Traditional Dinner Buffet Of Northern Thailand Cultural Studies Essay

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Khantoke Dinner is one of traditional hospitality and gastronomy arts from northern Thailand. With a beautiful culture and a perfect mixture between food and entertainment of this particular dinner buffet, it becomes a well-known welcome tradition and also attracts many tourists to have a wonderful unique food experience. This essay will attempt to present a critical analysis of alternative hospitality paradigms and their impact on future construct development and practical implications.

Furthermore, this essay will point out how the originally traditional eating of indigenous inhabitant to commercial selling point of tourism. It will begin by the general knowledge of Khantoke. Then it will explain types and characteristics of this buffet. Next this essay describes the culture of eating Khantoke dinner. After that this essay explores the common food served. Finally it will look into interdisciplinary activities for customer entertainment.

For the purpose of this essay it is necessary to define certain key concepts. Lynch and Morrison (2007) define gastronomy, means "the art, science of goods eating", "the enjoyment of food and beverage", "the enjoyment of good food, and good beverages, in good company". The concept of hospitality will be taken to mean a contemporaneous human exchange, which is voluntarily entered into, and designed to enhance the mutual well-being of the parties concerned through the provision of accommodation, and/or food and/or drink. Khantoke is defined by Frommers' Southeast Asia (2009) as: "the custom of sharing a variety of main courses (eaten with the hands) with guests seated around a khantoke (a low, lacquered table)".

The relationship of gastronomy and hospitality is a significant issue to approach tourists and boosting local economy. Due to the fact that hospitality was offered in a private or social context, different standard apply and both host and guest have different expectations. While gastronomy is a socio-cultural practice which reflective as eating and cooking (Lynch & Morrison, 2007). Moreover, the growth of the nation-state has also been paralleled by the development of different national cuisine. Their influence has to some extend reflected the power of nation cultures. Therefore it is not surprising that food becomes an important place marker in tourism promotion. The foundation of basic reasons for this is the strong relationship between certain localities and certain types of food. This can be shown in form of natural relationships; a region land, climatic conditions and the character of it produces. It is this geographical diversity which provide for the regional distinctiveness in culinary traditions and evolution of characteristics heritage (Hjalager & Richards, 2002). A variety of methods in gastronomic experiences are also created, developed and marketed in tourists. In order to the selling point of northern Thailand is tradition and culture, many tourists prefer to have a wonderful food experience named "Khantoke".

Hall, Sharples , Mitchell, Macionis and Combourne (2003) identified the phase of the food tourism experience concept is considered following a detailed typology of the behaviour of carious food tourism segments. Khantoke should be categorised in vacation experiences at the destination. The reason for this is gastronomes and indigenous foodies involve personal indulgence exploration in cultural and traditional experiences. In addition, tourist foodies and familiar foods are related with socialising. In a part of typology of responding restaurants, Khantoke were classified as banquet service. Alternatively, to identify the critical analysis why this northern dine is one of attractions in tourism and what authentic value of Khantoke is, it can explains based on theories of A Question of Identity: we are what we eat? in a book of Tourism and Gastronomy (2002) as following:

Cultural Motivators and Selling Destinations

In general gastronomy shows specific countries and regions. Food is also a significant element of the culture of any society. Authentic local and regional foods can become a motive for visiting and a particular destination. Moreover, to increase in interest in the sociology of culture is rising levels of interests in food and eating. Therefore cultural motivators can be a part of society to encourage the development of gastronomy and tourism. Similar to this, cultural motivators attract tourists to learning about, and experiencing, the culture of different societies. This means that it would be better than through food.

Khantoke is a part of cultural motivators and selling destination in tourism. Due to the fact that it is a particular dine which is reflective of Northern Thailand culture. In this point will illustrates the beauty of Khantoke culture which follow, the history, types and characteristics of Khantoke as well as how to eat Khantoke.

Long History of Khantoke

Khantoke is a traditional northern Thai dinner gathering. The meaning of Khantoke originates from the small round table made of lacquered wood or bamboo that is on these occasions. Khantoke was discovered in the ancient Thai Lanna Kingdom which was existed during the 18th - 20th B.E. Centuries in the area of present Northern Thailand. Thai Lanna Kingdom has it own civilized tradition and culture which was influenced from the area ethnic hilltribes are Akha, Hmong, Yao, Lisu and Lahu. These aboriginal groups have migrated, splintered and influenced each other for centuries along the northern border of present Thailand, Burma amd Southern China (Sakayaphan S. & Wichitsin Y., 1995).

