Thai Food: First of Many

Korean food in the USA is reasonably loyal to the authentic versions, if only half as good. Chinese food back home, on the other hand, has just about nothing at all to do with the real stuff. Different veggies, different cuts of meat, different sauces, 1/10 the spices, and so forth. Let’s see how Thai Thai food stacks up…

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I guess it’s not fair to start off with street food, since there’s no way you’d find it on menus back home. Nonetheless, this is the first thing I ate on my first full day in Thailand, so I’m sticking it first here. Roast bananas! The bananas in southeast asia tend to be stubbier and a little chewier than the Filipino bananas that are so popular in Korea and the USA. When roasted, they caramelize a little bit on the outside. They also shift a little bit on the taste spectrum…towards strawberry. No clue why, but it’s been corroborated by at least one other traveler…who also happened to be a long-distance cyclist who started out from Korea. Maybe it’s just us?

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I still find restaurants here a bit intimidating. In China, I knew how it worked. In Vietnam, they at least used the roman alphabet, so I could make educated guesses as to what the restaurant was serving. In Laos, pretty much every establishment a tourist might want to visit was marked with a big yellow sign – “Restaurant,” “Guesthouse,” “Sundry Shop,” “Beer Lao Distributor.” Here in Thailand, it’s just a bunch of squiggles. Nor do I know how to ask what is served, or how to understand the reply. Result: I eat a lot of street food.

Good thing Thai street food rules. For instance, the above mini savory coconut panacakes.

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Or, the same batter, but fried into a puck. One dollar will buy you six.

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I cycle a hundred km a day a couple days a week. My body can deal with all this grease, right???

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Oh mama! Smoothei stand! A dollar for three ingredients, less for fewer. I went for that lonely beet there sitting atop the basket of apples.

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Cheaper than a beer, just as cold, equally good for my digestion, and trash-free, thanks to my trusty cup. Granted, the sugar cane used to make the syrup was probably hopped up on chemicals, and the blender she used wasn’t an awesome human powered blender like the one you’ll see in my next post, but one does what one can, right?

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Right next door: battered and fried bananas, sweet potatos, and taro. I’m always excited to find some non-rice starches.

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And it’s standard practice for the vendors to give you a few spoonfulls of the crunchy bits. Hello, heart attack.

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Dumplings ahoy! Some steamd, some fried, some stuffed with sweet bamboo chunks, some stuffed with chives, and some (on the right) green in color, crispy in exterior, and gooey in interior. Absolutely no clue what they were. Again, six for a dollar.

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I was even fortunate enough to find a steamed veggie stall. Ten baht (thirty cents) for a mini eggplant, a chunk of bamboo, a few long beans, and a few sprigs of morning glory. What a meal! Had my camping bowl not been full of leftover fried bananas, I probably could have bought some rice and begged some curry sauce, too. Who needs menus?

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Hello, old friends!

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Selling “ICE CREAM HOME MADE” out of the back of a pickup truck. I wouldn’t usually buy it, but I had taken a nap between my first and second plates at the lunch buffet and woke up to find that they had shut down for the afternoon. Toppings include coconut, corn, barley, pineapple, boiled kidney beans, something white and jello-like, and something yellow and candied.

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Trash-free, once again! If I ran the world, my government would equip each citizen with one water bottle, one sweet thermos cup, one camping pot like mine but with a sealable lid, and one awesome backpack that would hold them all upright and have enough space for a few extra necessities like a wallet and a bike pump. That would probably reduce our food-related trash by about thirty percent, and fifty percent or more in Asian countries where street food is so common.

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The countryside here is peppered every 40km or so with Tesco Lotus stores, which in Korea are called Tesco HomePlus, and in the UK are just called Tesco. It’s a supermarket – what I’ve come to think of as a giant temperature-regulated enclosure housing about 50% non-food products, 40% artificicially produced food-like edible substances, and 10% fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, and dairy. I feel like I ought to be opposed on principle to the wastefulness and absurdity of this place, but then again, they have salad bars and noodle bars where I can order without talking to anyone. They always oblige when I make them drop stuff into my pot or into reused plastic bags. And they have fruit (usually longans) on sale for half price once they’ve gotten old. Thus, it’s not uncommon for me to wind up making a deal with the devil. This lunch – two kinds of noodles, a makeshift salad, and fruit for dessert – set me back $1.50.

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Tesco salad bar, complete with undercooked kidney beans.

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Oh yeah, wrapping-free cookie bars too. Some with Durian-flavored filling, even. Oh, and if you look carefully, you may be able to see the true gem: bulk peanuts! This was only place in Thailand I’ve been able to find them, so far.

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I had the good fortune to pass through exactly one major town each day for the first of my three days, meaning the Lonely Planet was able to help me find veg buffets. This one was $1 per plate. The left side is some kind of spicy stewed tomato dish. The bottm was an awesome kidney bean and diced vegetable salad. This is the place where I fell asleep on a bench after my first plate and awoke to find that everything had been carted off. Lesson: pig out when you’ve got the chance.

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Found at a highway rest stop: green coconut milk curry with mini spherical eggplants. I had all the chicken meat and coagulated blood chunks sifted out beforehand. One dollar, one bowl.

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Another veg place. All-Thai menu, so I mumbled the words for “vegetable” and “rice” and prayed for the best. Not bad!

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I also saw a picture of some dumplings on the fridge. I prodded it a few times and raised my eyebrows suggestively. Mission accomplished.

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My first Pat Thai – though, actually, on account of having big fat noodles (“fen,” the same word they use in China), this one is Pat Theu. Maybe. I’ve grown to hate thin, wussy, noodle-soup type dishes, but these noodles always hit the spot.

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This post ends on a sad note. In a wonderful market in Nong Khai, where everything was chill, incense filled the air, and there was not a single dead fish or chopped-up animal to be seen, I came across this stall of dried and candied fruits, including raisins, tomatoes, and DATES, all for $2-3 per kg. Unfortunately, my tupperwares were full with perilla seeds, raisins, and peanuts, all purchased in China under the assumption that I’d probably reach the brink of starvation in Laos and need some backup food. That never happened. In fact, I didn’t open a single one of them. So, due to being overprepared in terms of tupperware and underprepared in terms of leftover plastic bags, I had no space to store any of this goodness. I figured that if I found it in my first market in Thailand, I’d be able to find it in the rest. So far, no luck. Maybe by the next food post…

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7 Responses to Thai Food: First of Many

  1. 썌키 says:

    Hey man, when you go into a restaurant, try saying “폼 마이 긴 느으아” (I don’t eat meat) or “커어 아하안 마이 사이 느으아” (May I have a meal without meat?). (BTW in Thai the vowels are fluid, so you don’t pause between each syllable). Also, be on the lookout for the characters “เจ” (pronounced “째애”) – vegetarian, which almost always denotes a veg restaurant, and often is written in red letters with a yellow background (some buddhist shizzle). There should be one in every sizeable town.

  2. ian chen says:

    find some locals who can speak English ,be grateful to let them write your diet habits in Thai on a piece of paper and learn from them.

    • Michael Roy says:

      not a bad idea. got any thai friends???

      • ian says:

        yeah,I used this way to find my guesthouse which is far from the center of a town.
        Use the paper when you order dishes at the beginning until you can speak it in Thai.
        Maybe it can reduce many communicating troubles while you order dishes.
        have a try~haha