Using chopsticks can be a pain — especially for someone who has used knives and forks their entire life.
And as a traveler to Thailand, you might be asking yourself, “do Thai people use chopsticks?” or “do they use them often?”
Thai people rarely use chopsticks. They only use them for noodles. Unlike in China, Japan, and Korea, chopsticks are not a primary eating instrument in Thailand. At most Thai dining tables, you won’t see chopsticks as much as other utensils like forks and spoons. And in some regions, they might even prefer hands.
So what’s the reason? Why don’t they use chopsticks more often? Keep reading to find out the answer and uncover the story of chopsticks in Thailand.
Do Thai People Use Chopsticks?
Thai People rarely use chopsticks to eat their food. They prefer other tools like forks, spoons, and sometimes even hands. However, that doesn’t mean there is no place for a pair of chopsticks in Thailand.
There is one.
Chopsticks appear on the table when Thai people eat noodle dishes. And when you think about it, that makes sense. Both noodles and chopsticks originated in China, so it is only natural they go hand in hand.
Originally, chopsticks were not the culture of Thailand. It is unclear when exactly chopsticks appeared in the country. However, it is believed that chopsticks first entered Thailand together with the Chinese merchants during the days of King Narai the Great (1656–1688). (Source, Source)
As these merchants traded their goods, they exchanged culture as well. That’s when both chopsticks and noodles made their entrance.
However, the use of chopsticks wasn’t well-received in Thai kitchens. The reason wasn’t apparent, but it could stem from the past concept of “foreignness.” The Thai still see both chopsticks and noodles as alien and continue using hands, their original culture. (Source)
Despite its unpopularity, the pair of chopsticks and noodles certainly left an impression. Both of them remain in Thailand to this day. And when one appears, the other does as well.
So, what do Thai people use to eat then?
If you asked this question 300 years ago, the answer would be a short and simple “hands.” Thai people picked their food up from dishes or bowls with their fingers. But that is in the past. Now, things are a little complicated.
The most common utensils you can see everywhere are forks and spoons. But depending on the food, knives can also appear occasionally, especially with western food. Hands are also still common when Thai traditional northeastern food is served.
Chopsticks remain as uncommon as in the days of history. But don’t be surprised if you see one. They are there for their partner.
Why Do Thai People Use Forks & Spoons More Than Chopsticks?
As you know by now, Thai people regularly use forks and spoons. This pair of utensils is the most common in the country. Way more popular than chopsticks.
Thai people use forks and spoons in everything, whether in Tom-Yum-Goong, Som-Tum, fried rice, and even some noodle dishes. They are the Thai household must-have.
Like chopsticks, forks and spoons are not of Thai origin. They came from the western world. The earliest record of forks and spoons in Thailand dates back around the end of King Rama III’s reign (1824-1851). (Source)
Now, that might raise a question. Why are forks and spoons more popular than chopsticks despite Thailand being closer to China than Europe?
The answer lies within the colonization period.
Even though Thailand has never been colonized, the country went through many changes back then. And how they eat was one of them.
To avoid being seen as barbarians eating with hands, the Thai quickly adopted the west’s fork and knife practice. But they didn’t do it 100%. Since most Thai food is already served at a biteable size, Thai people switched out knives for spoons — which work excellently with scooping up rice. (Source)
Chopsticks, on the other hand, spiraled down in popularity even further after China lost the opium war.
Check out Why Was Thailand Not Colonized? to learn how Thailand survived the colonial period and remained independent.
Why Do They Not Use Chopsticks in Thailand?
Despite being so close to “chopsticks countries” like China, Japan, and Korea, Thai people don’t really use chopsticks much.
The historical and political reasons might have explained a lot. But there is a more practical reason for that.
Thai rice doesn’t go well with chopsticks.
Thai people eat rice in almost every meal. And picking up rice with chopsticks can be difficult. The rice could fall if you hold it too loose or break when your grip is too tight.
With such inconvenience, chopsticks never really stick with the Thai. Forks and spoons — especially spoons — handle scooping up rice brilliantly. That is why Thai people became big fans of the pair.
Now. Before you ask, “but don’t Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans eat a lot of rice too,” here is an explanation:
There are two types of well-known rice: The Japonica and the Indica. (Source)
In northern China, Japan, and Korea, people grow Japonica rice. It has a short and round shape. It also turns moist and sticky when cooked, making it more suitable for chopsticks.
On the other hand, Thai people grow the long and thin Indica. This rice turns fluffy when cooked, separating each kernel from the other – making it less suitable for chopsticks. (Source)
Curious about the influence of China in Thailand? Check out this article: “Is Thailand in China?“
Why Don’t Thai People Use Chopsticks More Often?
As previously stated, Thai rice doesn’t go well with chopsticks. That is why you don’t see chopsticks as much as forks and spoons.
If you have been to a Thai restaurant before, you will notice that many dishes come with rice. And that is natural. To Thai people, rice is more than the equivalent of bread to westerners. It is the lifeblood of Thai cuisine.
