Thailand – Where Eating Is a Contact Sport

Chiang Mai, Thailand –  We have been in Thailand for several weeks and are relishing the food experience.  The utensil experience here is unique and I thought it worthwhile to educate others on how to look like local when you eat.

While traditionally Thais’ ate with their hands, the fork and spoon were introduced by King Chulalongkorn after his return from a tour of Europe in 1897.  The story we heard (but couldn’t verify) is that the King went on a trip of Europe and was so taken by utensils that he brought them back home and insisted everyone start using them.

David diving into the good stuff!

But as I said, it is a contact sport.  The spoon in the right hand, the fork in the left hand and no knife on the table.  You approach your food armed and ready to dive in!

Typical ‘set up’ served with the meal – fork, spoon and dipping sauces

The fork is used to push food onto the spoon.  You eat from the spoon except when you don’t…

Sticky rice is eaten with the hands.  This is the most commonly eaten rice in Thailand.  You take a small chunk and quickly shape it into a small ball/cup and use almost like a spoon.  Only the right hand of course.  I just pull small chunk and use my thumb (like a thumbprint cookie) to make a scoop like shape.  Then dip that into the dishes – yummy!

Jasmine (or other non sticky rices) are eaten with the fork.  Since your fork is already in your left hand….well that must be ok.  But typically you only eat with your right hand.

You might also receive a ceramic spoon which is often used for soups.  But don’t be too complacent because many soups have noodles.  And for those soups — the noodles are eaten with chopsticks.  Makes perfect sense and really I always make a mess with my favorite soup splashing all over the place.  Hopefully with a few more weeks of practice I can get a little bit better.

Khao Soi a delicious soup of Northern Thailand eaten with chopsticks and a soup spoon

Got it?  Good, here is a little review

Spoon right hand to eat from

Fork left hand to push food onto spoon,(except non-sticky rice)

Soup Spoons for broth soups

Chopsticks  for soup noodles

Right Hand for sticky rice






Now you have a good understanding of utensils.  Lets talk napkins…. or lack of.  Often you will see a little holder on the table with small squares of single ply napkins.  Typically they are less than a 1/4 the size of a typical American napkin.  Sometimes it is just a roll of toilet paper that you tear off what you need.  Most often there is a small garbage can at the end of the table to just toss your used napkins in.  With all the sweating from the hot food and dripping from the soups we have been known to go through quite a few napkins.

Cute little napkin holder


More common napkin holder – or napkin square as we call them











So now you are ready to do some eating!

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