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Thailand Ethnography: Similarities and Differences Report

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2020

Subjects involved in Study

The subjects involved in this study are Martin Gutierrez, a first generation immigrant from the Philippines who I met at the local Starbucks while the other is Kelly Twatwanaphong, also a first generation immigrant from Thailand who I met at a small local bookstore. It must be noted that the families of both Martin and Kelly hail from South East Asia and as such there should be a certain degree of cultural similarity which should manifest itself in the type of food eaten.

My research into the types of food eaten within South East Asia reveals that rice consumption factors heavily into their diet along with seafood and vegetables (Mittal, 1999). Meat and chicken, while evident in plenty of Thai and Filipino dishes, is not considered a main part of their average meal as compared to other cultures such as those within the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

In fact based on my research I can say that western cultures apparently have a greater predilection towards meals that are heavy on protein while Eastern cultures such as those in China and the South East Asia region have meals which are more inclined towards greater portions of carbohydrates (Roy, 2011).

In terms of differences in ethnicity, my research into ethnic differences between Filipinos and Thai reveal that both races are actually quite similar in terms of ethnic origin with various theories stating that it was the same proto-culture with varying degrees of migration that created the individual cultures we see in the South East Asian region today (Bentley, 1986). Evidence of this comes from similarities in language tenses, verb usage, as well as genetic, physical and social similarities.

What occurred during the interviews

Overall, the interviews occurred in the homes of the subjects for this study with some of their relatives (mother, father, aunts etc.) providing details when necessary. The interview process went rather well with no problems whatsoever. In fact I found both groups rather inviting, which based on research into Asian customs, turns out to be a cultural predilection towards treating guests with respect, patience and great hospitality.

Observations at Site

When examining the kitchens of the Gutierrez and Twatwanaphong family, both of them looked modern enough yet each of them had baskets of garlic and onions located near the area where they prepare food. Upon asking them why there were garlic and onions located in baskets instead of in the refrigerator they actually responded similarly as well indicating that garlic and onions were the initial ingredients for most of the dishes they prepare. There really weren’t any differences between their kitchen and that of the average home aside from that.

When I asked who prepares most of the meals both groups also explained that it was usually the mother that prepared the meals. It is at this point that I would like to indicate that this similarity in both ingredients used and who usually makes them is due to the geographical location of both countries (as I mentioned earlier) in which many of the cultures within the region share numerous similar predilections resulting in a distinct overlap in habits, methods of food preparation and social traits.

What did the family eat yesterday?

When I asked what either family ate the other day the Gutierrez family responded by saying that they ate pork adobo with rice while the Twatwanaphong family had stir friend vegetables mixed with beef strips with rice as well.

Is this the same thing they always eat?

Actually, when I asked them if this was what they usually ate both families responded by stating that they normally eat a lot of American food (pizza, burgers etc.) as opposed to more traditional dishes. When I asked them why, they gave a rather interesting answer, as it turns out the convenience of American food just makes it far easier to eat as compared to the preparation time it takes for other forms of traditional food.

It isn’t that either family had lost their “traditional roots” so to speak but rather due to the fact that most of them are rather busy it was just simpler to have fast food as compared to having to take the time to prepare a traditional Filipino or Thai dish.

Traditional Ethnic Dishes Eaten on a weekly basis

Gutierrez Family

  1. Beef Tapa
  2. Pork Adobo
  3. Beef Steak Tagalog
  4. Minudo
  5. Sinigang

Twatwanaphong Family

  1. Stir fried beef and vegetables
  2. Prawn Pad Thai
  3. Thai Red Curry Chicken
  4. Thai Pork Curry (milder than the red chicken curry)


The Filipino dish “Pork Adobo”

It consists of pork cut into cubes and placed into a pot with the skin and fat of the pig remaining on the pork pieces to add flavor to the sauce. Cut garlic is added in along with half a cup of soy sauce and vinegar as well as oil. A little bit of pepper, some salt and sugar and afterwards the entire mixture is placed on a stove to cook.

Thai stir fried vegetables and beef

Consists of cut strips of red and green bell peppers, broccoli, Chinese lettuce, sliced carrots, and a lot of chili peppers. What is first added is diced garlic and onions to some simmering oil. Afterwards, the beef is added in, after allowing it to cook for a little bit soy sauce is added in along with a little bit of oyster sauce.

Afterwards a spicy garlic paste and salt are added into the mixture. Once the beef is nearly cooked a lot of chili peppers are added in to give the dish its distinctive spiciness. When the beef is cooked the sliced vegetables are added in and are halfway cooked in order to give them a distinctive crunchiness.

Similar Spices Used

As mentioned earlier both ethnic groups prominently use garlic and onions in a variety of their dishes as well as ginger however the one spice that differs between Filipino food and Thai food is that Filipinos generally use pepper while Thai food apparently uses a lot of chili’s of varying types in order to add a lot of “heat” to the food.

In fact this is where most Thai and Filipino dishes differ in that Thai dishes are generally hotter due to the presence of large quantities of chili’s while Filipino dishes are generally somewhat salty or sweet.

Healthiness of the dishes

When examining the dishes that were served it was immediately apparent that the Thai dish was healthier than the Filipino dish. Pork adobo had far higher quantities of fat and salt as compared to the stir fried vegetables and beef and as such can be considered rather unhealthy.

In fact based on my research regarding the high quantities of chili peppers in Thai dishes a chemical called capsicum which is present in all peppers which gives them their distinctive heat is actually beneficial for the body since it helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. On the other hand the Filipino dish would most likely increase a person’s cholesterol levels due to the sheer amount of fat present.

Shopping for Ingredients

When I asked the homemakers of both families whether they shopped at certain specialty stores in order to get the ingredients they use it was rather surprising that they said that most of the ingredient that go into the dishes they make can actually be found at local supermarkets with the exception of the chili garlic paste that the Twatwanaphong family uses.

As it turns out both family’s had to change some aspects of their cooking when they migrated and as such the dishes that they make now are a combination of traditional recipes with certain alternative ingredients being used when necessary.

Similarities and Differences

When examining both ethnic groups I have to say that there are more similarities than there are differences between them. In fact when I heard both families speak in their native tongue there were some words that were similar and as such is indicative of a common cultural ancestry somewhere down the line.

On the other hand there is a distinct difference in the types of foods made with Filipino cuisine utilizing more salt and oil while Thai cuisine utilizes more chili peppers and is somewhat less salty. On the other hand it must be noted that the diet of either ethnic group when compared to the typical American diet is far healthier in comparison due to its focus on seafood, vegetables and healthy carbohydrates as compared to an American diet that is heavy on fat, empty calories and sugars.

Reference List

Bentley, G. (1986). Ethnohistory, 33(1), 97. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Mittal, A. (1999). Behind Indonesia’s Hunger Myth. Earth Island Journal, 14(4), 32. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

ROY, P. (2011). Easy, crowd- pleasing Thai. Ottawa at Home, 41. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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