For a foreigner like you, rice might come across as a side dish. For the Thais, rice is the “main part” of the meal. In Thai, rice is called “Khao.” Everything else edible on the table is called “Kub Khao,” which translates to “together with rice.”
Do you see the emphasis on the “Khao” or rice? Thai people see rice as the soloist and everything else as an accompaniment. Tom-Yum-Goong, Panaeng, or Thai omelet are just an orchestra to a piano concerto.
With such immense focus on the rice, it is no surprise that chopsticks don’t show up much. They just don’t fit.
As long as rice exists, forks and spoons will dominate Thai cuisine.
When Do Thai People Use Chopsticks?
When someone says chopsticks, Thai people will immediately think about noodles.
Even though chopsticks have never gained much popularity, they never disappear. And that is because noodles are still popular.
As mentioned, noodles most likely entered Thailand together with chopsticks. Although nobody liked the menu at first, it saw a boom during the prime ministership of Luang Phibunsongkhram (1938–1944 and 1948–1957) and remains a hit to this day. (Source, Source)
With the rise of noodles, chopsticks see their increased use as well. Since they make handling noodles easier (for the Thai at least), they became a staple instrument for eating anything long and thin.
However, Thai people only use chopsticks with “Asian noodles.” For “western noodles,” they still use western utensils. Like when eating pasta, they still use forks and spoons. (Imagine eating carbonara with chopsticks. Weird, right?)
So, what exactly do the Thai use chopsticks with?
“Thai boat noodle” (or “Kuaytiaw Reua” in Thai) is arguably the most sought-after dish that utilizes chopsticks. It might not be as popular among foreigners as pad thai, but it is a big hit for Thai people. There are many variations to the recipe, but they are all delicious.
Pad Thai and Pad See Ew are other well-known chopsticks menus. However, there is a catch.
Do Thai People Use Chopsticks for Pad Thai?
“Since Pad Thai has noodles, Thai people eat it with chopsticks, right?”
Well, yes… generally.
In Thailand, chopsticks are for noodles. However, that doesn’t mean noodles are restricted to only chopsticks. You can use forks as well.
If you go to a Pad Thai shop and order a dish, the shop will provide you with a pair of chopsticks and a spoon. When it comes to eating this menu, this utensil combination is the most optimized (for the Thais).
However, most shops are also aware that “not everyone is trained with chopsticks.” Kids, for example, can’t handle them. So, these shops provide forks as a substitute for chopsticks, and they work just fine.
These forks are not exclusively for the “chopsticks incapable” either. They are there for those who prefer forks too.
With the chill attitude of Thai people, there are no rules governing what tools to use when eating Pad Thai. Just use what is convenient to you. If you like chopsticks, use chopsticks. If you prefer forks, use forks. Both are acceptable.
Don’t sweat it if you want to try out Pad Thai but can’t use chopsticks. You can use whatever you want. Just don’t go for a double spoon.
Do You Eat Thai Curry With Chopsticks?
Now. When it comes to curry, throw your chopsticks out the window. Red. Green. Yellow. No matter what color the curry is, you use forks and spoons.
Curry is way too oily for chopsticks to deal with. The slippery meats and vegetables are more than ready to fall from the chopsticks and ruin your table and cloth. It is a big mess.
And not to mention that you eat curry together with rice most of the time. This makes using chopsticks even more of a pain than it seems. Oily Thai rice is basically the archenemy of all chopsticks.
The recommended tool to handle curry is, without a doubt, forks and spoons. However, if you are confident and feel like testing out your chopstick gripping prowess, feel free to do so. You might get a lot of looks, but no one will stop you. After all, Thailand is a relaxed and flexible country. You can do anything as long as it doesn’t disturb anyone.
Should You Ask for Chopsticks in a Thai Restaurant?
Depending on the dish you are eating, you can ask for chopsticks in Thai restaurants.
Most Thai restaurant staff are considerate. If they saw a foreigner like you ordering noodles, they might switch out chopsticks for forks. They would assume that you aren’t able to use chopsticks.
In this situation, you can tell the staff that you want chopsticks. They will understand and bring a pair to you.
But please do this only when you know how to use chopsticks. If you want to train yourself, please do it at home. You risk making a big mess of the restaurant table by training there. You could even break a glass or two.
However, if your dish is anything other than noodles, avoid asking for chopsticks.
Doing so will appear weird to the waiter. Since Thai people eat most food with forks and spoons, someone asking for chopsticks is extremely rare. You might even catch them by surprise.
Chopsticks and Thailand as a Whole
In short, chopsticks play only a tiny part in the Thai cuisine stage. They barely speak a line unless the scene is Asian noodles.
The colonization period had a massive impact on their unpopularity. Plus, the incompatibility with Thai rice doesn’t help.
All in all, you don’t need to learn the art of chopsticks to survive in Thailand. Even when eating noodles, you can always ask for forks and spoons. So, don’t let two pieces of wood stop you from traveling there.
And if you want to learn more about Thailand in general, stay with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this fascinating country.