10 Thai Food Myths That Any Thai will Laugh Out!

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I have mentioned at the end of this post that Thai people take ultimate pride on their cuisine. I do, too. Once something becomes popular, it is common to expect the copycat versions. People develop the stereotypes of how Thai food would look like. They are not wrong. Thai people also shock the natives of other international cuisines. Thai people revere western junk food, pizza and KFC chicken for example, to be eaten with fork and knife, and saluted with soaking tomato ketchup. Sushi is not even dipped, but dunked, in shoyu sauce with the side of the rice base.

Thai food in foreign lands never tastes the same as the original ones we have in Thailand. I bet Japanese, Korean, Mexican, German, whatever nationals also reply the same that their food never tastes the same as the original when they are in Thailand. Fine. One point for you and one point for me. I adapt my list of 5 food myths from this Thai blogger’s post and this CNN Food’s post about the biggest misconceptions about Thai food. Let’s score your guessing skills!

1) Just add chili and coconut milk. Tadaaaaa – Thai food is ready to be served.

My friends and I were in Singapore in our college’s junior year. On our last day in this 719.1sq.km. island, we wanted to splurge on our homeland’s food at Clark Quay. Thai food in splendid places and Thai food in ordinary food courts are not distinctively different in Singapore. We summarized that the formula of making Thai food in Singapore is as below:

X (Chinese-looking food) + Y (Chili peppers)± Handful of sugar = Z (Thai)

I want to make thing clear here.

The majority of Thai people surely are fond of anything spiced up. You can’t miss the minority. I almost fall into the minority category who has a bit of intolerance of damn-handful-of-chilis. Yet, I am the toughest person in my family who can eat spicy food. It’s a practice to level up my tolerance in order to fit in most socialising. Thailand is generous enough for people with weaker tastebuds to have some room for comfort or milder-tasting dishes.

Similar case happened with our southern neighbour, Malaysia.

Malay and Thai cuisines share very much in common. One of the ingredients we mutually share is coconut milk. I had weird Tom Yam Goong  Nam Khon (Creamy Spicy Prawn Soup) in Malaysia. Generally, Tom Yam Goong clearly has two versions: water-based and creamy style. Evaporated milk or normal cow milk is added to create the more creamy texture. It seems Malaysian mistake that adding dairy ingredient doesn’t sound close to anything Thai. Coconut milk is added instead to be aligned with their assumption.

2) Add coriander in and now your Thai food is done, too.

Thai coriander (ผักชี: Pak Chi) has been a BIG craze in Japan. Generally, Thai use Pak Chi leaves to top many of dishes such as common fried rice, fried noodle, noodle soup, etc. The root of Pak Chai is ground to make some curry paste or to flavour the mellow taste in the broth for noodle soups. My Indonesian friends are not familiar with Pak Chi and picked Pak Chi out because the odour is too stingy.

In Japan, Pak Chi becomes the iconic flavour of Thailand, just like the world takes Matcha and Wasabi as the national flavours of Japan. It was a humorous surprise once Thai people knew the news about the Pak Chi trend in Japan. Pak Chi is taken seriously as a main ingredient in the food in Japan, whilst in Thailand, Pak Chi can be omitted as it’s merely seasoning leaves.

3) Any food will convert its nationality to be Thai once fish sauce is added in.

If I could recommend you one of the best online Thai food channels for everyone, that channel would be FoodTravel.tv (English version here). Almost every main dish, as you can see from their videos, contains fish sauce to season the salty taste. I was made fun of when I baked bakery by being asked if I had put some fish sauce in brownies or cheesecakes….

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Light soy sauce is added in food with the origin from China such as fried noodles, fried rice, veggie soup.

4) Tom Yam Goong, Pad Thai, Green Curry, Spring Roll are every Thai’s staple dishes.

Wrong. Don’t get deluded with the Thai food’s international representatives. The most mainstream form of Tom Yam Goong is an instant noodle/ramen that can be sold in 7 baht (0.2$). To have a decent bowl of the prawn soup, you might have to sit in a phony restaurant. Green curry is often made as a curry base for Khanom Jeen (soft and thin noodles made from fermented rice.) as a cheap junk food source full of low-grade coconut fat. People are not crazy with Pad Thai or even order it as a quick grub for lunch. Spring Roll is not authentically Thai but even the Chinese put these spring rolls in Chinese restaurants with the keyword “Thai” in the menu.

The true national dish for Thai is Pad Krapao (Holy Basil with Stir-fried Pork/Chicken). Pad Krapao is a what we call “Menu Sin Kid” (Food Without Thinking) – a default dish. As the name is suggested, Pad Krapao has been the main criterion to judge if the cook is genuinely good. Failing at making a delicious Pad Krapao is equal to failing at making a simple peanut butter toast.

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5) Thai food is healthy.

All right, a wise man should not need to suspect the richness of nutrition from cheap street stall food. The local family-style dining, which food is shared in circle, is not aligned with the fast-paced modern lifestyle. Office people, me too, resort to quick greasy sweety salty food like Khao Niao Moo Ping (Sticky Rice with Grilled Pork), Khao Man Gai (Rice with Oily Chicken), Khao Kha Moo (Stewed Pork on Rice), etc. MEATY AND CARBY FOOD.

