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How To Eat Like a Local in Thailand

While many aspects of good table manners in Thailand align with what’s considered common sense, there are some unique etiquette rules you should know. We’ll dive into the subtle yet important differences between Thai and Western dining customs. Plus, we’ll let you in on the “right” way to order and eat in Thailand. Get ready to master Thai table etiquette!

Table of Contents

Nittaya Thai curry paste eat like a local thai people

1. Thai people eat with a spoon and fork

In Thailand, the primary dining utensils are a spoon and a fork. The spoon is the main utensil for eating while the fork acts similarly to a knife in Western dining; it is simply used to push food onto the spoon. This method makes perfect sense given the nature of Thai food, which often consists of rice combined with dishes that have a soupy consistency (Thai curries, for example) or thin sauces (such as stir-fries). Embracing the Thai way of eating can enhance the culinary experience, making sure you get more flavor out of every bite.

You won’t find knives on the table in Thailand, as Thai dishes typically don’t require cutting. Most food is already prepared in bite-sized portions. If you do need to cut your food into smaller pieces, you can use the side of your spoon to do so. The unique utensil usage can be surprising to foreigners who are accustomed to using spoons only to eat soups or other soft foods. Then again, it can be equally surprising for Thai people to observe foreigners eating with their forks!

Thai people sharing food

2. Thai people share food

Sharing food is a fundamental aspect of Thai mealtime etiquette, contrasting with the Western custom of every person mainly ordering individual dishes for themselves. In Thailand, meals are communal events, especially among families and friends.

Typically, everyone at the table orders a variety of dishes to be shared. The process involves starting with your own plate of rice and then adding small portions from the shared dishes, just one or two spoonfuls at a time. What you should not do is overload your plate with lots of food immediately; instead, it’s better to take a few bites and then continue to serve yourself more food gradually. You can always help yourself to more food after your first serving, little by little.

3. Thai people eat everything with rice

Rice is a staple in Thai cuisine; it’s not just a side dish but the foundation of almost every meal. Typically, a Thai meal starts with a plate of rice, and other dishes are added on top of it. This includes curries as well as soups, such as Tom Kha Gai, or Tom Yum Goong. Although they are technically soups, these dishes are not meant to be eaten on their own as is common with soups in Western cuisine. The correct way to eat Thai soups is to add a few spoonfuls of soup onto your plate of rice. It’s also good manners to add food to your plate gradually, rather than all at once. Just start with a few spoonfuls and continue adding more, little by little.

4. Rice isn’t eaten with chopsticks

Contrary to a common misconception, chopsticks are never used for eating rice in Thailand. Instead, a spoon and fork are the standard utensils. Chopsticks, originally from China, are more commonly associated with East Asian cuisines like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. You may come across chopsticks in Thailand, but typically they are only used for eating noodles, in particular when eating street food.
asking for less spicy thai food

5. You can ask for your food to be made less spicy

Thai cuisine is renowned for its spiciness, which can be overwhelming for those unaccustomed to it. Tourist-friendly areas and restaurants may already adjust their spice levels, but in more authentic Thai settings, dishes tend to be quite hot. To manage this, it’s perfectly acceptable to request dishes to be made ‘not spicy’ (‘mai phed’ in Thai). However, be mindful that the Thai definition of ‘not spicy’ might still be quite hot by Western standards. If you want to emphasize that you really don’t want your food to be spicy, phrases like ‘phed noi mak mak’ (very mild) or ‘mai sai prik’ (no chili) can be used to convey your preference more clearly.

6. It’s completely normal to drink beer with ice

In Thailand, it’s completely normal to serve beer with ice. This practice, though initially surprising to many foreigners, makes sense in the country’s tropical climate. The ice keeps the beer refreshingly cold, providing relief from the heat. The ice can also help with the spiciness of Thai food. By the way, ice in Thai restaurants is perfectly safe to consume as it is made from filtered water, not tap water. It may seem strange adding ice to your beer at first, but you’ll soon get used to it!