My apologies to Kevin for using his post here. It’s just too damn interesting to let slip by for a chowhound like me. I intend to use this post as the start of a series on the history of the spoon and fork in Thailand.
Kevin’s original post is reproduced below:
Thailand and the fork
I normally think of the fork as a Western implement, but after complaining about the lack of chopsticks at a Thai resto I visited a few days back, commenters have been writing in to say that both Thai restaurants and Thais in Thailand use forks when eating. My brain refuses to accept this, so I pass the question to those two unquestionable authorities, Justin and Nam.
What say you, J&N? Are Thais a fork people? And if they are, how the hell did they get that way? Is Theravada Buddhism somehow to blame?
First of all, I’m sorry this response is late but I wanted to ask around about the history of eating utensils in Thailand, and then when I went home yesterday, my net connection was down.
> Are Thais a fork people?
Thais are primarily a spoon people. The spoon is held in the strong hand and the weak hand holds the fork, which plays only a supporting role by scooping food onto the spoon . In fact, it’s used in such a way that it could easily be replaced by another spoon. Of course, that would look even more ridiculous than the current arrangement, which may explain the use of a fork at all. Logically, the next question should be, “why not use knives?” I have interviewed around twenty people since yesterday, and have heard three reasons for this:
A. Historical explanation: The knife is a weapon, so it was banished at the table. The seeming banishment is no joke, I think my house may be the only one in a fifty mile radius that has a full set of both steak and butter knives.
B. Practical explanation #1: Thai food is served in bite-sized pieces and there’s no reason to cut it before eating. I kind of have to call bullshit on this one, I think it’s true for the most part, however, I often see people biting a large piece of seafood, sausage, or meat in half because it is too large, or sawing it into smaller pieces with their spoon. Also, there are many Thai dishes that are not served in bite-sized pieces (which might be easier eaten with another utensil or combination of utensils), such as whole steamed/deep fried fish, long-stemmed vegetables, and other various foods that need to be divided before eating.
C. Practical explanation #2: It’s the easiest combination of utensils/methods to eat with (once you are used to it). This explanation rings true to me. Basically, you will be hard pressed to get people here to do anything that requires extra effort without a serious motivator. I’m not saying that in a negative way, I’m just saying that’s the way it is. If you think about it, the only thing easier than eating with a spoon/fork (again, if you are used to it) is eating with your hands, and that’s exactly why many people here in the Northeastern region of Thailand completely forego the use of utensils when eating certain foods such as grilled meat, sticky rice, and even somtam (papaya salad). I, myself, love eating with my fingers (that’s one of the main reasons I like eating sushi when in Japan – it’s one of the only foods that appeals to all of your senses). But I digress.
It is my opinion that most Thai people, even those who use them every day, cannot use a knife properly (safely), and definitely not at the table. Fork usage isn’t that hard so I imagine most can use one (in a primary role) if they ever eat pasta or steak, or at a westernized restaurant that sets the table with knife/fork/no spoon (they do exist, even out here in the sticks). Chopsticks are used in a primary role at noodle (as in, noodles served in soup) joints and in Chinese/Japanese/Korean restaurants. I’ve met one Thai this week who cannot use chopsticks, and one who prefers not to, even when eating a bowl of noodles (ironically, they both eat wet noodles with a FORK! Heinous! That’s just being a bad Asian, IMHO.)
> Is Theravada Buddhism somehow to blame?
At this point, I would say no. Although I’m suspicious about those fucking Templars. Seriously, though, I think this has more to do with the influence of the King a century ago (Thailand’s most revered, King Rama V) than it does with religion. But I need to research this more.
>…how the hell did they get that way?
Researching the history of utensil usage in Thai on the Internet has been a bit frustrating. I will dig deeper when I have time. What I’m looking for is evidence supporting any of the theories on the net, and indeed, any of the information I’ve written above.
Also, I like Dr. Hodges’ explanation above more than any other I’ve seen thus far.
Yes, I aspire to be a utensil nerd.
To be continued, hopefully.