I’ll take the Phad Thai … hold the chopsticks.

I’ve been meaning to write on this particular topic for quite some time. Pretty much every time I walk into a Thai restaurant and see chopsticks on the table I groan and think two things to myself:

  1. I should probably leave.
  2. I really need to address this issue in my next blog entry.

It’s taken me until now to write about it which means many of you have been going along in your day-to-day visits to Thai restaurants (because come on, we all go to Thai restaurants daily, right?) believing that Thais use chopsticks to eat their food. For that I apologize!

The truth is that Thais do not use chopsticks.

Crazy, right? I’m sorry if I just blew your mind.

In truth, Thais have adopted a more Western method of eating food. History goes that King Rama IV brought the fork and spoon to Thailand back in the 19th century. Thailand had yet to be colonized by European powers (like all surrounding countries) and he believed that bringing some Westernization to Thailand might help further evade that seemingly inevitable fate. He brought in advisors to teach the Thai Royal Court western culture including the use of the fork and spoon. Since then the use of the fork and spoon have become common place.

Phad Thai is commonly eaten with a fork and spoon.
Phad Thai is commonly eaten with a fork and spoon.

The use of these utensils is still somewhat unique though. In Thailand the fork is used to push food up onto the spoon which is then the item used to bring the food to your mouth. No knives are used; rather, the edge of the spoon acts as the knife when necessary.

Now don’t get me wrong – there are chopsticks in Thailand. They are mostly used when eating noodle dishes, many of which were brought to Thailand by other Asian countries. For example, the only dish that I actually used chopsticks for was kway tiao, a noodle soup dish commonly purchased from street vendors. That being said, not all noodle dishes are consumed with chopsticks. You will still find many Thai people using the traditional spoon and fork for Phad Thai, Phad See Ew, and other dry noodle dishes.

Kway tiao nam tok is a dish in Thailand often eaten with chopsticks.
Kway tiao nam tok is a dish in Thailand often eaten with chopsticks.

So then why do the majority of Thai restaurants here in the states have chopsticks on the table? I really can’t answer that question for sure but my guess would be Americanization and the belief by Americans that Asian countries use chopsticks. To us, an Asian restaurant is ‘authentic’ if we can eat with chopsticks, which I don’t quite understand either because eating with chopsticks is hard. That’s a whole different entry though.

And there you have it, the reason I groan every time I walk into a Thai restaurant with chopsticks already on the table. Is that restaurant truly authentic or just trying to make me think they are?

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