Taste of Thailand Food Tours is a community-led effort to serve Thai culture through its rich cuisine and exotic foods. Their passion is discovering culinary gems in the sprawling metropolis of Bangkok and the mission is to share them with you, dishing up culture, tradition and people behind the savory treats along the way.
Ayutthaya is a great historical world heritage site. The second Siamese capital, after Sukhothai, was once a prosperous Siamese trade and political center. It was devastated by the Burmese invasion, but still draws a healthy crowd of tourists and locals alike, as the city is bursting with stories to tell, and great food to taste!
On my way to home from office, I asked one passer-by about what she thinks about foreigners traveling to Thailand and what foods foreigners must try when they are here!
What is your name?
My name is Pranee Pookaew.
Where are you from in Thailand?
I am from Surin province, but now I live Chachoengsao.
What is your profession?
I am an Accountant.
Do you live in Bangkok?
No, I am here to see my friend.
Which one is your favorite food?
Any Isaan food. But I specifically love to eat Som Tam.
There are so many foreign visitors to Thailand. Do you want to make foreign friends?
Yes sure, but my English is not that good (smile).
If you could recommend (1) one Thai food foreigners must try in Thailand, what would it be?
Som Tam for sure!
Because Som Tam has many flavors. Foreigners maybe think it’s just papaya salad (which we call Som Tam Thai), but they should try Som Tam Poo Pla Ra (Som Tam with brined crabs and pickled fermented fish), Som Tam Paa, Som Tam Kraton, SomTam Pholamai (Som Tam with fruit!), even Som Tam Korat! Som Tam has so many varieties and so many tastes that foreigners will definitely fall in love with it! If they love to eat sweet and sour (and spicy!) (smile).
Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism, ancestral beliefs and spirits. As well, there are also some traditions or rituals that visitors may not know about in regards to how Thais behave in and around their families. Here are some:
The Wai: The Wai is a customary Thai greeting. It is traditionally given by a younger person to an elder, by putting the hands together with a slight bow of the head. One of the reasons a Thai might ask your age when you first meet, is to figure out if you are older than them, so they know if they (or you) should initiate the wai greeting. You should not wai to someone younger as Thais believe it can reduce that person’s lifespan. Even if you mistakenly wai someone who is younger than you, you may apologise. The wai can also be used for saying goodbye, apologising or thanking someone.
Strong family bond: Like most Asian cultures, Thais are closer to their families than most westerners. This shows in every aspect of their lives from communications to eating meals together to living arrangements. When Thais get married, a large percentage of will still live with one of the couple’s parents up to, and even after, they have children of their own. For a Thai, who is close to their family, it seems alien to think about living away from them. With modern society creeping in, many will live away from home for work or other reasons, but they will visit often and keep the strong relationship with their family.
Eating Together: While western culture has slowly created generations of independent children who go off into the world to be on their own. In Thailand, as families tend to stick together, they spend much of their time eating together too. Thai culture is very food-oriented and it is the norm to feed those you love and share meals together. Regardless of where children live or have moved on to, Sundays are a day where many spend mealtime with their family, keeping the tradition alive.
Respect your parents: Thais hold their parents in very high regard. It goes along with the idea of respecting your elders. They will never, ever hurt their parents or make them cry. It is believed that doing so can give you very bad luck. Thais take care of elderly parents, even starting early as they become young adults.
Favorite Food: Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce
For me, Bangkok in one word is: Interesting
My Favorite Place in Bangkok is: The Riverside District
Owner Giulio Saverino, a long-time expat in Bangkok opened About Eatery with the vision to provide high quality ingredients paired with a unique drink selection that would educate the consumer about the benefits of natural and organic food and drink. It took more than a year of careful location selection and two months of drastic renovation for About Eatery to be born. Giulio took time to research food and wine trends in Italy, France, and New Zealand before finally deciding on Bangkok as his new home. Giulio is a certified Sommelier from the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS) and an expert wine lover and educator.
About the Place
About Eatery is a visually appealing space. The architect implemented owner Giulio’s vision to renovate the restaurant into an oasis that takes you out of the business of Bangkok’s streets.
