You're Eating It Wrong: Thai Food

By Dan Entin  |  January 24, 2014

At this point, it’s almost a reflex: You sit down for dinner at any type of Asian restaurant and immediately grab those wooden chopsticks from their sleeve and split them apart with a crack. But if you are at a Thai restaurant, chef Andy Ricker (founder of the bi-coastal Pok Pok empire), has a message: “Chill with the chopsticks!”

But, why?  “In America, we have mistakenly decided that all Asian food is to be eaten with chopsticks,” Ricker says. Before the 19th century, Thais didn’t use utensils at all - they used sticky rice as a tool to scoop up the food. (In some regions, this is still common.) Once Western utensils were adopted, forks and spoons were better suited to saucy, soupy and brothy Thai dishes. (Meat and vegetables are usually cut into small pieces, so there’s no need for sharp knives at the table.)

The Solution: Don’t stress about your awkward chopstick skills and eat your curries, stir fries and claypot stews with a fork (for moving the food around) and a spoon (for delivering all that saucy deliciousness to your mouth). “It’s a very effective way to eat a cuisine that is rice-based,” says Ricker. After all, one of the joys of Thai food is in the complex and fragrant sauces and broths, and you don’t want to leave any of that elixir on the plate. “The food actually tastes better when you eat it the Thai way.”

But Don’t Feel Bad: Chopsticks are still used for noodle dishes like pad thai, as Ricker says, “chopsticks are a Chinese-born implement for a Chinese-born foodstuff,” adding. “We are happy to supply diners with chopsticks if they want them.”