Later, King Mengrai or a king of the initial dynasty established the capital city of Lanna Kingdom. And also he accomplished and contributed to the prosperity of the kingdom in several aspects such as political science, Buddhist religion, art, culture including Khantoke tradition. In that time Khantoke was only a small round table serving which there were many traditional foods in small sides and sticky rice on the top. The purpose of this is to make the convenience for serving and keeping food by a dish cover. Lanna often had Kantoke with their family at home. And also the material of Khantoke illustrated the wealthy of families. For example: wealthy Lanna lords often use silver Khantoke while normal people use bamboo Khantoke.

In 1953 traditional Khantoke became "Khantoke dinner" or "Khantoke inter" with a social gathering by Arjarn Kraisee Nimmanahaeminda. Khantoke Dinner was held a grand party for Ajarn Sanya Dhamsakdi in honor of the Chief Justice of Region 5, Thailand and to welcome Mr. John Widney who was the United State consulate minister. That dinner party was set in an atmosphere of northern Thailand culture with splendidly ethnic dances, costumes and music as a part of the entertainment. After that the Khantoke dinner has been established for 47 years in Chiangmai as a part of northern gastronomy culture. Moreover, nowadays Khantoke implies dinner or lunch which is offered by a host to guests at various Buddhist ceremonies, grand sermons festivals and parties such as weddings, celebrations, homewarmings, life extensions, novice ordination, funeral, Loy Krathong, and Thai New Year (Songgran).

Types and Characteristics of Khantoke

The general characteristics of Khantoke can describe on implements required for eating are trays, spatulas, big spoons and food containers. The materials for making those of food tray and container products usually made from wood, bamboo, rattan and coconut shell. However, coconut shells can be modified to be spatulas and big spoons, while bamboo is typically made to be dishes, bowls and trays.

Furthermore dimensions of the pedestal tray are also representative of the culture based on gastronomy distinctiveness. Based on Old Chiang Mai Cutural Centre (2010), Khantoke refers to a low round table with several legs connected to the top tray with a round base. Types of Khantoke are divided into two features. Firstly the Yuan Khantoke is made from a piece of teakwood and is extensively popular among North of Thailand. Nowadays lathing and carving techniques are employed to long work extension and save a beauty of teakwood. Hence after lathing, carving and polishing, coating with natural polymers was then applied. Secondly the Laos Khantoke which made of bamboo strips interwoven with rattan and commonly used in Northeast Thailand, some hill tribes, Lao and Sipsongpunna in south of China.

Nevertheless to referring the dimensions of Khantoke tables, there are three different types:

Khantoke Luang, a grand or biggest size with a diameter of 25-50 inches wide. The trays have been used in northern palaces and temples.

Khantoke Haam, a medium size with a diameter of 17-24 inches wide. It has been used in the residences of middle-class persons, temple abbots or high-ranking monks.

Khantoke Noy, a small size with a diameter of 10-15 inches wide. Basically it is used for a small family, or newlyweds.

How to eat Khantoke

Due to the fact that the main course of Lanna food is sticky rice which will be eaten with other side dishes. In that time western gastronomy in a term of using spoons and cutlery was not prevalence in Lanna Kingdom dynasty. Most of people still use fingers for having food and it becomes to be a part of Lanna gastronomy.

According to Chiang Mai University Library in collaboration with Information Technology Service Centre (2010), Khantoke, is pointed out in a part of The Lanna Eating Culture, is a combination of food arts and Lanna gastronomy. Thus, eating Khantoke is also using fingers to knead a bite sized ball and the ball is dipped into the desired main dish before being popped into the mouth. Although the way to knead sticky rice is differently depend on skills and practices, but the importance is sticky balls need to be tightly. Otherwise when dipping into curry, sticky rice ball will be breakable. This essay will present a method how to make a sticky rice ball.

Pinch sticky rice as a bite size with a right hand

Make a sticky ball by using thumb to knead sticky rice on a pointer and a middle finger.

When a sticky ball tightly, it can be dipped it into side dishes.

