Sharing is Caring: Eating with Thais
Eating with groups of people in Thailand usually comes in three forms:
1) At a sit-down restaurant, everyone will order his/her own dish. Sometimes there might also be a few dishes ordered to sit in the middle of the table for everyone to share.
2) Usually at home or in casual restaurants, food is served “family style” with all the dishes in the middle.
3) Everyone grabs food from street merchants and chows down while on the go. This is usually for snacks, not full meals.
In restaurants, rather than serving everyone at once, the food will come out of the kitchen as it is prepared. This means that everyone gets their dish at different times (Read: awkwardness if you’re the last one to get your food). A major difference from America, is that, going along with the “get it while it’s hot” principle, Thais don’t wait to eat until everyone has their meal.
Once you get over the timing thing, you should also be aware that your plate isn’t really yours. Thais usually stick to their own dish, but often let their spoon-and-fork-combo (no knives) wander over to other plates to taste what their friends ordered. They don’t ask permission, and it’s totally cool to do the same.
This is especially popular when my coworkers and I go out for som tam (papaya salad) and soup. We usually only have one bowl-ish plate, and no ladle, so we just pick out what we want to eat from the soup (mushrooms, tomatillos, pumpkin, etc.) and set it on our plates to cool.