The casual rustic feel owes to the lack of commercial products. All offerings are hand selected and show on the chalkboard on the wall above the seating area. Decoration of the space includes the extensive selection of organic, biodynamic, natural wines, and craft beers.
Rice is a staple in the Asian diet. It’s so central to the Thai cuisine, as well, that often people will feel out-of-sorts when they don’t consume rice for a few days! It’s not just tasty and a great companion to most Thai dishes, it’s comfort food! To see a bit about different types of rice you can check our blog post here written awhile back. Here, we’ll start to delve into HOW we eat that rice that is so central to cuisine and culture here in Thailand.
Eating with a spoon and fork: It’s very common in Thailand to eat rice with a spoon and fork along with your favorite stir-fry, curry or made-to-order dish. Most dishes can be ordered as a ‘one-dish’ serving, with the rice and menu item on the same plate, in a portion sized for one person, or you can order a series of dishes to share at the table and the rice can be ordered by plate per person. Then you are able to sample multiple dishes by scooping a portion onto your own plate and eating it alongside your rice. Jasmine rice is the rice of choice – it is flavorful, light and has a lovely aroma that makes most other types of rice seem boring in comparison! The food-delivery utensil is the spoon itself, while the fork is used to help scoop the food onto the spoon. A large majority of dishes (except for noodles or the occasional Chinese meal) are eaten this way in Thailand.
Eating with your hands: Some rice you will find both on the street and in restaurants can also be eaten with your hands! In most cases this is sticky-rice or Kao Neow. It is compact and easy to eat with your hands as it is easy to grab and eat on the go or without making a big mess. Sticky rice is most often eaten with grilled pork or chicken, spicy papaya salad and other Isan (Northeasten Thai) specialties. It is also quite common in Thai desserts and you will even find it wrapped in beautiful banana leaves, grilled and with tasty fillings such as beans or banana, out on the street. In these cases, it is quite alright to go ahead and dive in with your hands! Kao Jee is another popular Northeastern Thai (Isaan) style snack which is ideal for eating with your hands (when not hot off the grill!). Sticky rice is mixed with egg and grilled to create a lovely rice cake with a crispy exterior. This also gives it a touch of smoky flavor, and a soft inside.
The Thai Vegetarian festival, locally known as the Jae Festival, is a nine-day vegetarian food festival celebrated all over Thailand. It is also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. Jae, is actually even more strict than straight-forward vegetarianism or veganism. Besides staying away from meat or animal products, pungent-odour vegetables are not used in cooking, i.e. no garlic, onions or chives! It is also a period of purification of the mind and body and in some places, very elaborate ceremonies take place including body piercing and firewalking!
The Jae Festival is celebrated yearly during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar year which this year falls between 8 – 17 October. If you visit any local shopping malls, street food stalls, restaurants or seven 7-11 stores, you will notice strings of yellow and red-triangle shaped flags everywhere. This is they symbol of the Jae festival and the sign that you’ve found something safe to eat, if you are observing this 10-day festival.
Some of the most popular foods are vegetable dumplings, tofu treats and sweet desserts swimming in coconut milk, to name a few. But, no matter what, most items are worth a try – some naturally made this way year-round and others whose recipes have been modified to cut out meat, fish or other animal products for this period alone.
There are some common myths surrounding eating spicy foods, such as that they cause heartburn (which they don’t, though they may worsen it) or that they may give you ulcers. No need to listen to spicy myths, there’s a ton of research out there that points to spicy foods as having some great health benefits!
Here in Thailand, where eating spicy food is so common, you may wonder- how can Thais keep eating spicy foods without ill-effects? For one, they are used to it! Our bodies are amazing at adapting. But, as well, not all spicy foods have bad side effects, there are even some health benefits!
Studies have shown that spicy foods may increase longevity when eaten regularly. Spicy peppers are full of Vitamins A and C which can boost the immune system and potentially stave off the common cold!
Capsaicin (that heat inducing element in chili peppers) has been shown to increase your ability to burn calories! It also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties effects and has even been used as a topical pain killer!
It is even said that some spice can act as an aphrodisiac, literally ‘turning up the spice’ in your life….
So enough of spicy myths. Let’s think scientifically and enjoy eating spicy foods!