* See pictures of the steps to make a sticky rice ball in the appendices 1

A part of the custom of Khantoke dinner, guests will have to remove your shoes when they arrived a dinner hall before entering into seats. The dinner hall usually is built of teak with indigenous decoration from local materials such as Lanna cotton table clothes and hand-made lanterns which made from mulberry paper. The seats are cushions on the carpeted floor surrounding Khantoke. After that the hostess in traditional attire will serve drinks in ceramic jugs. Then food will be arranged on the circular wooden tray set on pedestal that bring as a table. Alternatively, a portion of sticky rice will be served in a small woven bamboo basket per person while other main courses will be served in small bowls separately. In the end desserts will be served on another Khantoke which is smaller that main dish ones.

The most important of table manners in Khantoke is fingers should not enter a mouth and the food should not be crammed as the movements are politely delicate. After finished eating, hands can be cleaned in a provided water bowl which has floating jasmine flowers or sliced Kaffir limes to deodorize a bad smell of food on hands.

A Matter of Taste

The importance of food and eating in all cultures are certainly stressed on the importance of taste. Having a good taste may effects the right habits such as eating, drinking and table manners. Consequently the original food in Khantoke is created for local people. The food and the taste of food are right with their lifestyle. In her book "12 Months of Lanna Festivals in Thailand" Payomyong M. (2005) describes that most of ingredients of Lanna food can be found in naturally, for examples, forest vegetables and vegetables from fence side. Sticky rice is a main course of every dish. Lanna food often has less sugar and coconut milk comparing food from the middle part of Thailand. The taste of Lanna food is salty and slightly spicy. Moreover, dry chili paste is common curry in northern area.

Based on Encyclopedia of Northern Thai Culture (1999) it can be divided into 16 categories of Lanna food types on Khantoke, whereas there are some food which are popular dishes on serving as following:


Kang Hung Lay is pork curry with ginger, peanuts and tamarind. It origins from Burma. The Burmese call the Lanna hang lay "war ta hin" (pork curry) which is similar taste as "kaeng ho" of the Lanna people. Moreover, there are two cuisines of this curry are Hang le Mon and Hang le Chiangsaen. The Chiangsaen style requires additional ingredients such as yard long beans, eggplants, fresh chilies, pickled bamboo shoots and roasted white sesame seeds. Lanna people also put kaeng hung lay in kaeng ho and then mix more vegetables ( Phromphichai, 1999).

Kang Ho or Ho refers to putting together. Thus this curry means putting all kinds of left food together, and adding noodles, bamboo shoots, Kaffir lime leaves and chopped and smashed lemongrass according to individual desire. Nowadays, fresh ingredients are preferred with Hung lay curry as the main ingredients.


Khua refers to stir-frying with a little amount of oil. When cooking oil is heated, fry chopped garlic on a pan before adding other ingredients. Moreover, the food should be cooked on a low fire. Another method uses only water without oil. All of ingredients, are stir fried in water, when are done then enhances with seasonings. And also Khua means roasting seeds like sesame seeds and peanuts can be cooked on a pan without using either oil or water.

Khio (Stew)

This cooking method will be taken to mean slow cooking until most of the liquid is evaporated. For example Khio Nampu, Nampu or crab meat is done by finely pounding meat on strained white cloth to get the liquid part and then boil it until most of liquid is left. Then slow cooking on a pan with a low fire and add salt and ground chili for a better taste.

Cho (Boil) is a method for making soup by boiling water and adding seasonings such as salt, shrimp paste, fermented fish and fresh tamarind or extract of tamarind juice. Pork and bone can be used for a better flavor and finally vegetables such as mustard greens, fern tops, swamp morning glories. Sometimes roasted soybean chips and a little brown sugar can be added.

Jor Pak Kard is usually cooked from flowering mustard greens by boiling water, and flavored with salt, shrimp paste or fermented fish as well as tamarind and pork bones. Sometimes add little brown sugar as well as roasted soybean sheets (thua-nao-khaep). Finally, put fried dry chilies on the top.


Chio is a cooking method with a moderate amount of water. First, boil water. Secondly, add shrimp paste, a little salt or fish sauce, fermented fish, garlic, shallots and fresh chilies before add vegetables or eggs. The suggestion for a richer flavor, seasonings should be chopped spring onions, coriander leaves and ground pepper. For hotter taste, it should be added roasted and pealed chilies around 3 to 5 ones. Some cooking methods also suggest to add more side vegetables or eat them with Chio. Although, this method is similar with Cho but the taste of Chio is not sour and using water less than Cho.

