Gin Kow – Learning Thai Culture Through Food

By | May 16, 2013

by Deborah
(Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Gai Pad Met Mamuang Himapan

Gai Pad Met Mamuang Himapan

One of the most appealing aspects of traveling in Thailand for some tourists is simply the food. Not only is Thai food a favorite cuisine found all over the globe, it is one that provides a healthy alternative to the typical western diet.

Being rich in fresh vegetables and herbs, Thai food has been associated with many health benefits in addition to a unique Asian taste.

Eating in Thailand, particularly when dining with Thai’s, is also another experience in which travelers are exposed to some of the differences between the cultures .Foreigners are often a bit startled when eating for the first time, as a group, in the Kingdom where people typically do not view plates attached to individual ownership.

While it might be considered rude in the West to dig in, unannounced, to the plate of food sitting in front of the person beside you, it is expected to do so in Thailand when friends join together, no matter if you were introduced ten years ago or ten seconds earlier.

Although food is such an integral part of Thai culture, the majority of Thai’s do not appear as if they have ever even considered the thought ofdieting. Thai street food vendors can be found throughout the Land of Smiles on almost any city street selling everything from little crunchy snacks, to noodle soup and curries loaded with spices from dusk until dawn.

If you spend any extended amount of time in Thailand, particularly with other Thai’s you may get the feeling that the country is totally obsessed with food.

Chances are if you live with a Thai family and no one is eating at any particular moment, someone will be, either cooking, preparing to go to the market, talking about food or watching footage of someone else eating on TV.

Arguably, the best impression you could ever make amongst new friends or a host is to share a meal Thai style. If you have access to cooking facilities and can share some of your own country’s secrets even better. Do not be shocked however if you find yourself being taught how to stir a dish.

Thai’s so rarely see foreigners cooking or doing anything at all that is even minutely laborious. Creating a meal is a great way for you to entertain your hosts and at the same time, something that will be appreciated long after the last bite.

While, most Thai’s are incredibly thin, some are a bit plump. Thais love to joke with each other and think nothing of making comments to friends about weight gain. You will never hear a group of Thai’s discussing  what are the best weight loss programs, as you might in America.

You will however, at some point, probably hear a friend tell another they have become fat ,with no attempt to be discreet, followed by an outburst of group laughter.

The act of sharing the meal together often plays as big a role, if not holding greater significance, than the act of physically eating in itself. Quite possibly the most common question posed in Thailand, is the phrase, “Gin Kow Rue Yong?” Literally, this daily inquiry between friends and strangers alike, translates to “did you eat rice yet?”.

Although it has become a casual greeting, and is similar to westerners saying to each other, “How are you?” without expecting a direct answer, older Thai’s claim this saying originated long ago, on the migration trail to Siam.

It has been said that after a great famine in China, when many Thai’s fled the region, anytime people met each other in this new land, this was the first question posed, with deep rooted memories of another time, when so many faced starvation.

Whether meeting for business or just hanging out socially with friends you will be hard pressed to find any gathering of two or more Thais that does not include some sort of meal.

While many living in faster paced western societies eat on the run and barely have time to sit down, most tourists find this facet of Thai culture and the delicacies enjoyed one of the highlights of their trip.

While Thai’s may have different dining habits and attitudes towards food than the western tourists who visit the country, one thing remains constant. People all over the planet continue to rave about Thai food.

Rarely do people return home from indulging on a holiday having actually shed a few pounds. On the contrary, many people head straight to the gym, after a vacation filled with dining out and eating to one’s hearts desire.

When you consider the different elements of the traditional diet including portion size, it is no surprise that more than a few hefty travelers exit the plane with a looser belt buckle than when they first arrived in the Kingdom.

Nonetheless, the lasting impressions may be remembered in the plethora of stories that accompany all of the calories lost.

About the Author:
Deborah is an American writer who lives in Chiang Mai. Being fascinated by Thai food, she enjoys writing for various websites about Thai culture. Her article topics range from weight loss programs and retreats in Thailand to how to find coupons for eDiets in the US.