There is More to Thai Food Than Meets the Eye

Thais love food! It is everywhere. No matter where you are in Thailand, you are almost always within walking distance of food. In many western countries you have to drive for miles to find something edible, but here it is everywhere. Restaurants, food vendors with carts on wheels, mini restaurants set up on motorbikes with sidecars, food markets, food stalls, floating food vendors, grocery stores, supermarkets… You can always find something to eat regardless of the time of day or night.

Food in Thailand is so important that a common way of greeting someone is “did you eat already?” You see people eat in public at all times and in all places. Eating is not considered a private affair.

  • Westerners go to a park to be in nature, Thais go to a park to have a picnic.
  • Westerners go to the beach to swim and get a tan, Thais go to the beach to eat and drink.
  • When Thais go to any outing in nature, they always take a basket with food and drink.

Have you ever been asked in the US if you like American food? Most likely not, because nobody really cares what food you like. Have you ever been asked in England if you like English food? Probably not because nobody is interested in your culinary taste.

However in Thailand you will be asked countless times if you like Thai food. If you meet a Thai, chances are that in the first few minutes of conversation you will have to answer this question. If you say that you do, you become a little more acceptable. If you indicate that you like spicy food, you move up the acceptance ladder even more. But if you say that you really don’t care so much about Thai food, people will be perplexed and wonder and even ask you why you have come to Thailand then.

We just had the 22nd annual food festival here in Chiang Mai. It is a huge, week-long event with hundreds of food stalls and thousands of visitors crowding the area every night. There is a gigantic stage with all kinds of entertainment, speeches, bands playing, and dance performances. Thais love a good party. The food is incredibly colorful and there seems to be an unending variety of different dishes, most of it prepared in front of your eyes.

Thais don’t eat like westerners. They don’t have drawn-out sit down meals with starter, salad, main course, dessert and coffee. Meals mostly consist of one plate of food which is not only eaten quickly but also prepared in no time.

Unlike western restaurants where your meal order can take 20 or 30 minutes, in Thailand most dishes can be prepared literally within minutes. Thais don’t eat big meals, but rather small meals frequently throughout the day.

Thais are very attached to their food, and they don’t take easily to international cuisine. When they travel outside of Thailand, many times their biggest challenge is not being able to eat Thai food.

Eating in Thailand is inexpensive, convenient and fun. Imagine strolling around, picking up a fresh squeezed orange juice, having a quick “pad thai” noodle dish for US$ 0.50, sampling a local sweet, drinking some fresh coconut juice, eating a steamed sweet potato or a black bean dumpling, all available right on the street or in a market — within walking distance. No wonder food is so important here!