6) Tum/Yum (Salad)

Tum Khanoon or Tam Banun is made by pounding the boiled jackfruit with the chili paste and stir-frying it with garlic, tomatoes and kaffir lime leaves. It is served with fried garlic and fried dried chilies as well as coriander and spring onions.

Tum Som-O, Tum Ba-O or Pamello Salad is made by crushing or pounding slightly pamello. Then mix with other ingredients adding crab extract (Nam Pu) Sometimes chopped dill leaves are added to enhance flavour (Phromphichai, 1999).

Namprik (Chili paste)

Nam Prik Oong or Tomato Chili Past which has a reddish color from the dried chilies and tomatoes with a sour, salty, spicy and sweet taste combined. It is served with fresh or boiled vegetables (Rattana Phromphichai, 1999). For a richer flavour, it should be stir frying the pork first before adding the chili paste and tomatoes. Another suggestion is to mixing the pork in with the chili paste and crushed cherry tomatoes before stir frying.

Nam Prik Noom  or Young Green Chili Paste which is a recommended dish. With a variety of ingredients are adding chopped fermented fish, roasted shrimp paste and fish sauce. It becomes a wonderful taste.

Nueang (Stream)

Hoh Nung requires chopped meat such as chicken, pork or fish which is the main ingredient to be mixed with the chili paste mixture and wrapped in banana leaves and then steam it. Some recipes require stir frying meat firstly. After that put chili paste and fried it altogether until a nice aroma is released before wrapping and steaming it.

Ping/Yang/Thod (Grill, Roast, Fried)

Sai Oua refers to stuff the intestines with minced pork and chili mixture. Then grill it before eating.

Kab Moo or Crispy Pork Skin is one of popular Lanna dishes. It will be eaten with other dishes especially namphrik, noodles soup or used as an ingredient in curry and chili paste.


This is a method of cooking crabs by pounding and straining crab meat to get the liquid part out. Then slowly cooked meat on a low fire while add some chili paste with assorted vegetables and flavored with some ground roasted rice and some eggs until the color of meat gets light yellow. After that put it back on crab shells and stream them.


Laab Moo is a favorite dish for all occasions. The main ingredients are minced fresh pork mixed with blood and boiled organs. Organs, which are thinly sliced, chop with several roasted dried chili. The kinds of spices pulverized to a powder or paste. However, Laab is usually eaten fresh or cooked by stir frying in little oil.


This mixed vegetables dish has main ingredients such as fish, chilies, shallots and garlic. Those are roasted first, then pounded together in a mortar and mixed with a little liquid from boiling fermented fish and assorted fresh vegetables cleanly washed and coarsely chopped or shredded by hand.

Sah Phak is a spicy vegetable mixture salad such as indigofera, suberosa, mimosoides, concinna. Nowadays, the tender greens of Chinese mustard greens (1-2 week-old sprouts) are included as they are mostly available in the local markets, especially from April-May which is considered a tropical springtime.

Pickling and Fermenting

Chin Som or Naem has a main ingredient is fresh meat such pork, beef or buffalo, and named accordingly, chin som mu, chin som ngua, chin som khwai. It can be eaten as appetizers or with rice. It can be cooked by grilling with the wrapper on it as "Chin Som Mok" or fried with other ingredients such as eggs or vegetables (Rungruengsi, 1999).

Ook refers to mixed ingredients in banana leaves cups and then steam or grill them in a pot or on a pan. Another quicker cuisine is to put all of the ingredients in a pot with a little water and let them boil on the stove. It is recommended for ingredients that are cooked in a short time like eggs, fish and eggplants.

Khai Pam, Pam Khai or Ook Khai is made from eggs mixture cooked in banana leaf cups. Then grill it until well done and put sliced red peppers on the top. However, the eggs can be cooked in a pan instead of banana leaf cups on a charcoal stove or in a fry pan placed over a fire.


The method to make Hoom or Uk begins by cutting the meat into big chunks and mixing them with curry paste. After that cook on a low fire until tender and consider that is less amount of liquid is left. It is often called chin hum when beef is used.

Aeb is a method of mixing meat in chili paste before wrapping it in banana leaves. Then roast or steam it.

Aeb Oong oo requires fresh pig brains to be mixed with chili paste and other ingredients. Then wrapped with banana leaves before be cooked by grilling over a low fire until done.


