Word of Mouth

Eat like the Thai: family-style...and with a fork

Without exception, during every visit I made to Thai Flavor for this week's review -- and during the lunch I ate at US Thai Cafe for this week's Second Helping -- I overheard at least one table ask for chopsticks. I'd venture a guess that those diners thought they were being respectful, eating Thai food the way the Thai people do.

Each time, the staff at both restaurants obliged without comment. And each time, I had to fight the nerdish impulse to tell those well-meaning eaters that they were wrong.

Fact is -- and I learned this the hard way -- if you're asking for chopsticks for your pad Thai because you're trying to be culturally adept, you should know that in Thailand, people eat with a fork. A spoon, too, which is generally set beside the fork to slurp up the sauces that coat many dishes. Although chopsticks definitely migrated to that part of the Indochinese peninsula, Thai diners don't use them unless, maybe, they're downing a bowl of noodle soup.

What's more, there are rarely single entrees or staged courses in Thailand. Rather, dishes are brought to the table as they're ready and shared by everyone. Which is why many Thai restaurants here in the States, Thai Flavor included, don't always bring everyone's order at the same time. And while an eatery might offer a list of starters or appetizers, it's doing that solely for the Western patron.

Kind of like keeping chopsticks on hand. Solely for the Western patron.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk