Eating Lunch in a Thai School

Later this week I am planning on showing you the “Top 10 Thai School Lunches”. In any other blog, this probably wouldn’t be of interest. But, this is Thailand and Thai food is really delicious. What is going to be fascinating to see is what food the students enjoy eating the most at school. Will it be one of the Thai dishes or one that is Western influenced like Macaroni? You will have to wait and find out.

Today I want to talk a little about the steps students go through to eat at school. As you can see in the top picture, the students are all lined up to receive a bowl of rice soup from one of the serving ladies. What makes this a little different to Western countries is that the students will “wai’ and say thank you before they take the bowl of food. This is ingrained into the students. They must always “wai” first before receiving anything.

Other schools, particularly the secondary schools, are a little different to us. They might have lots of little stalls in the canteen and the students can choose what they want to eat every day. At my school, the menu is set and there is a four week rotation. In total we have 20 meals which I will tell you more about later. So, the students all eat the same. No-one brings food in from home. By far the majority are Buddhists and maybe only a handful are Muslims.

On most days, there will be a tray of condiments which the students will use to make their meal more tastier. In some ways you have to be a bit of a scientist to get the proportions right of sweet, sour and spicy. But the students know what they are doing and some like adding chili until the soup runs red. Actually, this is one of the good things about eating noodle soups in Thailand. What the vendor will give you is bland and not spicy at all. It is then up to you to add the different sauces to your own satisfaction. I will go into more detail another day.

Back in the classroom, the students wait for their friends to sit down. We now have too many students and it is easier for everyone to eat their lunch in the classroom. Once everyone is sitting down, the students will then say a kind of grace. This is not really religious but more ethical. It is reminding them that they should eat properly and that they should be grateful to the people who provided them with the food. The following translation of the grace was done by Gor when he was my Primary 6 student a number of years ago.

“During the time that we eat lunch, don’t speak or say things that aren’t good. Don’t make a noise. Take enough food for only one mouthful. Chew the food into little pieces so that you can digest the food properly. Before you get up from your seat, clean up your desk. Put the plate or a bowl orderly into the enameled basin. You mustn’t waste any food. You must eat it all. There are many starving children in the world. Pity all of the children that don’t have anything to eat. All of the food has a worth. When you eat food you must have good manners. Don’t chew the food loudly. Don’t talk when you are eating and don’t say something that is bad. Don’t laugh when you are eating. Thank you to our teachers that take care of us and all of the cooks that make us the food we eat. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

After that they then start eating. Everything is done very orderly and the students eat quietly. When they have finished, they put any waste food in a plastic bucket and their plates in an enamel bowl. Students who are on duty for that day will clean the classroom and then take the dirty plates and waste food down to the kitchen. Waste food is later fed to the stray dogs. The plates are washed by the kitchen staff. However, the spoons and forks (they don’t use knives or chopsticks) are washed by the students on duty. After they have finished eating, many of the students then go to brush their teeth.

15 responses to “Eating Lunch in a Thai School

  1. Looks like that one lucky kid is getting a big helping of gueay dtiao! Oh man, I wish my school served up that kind of chow. I woulda definitely said a little ‘thanks for the food’ prayer before every meal. Growing up in the US, all I got was greasy burritos, pizzas, and french fries.

  2. Do the kids have only mineral water?

  3. Richard -you mentioned Gor -how is he since he ceased being a monk?

  4. It is touching to see students appreciate works done by elders, like teachers and the food vendors. A simple gesture of Wai is good way to show appreciation, now lacking in the kids in Malaysia. Thanks Rechard.

  5. Khun Don – seems that Gor has fled the scene again and left Richard here with a mountain of work. But geez..did Gor manage a translation like that when he was in just grade 6?! Richard has to be a darned fine teacher, most of my students have problems with a sentence like ‘I like pizza’.

    Gotta give to Richard, he can write a blog about anything.

    That trans piece by Gor seems like a simplified version of a Buddhist text that is read by monks etc.. after they have taken their meals.

  6. Back in the days at my school, KG-2nd grade were provided with lunch. We emptied the bowls into the trash can, and deposit bowls in another bin. Staff will take care of the rest.