Khao Taen is served when the Northern Thai New Year, ordination rites and annual temple ceremonies. Added watermelon juice in sticky rice is to create extra flavor and sweetness is a recent innovation. Then knead those of sticky rice to be a small round chip and dry them. Before eating, it ought to fry on a pan.

Kanom Chok is usually made for Thai New Year and other Buddhist ceremonies. The filling is made from ground peanuts or sesame seeds. The method to make filling begin by steaming the beans and also adding a little salt and sugar. Next make a mashed filling. Then put a filling ball in sticky rice sheets and knead a ball. Finally, wrap them in banana leaves and steam them. Nowadays there are a variety of filling such as red bean and custard filling.

Creating Experiences

Although most of eating experiences stress on taste and food, but the essential tasks in developing gastronomic experiences can be added value in a total package of food, entertainment and atmosphere. The purpose of this to make it memorable for customers and it may effects on their returns. In term of creating experiences of Khantoke refers to classical performances of Northern Thailand.

According to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Magazine (2010), Northern Thai classical music orchestra and traditional performance is one of appreciations in Khantoke and foster a night out dinner more memorable and interesting. The performance is accompanied with local musical instruments called "Zalor-Zor-Zeung". The musicians, with country-style garments of hand-woven cotton attire, sit down beside the dance area while the dance will show at the middle of a theatre. The sound of Lanna music presents an exotic, shimmering quality with layers of textures from pounding rhythms to light, mystical melodies. There are five main instruments are consists of:

Pin Pia is played by blowing. There are key tones in the end to the musical tone like Guitar. This can be described the sound as "Music from the Heart".

Zueng is a four-stringed instrument as Guitar. First two strings being based sound and two lines remaining to produce a greater sound variation. The right hand on the top is key tones which are controlled by nine frets.

Zalor combines with a sound box is made from a gourd, which has been cut to slightly larger than half, and the open top is covered with strained leather. It is played using a bow made from animal hair.

Bpee has many sizes which each size producing different pitches. To create a harmonic sound, Bpee is used together with other instruments.

Bpee Nae is similar with Clarinet, and also has a metal mouthpiece.

Bpee Joom is Lanna Flute which made entirely of wood.

Drum or Glong in term of Lanna musical instrument is used for controlling the beat. There are many sizes and shapes with a variety of sounds.

Glong Zae is a large drum which similar to the bass drum.

Glong Poojay is hung from the shoulder by a strap and carried.

Gong Zig Moung or Glong Ting Ting is also a large stand drum and is usually accompanied by the Glong Pong Phong for the better a quality of sound.

* See picture of Lanna musical instruments in the appendices 2

The most attractive performance is a new dance creation named "Siamese Classical Dance". The show is created to entertain important guests of APEC Meeting 2003 in Bangkok. The theme of this aims to bring audiences back to the ancient Royal Courts of Thai Lanna dine. Nowadays Siamese Classical Dance becomes a popular performance and often shows in big Khantoke events such as wedding and premiers welcome ceremonies.

However, there are other gracious performance, for instance, Candle Dance (Fawn Tian), Butterfly Dance (Fawn Marn Gumm Ber), Scarf Dance (Fawn Ngiew), Fingernail Dance (Fawn Leb) and Happy Dance (Fawn Marn Mong Koi). All of the shows are fascinating with their unique Lanna style. It can explain this glittering experience combines synchronized movement and shimmering dancers attire which is a hypnotic performance effects on audience. In particular Candle Dance is shown by a lighted candle in hands of dancers with the slow body movements. Fingernail Dance has a distinctive point at golden six-inch fingernail extensions and beaten brass emphasizes on the hand movements.

In conclusion, Khantoke is a combination of indigenous food arts and classical performance of Northern Thailand. The charm of this gastronomy is culture, selling destination, unique taste and traditional entertainment. Moreover, Khantoke is representative of a home warming. The traditional concept of Khantoke is to bring every house members sit around table and have food together. This idea becomes the culture to welcome guests in many ceremonies and festivals at the present time. In the future this essay believes there are more entertainments such as Lanna Folk song live and Lanna drama shows. Another possibility is to have Khantoke on elephants trekking trip. Although some cultures of Khantoke have adapted following dynasty changed, but Khantoke is still century gastronomy of Lanna people and it would be with Northern Thailand for long time.