In the 1500s the Europeans arrived to the region, however
generally bypassing Thailand in favor of the southern water
routes. None-the-less, the Europeans brought new foods from both Europe as well
as the Americas through trading. Unlike Thailand's neighbors to the south, many
of these new additions were added at a minimum (with the exception of the chili
pepper and a couple others), but nearly all can be found in Thai dishes if one looks
long enough. From the Americas came maize (corn), potatoes, chili peppers, peanuts,
tomatoes, and sweet peppers. From Europe came breads, pastries, cakes, and some
dairy products, including butter and cheese. Spices also arrived from every direction,
but again the spices were limited in their impact as some became more popular than
others, but few arrivals from this era are regular items in Thai cuisine today.
In more recent times, Thailand has become a center of trade,
business, and technology based in Bangkok and with this growth has, in many ways,
become one of the major international hubs of the region. With this came foreigners
and outside foods and technologies, which have altered the food even further. Frozen
foods and fast foods are growing in popularity, especially in Bangkok and in resort
towns in the south. However, these foods have yet to replace traditional foods,
but rather only add new dishes to the diet.
Nam Pla: not a staple in the true sense, nam pla
is a fish sauce used in most Thai dishes
Noodles: noodles are a common base in numerous dishes
Rice: rice is usually cooked and served as sticky rice and accompanies
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Kuaytiaw: soup with noodles, vegetables, and usually chicken
Pad Thai: a noodle dish generally served with vegetable
and a meat along with local spices
Dining in Thailand has many aspects that seem more European
than Southeast Asian as dining rules, especially in Bangkok and in resort towns,
have been altered in numerous ways. Due to this changing landscape there are few
rules that must be followed, although respecting your elders is rule number one.
When meeting with locals try to arrive on time and remove your shoes before entering
the house or restaurant if others have done so before you. Greet everyone upon arrival,
beginning with the elders and wait to be shown a seat as elders are generally seated
first and your host may show you to a pre-assigned seat.
As you sit down you may encounter a few different settings. In more traditional
homes, especially in towns and villages the people may still eat with their right
hand; however this is a dying art. If this is the case though be sure to only use
your right hand. In some areas, most commonly along the Vietnamese
border, chopsticks are commonly used. Chopsticks are also used for some dishes,
including noodles throughout the country, but in most restaurants forks and spoons
are available upon request. Finally, the most common sighting in Thailand today
is that presence of a fork and spoon, along with chopsticks if noodles are being
served. In this case use the spoon in the right hand to eat from and hold the fork
in the left hand to push food onto the spoon, but don't eat from the fork. Only
in high end restaurants will you find a knife on the table.
When the meal arrives, the dishes are generally placed in the middle of the table
for all to share; serving and eating begins in order of honor (and men are served
first, then women) so don't begin until you're directed to do so by your
host. If serving yourself, be sure to never touch the serving spoon to your plate
as your plate is considered unclean. Among the dishes will probably be a soup and
a starch, typically rice. These dishes, as well as anything served in a bowl should
be eaten by bringing the bowl up to your mouth. In order to accomplish this you
are expected to have both hands on the table at all times, even having your elbows
on the table is acceptable in most situations.
When you are finished eating, be sure to finish all the food on your plate and in
your bowl as leaving any food behind is considered wasteful and rude. Once the food
is done, place your chopsticks together on top of your rice bowl or on the chopstick
rest next to your plate if you have one. If you have a fork, spoon, and knife place
these together on the plate at the 5:00 position to indicate that you have finished
If you are dining in a restaurant you may have to go to the register to get and
pay for your bill as servers will rarely bring a bill to your table as that is considered
rude. In restaurants catered to tourists a service charge of about 10% is sometimes
included. If no service charge is included leave about 5-10% of the bill or just
round up as the generous locals do.
Celebrations & Events
Although Thailand has numerous celebratory events, few
have close ties to particular foods served at each. All of these events, including
weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, New Year, etc., usually serve authentic Lao
dishes and personal favorites for those who are being celebrated.
Any international Thai restaurant serves what they call
"Thai tea," but in Thailand it is just called tea, or cha yen;
this tea is served with sweetened condensed milk over ice and is hugely popular.
Coffee, soft drinks, juices, and other popular drinks are also available throughout
The alcoholic beverage of choice is beer in Thailand and
the country brews a few domestically, including "Singha." Oddly, after
beer whiskey is quite popular and available nearly everywhere. Other hard liquors
and wine also exist, but are not as popular; rice wines similar to sake
are more prevalent than grape wines.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Thailand,
but in Bangkok it is considered safe. The most cautious course of action is to entirely
avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the water, such as
ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap water in Bangkok
first check with your local hotel or guesthouse to guarantee the cleanliness of
the water. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have trouble adjusting
to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system
is used to if you are not from the region.