A typical Thai food for health that even I have to eat regularly for dinner when I am on a diet is Nam Prik and Pak Tom (Chilli Paste and Boiled/Fresh Vegetable). However, this food is not mainstream to the international eaters.

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6) Thai people eat cockroaches and worms.

This man’s statement is laughable.

“It was quite strange to see that the locals didn’t mix with the tourists. … What’s more – the famous insects are never eaten by the locals! I didn’t notice those fried worms anywhere else apart from the main tourist areas – in Khao San Road, they were sold to tourists only!”

Just because foreign media display the weird food, does it mean everyone here usually eats them? Ask a few Filipinos if they eat Balut daily, or ask some Chinese if they eat dog meat, or ask Japanese if they consume whale meat. The answers could fall into the same pattern: majority don’t but some people do.

Also, the cockroach-looking bug is NOT cockroach. The bug is water bug in a family BelostomatidaeThese bugs can be found in natural water resources in rice field. They are clean by nature, even cleaner once the bug farming becomes more industrialised. These bugs are grilled until fragrant, pound or smashed into paste, and made to combine with chili paste – and tadaaaa – they become “Nam Prik Mangdaa”. However, don’t ask me how the bug itself and the Nam Prik taste like. I have never tried it. The idea of eating a bug hunted from the earthy place is weird to me.

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The worm-looking thing is, yes, worm. These worms are Bamboo Worms. Some people claim that the fresh exoticness of uncooked Bamboo Worms tastes like Camembert cheese, whilst deep-fried Bamboo worms taste rich like cashew nut.

Don’t ask me I have never tried this earthy delicacy though…
If you wanna know more, you can ask Mark Wein for the introduction to Thailand’s insects, worms, and bugs. Mark Wein is the second Bear Grylls alive on this planet earth.

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7) Dog meat is a part of Thai cookery.

I start to be confused whether the notion of “Asian eat dog” is really just a racist joke or real dumbness of whoever says this sentence. In Isaan, the Northeast of Thailand, might still be having some people consume meat of black dog. It’s claimed that Golden Retriever meat does not make a pleasurable taste. What about Corgi, Chihuahua, Siberian Husky? I don’t think these foreign dog breeds are the choice for eating. I start to be confused again whether the telltales about some Isaan people eating dogs that I heard in my childhood is really true…

I am not sure if the notion of “Isaan people eat dog” is really just a racist joke that central Thai people make fun of people from the Northeast or real dumbness of whoever says this sentence.

8) Thai food is eaten with bare hands.

Nope. The first time I ate Thai food-looks-alike food with my bare hands was in Indonesia.  In Thailand, bare hands are most enjoyed when eating with sticky rice because of the sticky gummy texture of the rice. Jasmine rice or normal non-sticky rice is eaten properly with fork and spoon.

Part of this belief could be from the illusion that people from the First World countries think Thailand is a kingdom of jungle where people do not wear shoes and ride elephant to get fish in the muddy river.

9) You can eat the whole amount of a Thai dish.

Western people who are not well-cultured to Asian culinary setting are more likely to order one big bowl of a curry and finish the whole bowl alone. That’s sad to hear for us Asian that someone has to finish the whole heavy food alone without sharing.

Daniel, a fellow backpacker from Germany, instantly had a puzzling look when his friend Phil, a German trainee residing in Bangkok, and I were scooping out the food which he ordered. He suddenly snapped “It’s my food!”. Phil chuckled and explained simply, “Daniel, you are in Thailand and eating Thai fooddddd. Food is going to be shared.”

The made-to-order dish or quick one-plate dish (Aahaan Jarn Diao) is not supposed to be shared. A meal that comprises plain rice, a bowl of soup, a plate of fried stuff, dipping sauce, a plate of some other food, should be taken pleasure in group.

10) Thailand is not a nation of noodle soup, Vietnam is.

Not true. The iconic Pho noodle soup of Vietnam is ordinary to me due to the close similarity with our “Guay Tiao Sen Lek” (Thin Rice Noodle Soup). I rolled my eyes when Vietnamese recommended me Pho when I was in Vietnam. Nothing wrong with recommending their true default dish (like our Pad Krapao). What disturbs me is Vietnamese themselves act like they are condescending to educate us about the world of noodle as if Thailand does not have noodle type of food. When Vietnamese or foreigners suggest me try Pho, I feel like someone is telling me to get an unexciting noodle soup in the nearby neighbourhood within 10 metres walking distance just because we have no idea what we want to eat.

I am not looking down on Vietnamese cuisine. I enjoy Vietnamese food the most in Southeast Asia. I am pointing out that the difference between Sen Lek noodle and Pho is not obvious. It is like asking a Malay visiting Indonesia to try Indonesian satay, and asking an Indonesian visiting Malaysia to try Malay satay.

From this website alone, A Guide to Thailand’s Noodle Soups, I can count that the mainstream types of noodle in Thailand are around 23. The number of noodle dishes in the reality will be more than 40.

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One thought on “10 Thai Food Myths That Any Thai will Laugh Out!

  1. Knife???? – Not in Thailand, not even when you order a steak in a steak restaurant. In Thailand they give you a spoon to cut your food.

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