You might be skilled with chopsticks, and you might like showing off those skills whenever you go out to eat Asian food. But if you’re using your chopsticks to eat rice at Thai restaurants, you’ve unfortunately been doing it wrong.
Restaurateur Apsorn Gumnurdmanee owns the famed Krua Apsorn restaurant in Bangkok, and she recently talked to Coconuts TV about proper Thai table etiquette.
Here are some key points to keep in kind next time you’re eating Thai food:
- Don’t scoop rice with your fork. Doing it with your fork is a good way to get rice everywhere but in your mouth. Use your fork to push the rice onto your spoon, then use your spoon to put the food in your mouth.
- Don’t begin eating until everyone at your table has been served their rice. In Thai cuisine, rice is the main dish—everything else is an accompaniment to your rice. Seriously, there’s a reason that the most common Thai greeting when you meet someone literally translates to “have you eaten rice today?” Everyone at the table should receive an individual plate of rice, with all the accompaniments (your curry, or any other entree) placed in the middle for everyone to share.
- Don’t use chopsticks with your rice. It’s just not done—yes, even with the huge Chinese population in Thailand, and the resulting delicious cuisine that you likely know and love. If you do use chopsticks for something, Gumnurdmanee advises that you stick to the Chinese rule about not ever standing your chopsticks up straight in your bowl. It looks too similar to the incense offerings that Thai people of Chinese descent burn in honor of their ancestors, and it’s disrespectful.
- Scoop food from the side dishes on top of your rice with the serving spoon, not your personal spoon or fork. Then use your personal fork to push a bite of rice and a bite of the side dish together onto your personal spoon. Gumnurdmanee says that Thai people eat food very neatly, with “small, perfect bites.” Don’t just use the spoon for soup; the spoon should be your main utensil when eating Thai food.
- Eat soup by using the serving spoon for the big bowl in the middle of the table to scoop it into your small, personal bowl before eating. This isn’t that dissimilar to how many other cultures do it. You can also scoop the soup onto your rice and eat it together—trust us, your tom kha gai tastes much better with rice.
- Don’t slurp your food loudly. Gumnurdmanee says Thai people eat very quietly, “like Westerners.” This isn’t a ramen shop. Don’t slurp loudly to show your appreciation; it’s just not done.
- If you find something inedible, politely spit it out onto your spoon, then place it in the trash bowl. Don’t just hide it in your napkin for your poor server to have to deal with later. Have you tried getting curry stains out of white linen?
- When you’re done, stack your spoon and fork together neatly on your plate. This indicates that you’re finished, and it’s also nice for whoever clears your dishes away from the table.