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.