    3rd grade and up, you either bring your lunch, you buy from either the main lunch cafeteria or the snack food counters in the quad. You get rice items in the cafeteria, but if you’re 5th grade and up, you have to clean your plate and utensils.

    The snack counters will have sandwichs, shumai and bao, and noodles in addition to ice cream, and other snacky items. You don’t have to do dishes if you eat in the quad.

    They said that Mater Dei was the only school still have their girls do dishes to keep the prissy girls grounded. I’m not sure if that’s accurate about being the only school to do that, but keeping us grounded part is true.

  7. Steve -Thanks for the info on Gor – sad to hear that he is still obviously troubled -perhaps he is one of those very bright people that have to pay for their intelligence emotionally. Certainly Richard has done a great job with Gor’s English -it is a lot better than a lot of the so called native speakers.

  8. I had lunch with the students at the very school that Richard is writing about. Actually, at the time when I was there, it was kind of informal; students didn’t have to take their bowls back to the classroom, everyone just seemed to eat wherever they pleased. Food was distributed in the hallway; many teachers and students just sat on the nearby chairs and had lunch right there.

    Wait, I also remember, on the upper floors, there were other large food containers set up, and students just took their food straight to the classroom from there. I also remember that there were at least two kinds of food every day – if you didn’t like sight of the food in one place, you just needed to go to a different part of the building complex and get your food there. 🙂

    Certainly Richard has done a great job with Gor’s English -it is a lot better than a lot of the so called native speakers.

    Khun Don, if I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that this is an outstanding compliment. But having to suffer through piles of papers handed in by my American undergrad students, I’m sad to say that having a command of English better than that of some native speakers is quite easy for foreigners nowadays.

    I also recall some posts from our Thailandlife forums, supposedly made by native British speakers, proclaiming their English ‘expertese’ – in a Prathom 6 -style grammar. (sigh)

    Anyway, I agree that Gor’s English is really good; both his writing and his speech skills are excellent.

  9. Quoted from KhunChin :
    A simple gesture of Wai is good way to show appreciation, now lacking in the kids in Malaysia.

    Would you be surprised to hear that recently a Form 6 girl student in Ipoh used the word “cibai”
    a dozen times or so to condemn her school in her blog. The original blog has been deleted though — but there is a copy in many students’ harddisks. In a single shot , she has managed to disgrace 3 top schools in Ipoh that were run by the Catholic Brothers and Sisters in the older days.

    For readers outside Malaysia , Singapore and Indonesia , you will just have to figure out what “cibai” mean in your own ways. It is a word that I wouldn’t like to hear/say or see it in print!

  10. Do the kids have only mineral water?

    The students can bring in water from home, but most drink the filtered water which can be found on most floors and in the playground. They can of course also buy bottled water.

    You mentioned Gor -how is he since he ceased being a monk?

    He did surprise everyone by wanting to go back to the temple on Sunday evenings to join in with the chanting. And also to visit his grandmother. He also gives some of the money he makes every week to his parents. So, he does have a good side to his nature. But, he is in with a bad crowd at the moment and everyone is worried his life story might just go full circle again. The Bangkok Post have been in discussion with him about continuing his Gor’s World column in September. At the moment I am not sure if he will.

  11. SiamJai -Intersting to learn that American youth has the same falling standard of English as their counterparts in the UK. I have always imagined the problem to be purely a British one. I have not seen any reference made to the USA when the the subject of falling English standards is debated in the Press or elsewhere here. Some here surmise the language will be reduced to that used in text messages within a generation, as teaching and comprehension is currently so poor.

  12. I remember when I was a student there, Rice soup with chicken is my fave. Talking about it make me hungry. I and my friends really didn’t like to say that kind of grace. You know it was luchtime we were all starving and our dishes were right beside us. We wanted to eat. LOL!! But anyway it has been almost 2 yrs,and I still can say it.

  13. I like the “wai” very much even a simple “wai” can make one feels good and welcome. Hope the “wai” culture in school will never diminish or dissapear from Thai school.

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