Being a restaurant critic in Thailand for years, I can safely say that I’ve pretty much seen (and tasted) it all, from crunchy crickets to ants’ eggs salads, to live “dancing” shrimp, but nothing’s shocked me more than what passes for Thai restaurants abroad — mostly because so many are so phony. Here are a few things you need to know to ensure that you don’t get suckered into a dinning experience you’ll later regret.
1. Thais Use Chopsticks…to Eat Chinese Food
It’s a flashbulb moment for me: America’s Next Top Model, season six, episode nine, when host Tyra Banks, while readying the contestants for their trip to Bangkok, told the girls that they should focus on honing their chopsticks skills. I almost puked. I thought, unless they plan on never stepping their size-ten feet into a Thai restaurant while in the Land of Smiles, then all that practicing will be for naught. Only on rare occasions do Thai people use chopsticks, i.e., eating Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese food, etc. And when do we use them in Thai restaurants? Never! Thais eat using a fork and large spoon but we would never consider putting the fork in our mouths — instead, the side of the spoon is used as a knife for cutting and the fork pushes the food onto the spoon. It may seem strange to you at first but once you try it, you’ll see it makes perfect sense. If you walk into a Thai restaurant and see chopsticks on the table, tell the waitress “shay shay” and get the hell out of there.
2. Thais Only Enjoy One Carbohydrate at a Time
A restaurant that serves pad Thai (fried noodle dish) with a side of rice is like serving a hamburger and fries with a side of spaghetti. I’ve seen this happen in faux Thai places and it’s absurd. Just keep in mind this one thing about Thai carbs: never mix and never worry.
3. Thai Buddhas Do Not Have a Weight Problem
One of my Thai friends, on her first trip to New York, stepped into a Thai restaurant and texted me right away, “Girl, you’re not gonna believe this, but I think they feed our Buddha too much over here. They’re all fat!” What she actually saw was a “Budai,” or a Chinese Buddha frequently found in Chinese restaurants. Thai Buddhas was very slim; after all, Gautama the Buddha was an ascetic who was too busy reaching enlightenment to head to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet
4. Thai People Love Edamame
Occasionally you’ll see edamame offered as a snack while you’re waiting for your food to come. Thais devour these, and as a matter of fact we have a name for them, “Japanese green beans.” And can you guess where we go to eat these delicious treats? In Japanese restaurants, and nowhere else. If your server offers you this in a Thai restaurant, or if you see it on the menu, you should probably bid the restaurant a quick, “Sayonara!”
5. There Is Nothing Delightful About “Chicken Delight”
Why? Because we have no idea what the hell a “chicken delight,” or a “shrimp delite,” or worse: “Thai tofu deelite” is. What kind of food is that anyway? If you read my recent article about Thai desserts you’ve already learned that Thai people enjoy naming their foods in ironic and sometimes ridiculous ways. Like “Hor Mok,” which means “wrap and hide” (I have no idea why we have to hide it, but we do it anyway), or our famous papaya salad that we call “Som Tum,” which actually means “orange and hitting,” which also doesn’t make a damn bit of sense but at least it doesn’t sound stupid like adding “delight” after everything.
There are many ways to tell if your chef is an imposter once you’ve ordered your meal, but there’s one sure-fire way to tell you’re in a real Thai restaurant before you even sit down. If you see a photograph of our current potentate, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol (Rama IX), you can be practically guaranteed an authentic meal fit for a king.
Category: Consume, Featured