine all the double-dip action going on? Well, the Thai couldn’t care less, for them it’s all about sharing.
The preparation of the food is often shared as well. Mom goes to the markets accompanied by a family member to help carry the groceries. Dad lights the fire, hacks the meat and cleans the fish. The daughter helps with the cooking and the son handles the bbq. Extended family bring snacks and sweets to share at the dinner table.
Read: “The History of Thai Cuisine“.
Spoiler Alert! Some of the most famous dishes that Thai cuisine has to offer do not originate from Thailand at all!
More food etiquette
Any leftovers will never be thrown away, because that may anger the Goddess of rice. Moreover, why waste perfectly good food if you can share it with the birds and the dogs?
Now, we have all heard of the Thai being masters in the balancing of flavors, right? You know, sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy, all flavors combined in one dish. In fact, the balancing of flavors goes even further than that. It is considered extremely bad form to mix up all the different flavors of the meal on your plate, because it will ruin the delicate flavor balance of each dish. And shame on you for not knowing!
Then there’s that awkward moment after the meal at the restaurant and it’s time to settle the bill. Separate bills? You pay now, I pay next time? Thai society has the perfect solution. The most wealthy or the most senior will pay for all. Therefore, if there is a farang (foreigner) among the party, he is often deemed to pick up the tab. So much for sharing, I guess.
Thai are all about sharing their food. Not necessarily because they are so hospitable (which of course they are), but because society dictates it through food etiquette. A Thai’s love for food is enormous and therefore, sharing what you love most is the ultimate way of showing respect. And that my friends, is the true essence of Thai food culture.
Are you planning to visit Thailand? Chances are that Bangkok is your port of entry. Exploring the culinary delights in this vibrant city is the perfect start of your holiday.
Did you ever share a meal with a group of Thai people? Did they have you pick up the tab? Let us know in the comments below, because I’d love to hear about your experience.
Want to know more about Thai food? Check out “Top 11 Thai food that everyone must try”.