Thais love to talk about their cuisine, but ask them to describe the essance of Thai food, and they are not likely to have a quick answer. They can be at a similar loss for words when attempting to describe their culture in general. In fact Thais dont really have a word that corresponds to the English term 'culture'. The nearest equivalent, watanatham, emphasises fine arts and religious ceremonies over other aspects usually covered by the western conception of culture.
But ask what it means to be Thai and the response is invariably two fold: to speak Thai, and to to eat Thai food. Appreciation for Thai food is so central to Thai cultural identity that many Thais naively assume that non-Thais are physically or mentally unable to partake of the cuisine. Long-time foreign visitors or residents wont be asked simply whether like to eat Thai food. Rather they will be asked 'kin aahaan thai pen mai?' (do you know how to eat Thai food?). It is almost assumed that to enjoy Thai cooking you must either be born Thai or trained in the difficult art of feeling exhilarated over a plate of well prepared phat thai (stirfried noodles).
Food lies very close to the heart of khwaam pen thai (Thai-ness), so much so that to truly appreciate what it means being Thai you must understand and appreciate the Thai food. If you become comfortable with both, perhaps you will then become kin jai (eat heart), that is, truly impressed and absorbed in Thai food culture. Finally you may come to understand what Thais mean when they say they are im jai (full heart), an expression that fuses culinary satisfaction with general contentment.
My objective with this site is to bring thai culture to the world.