Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Thailand Food Adventure

Thailand really is a food loving culture.  They love their own food, and they embrace foods from other parts of the world.  Their own food is uniquely theirs, and found just about everywhere.  There doesn't seem to be a huge range within the country, as you pretty much find the same foods in the north, south, near or far away from the water.  That's not to say that there isn't variety, the smallest towns and the large cities all offer huge varieties of Thai food in just about every form.

As far as international foods go, there is certainly some that are more preferred by the Thai people. American, Japanese, and some European foods are all over the place.  The European foods seem to be French, British, and some Mediterranean foods, but there are a few others as well.  You also find a lot of Chinese foods in parts of Thailand, but I'm assuming that's because there are also many Chinese tourists in this area.  The surprising thing is the number of Japanese and American restaurants in this country.  Some are restaurants that you don't normally see around, like MOS Burger and Japanese Curry houses from Japan, and Swenson’s ice cream from the US.  There are also many Japanese convenience stores in Thailand as well including 7-11 (Japanese style) and Family Mart.
When it comes to Thai food, the most obvious style of food is street food. There is not a market, or even street corner that doesn't have some kind of street food available.  The street food is far more sophisticated than what you would find in North American as well.  These street food restaurants offer complicated fish dishes, tasty skewered meat varieties, and even some tasty desserts. Each vendor generally specializes in one particular type of food, however several vendors are often crowded together so a group of people can really get whatever they want.  The mango sticky rice was certainly a highlight of our street food eating, but I'm a sucker for sweet treats.
Fruit is a big part of the Thai diet, both with the street food and in the grocery stores.  Just about every collection of street food vendors will have at least one juice maker in the group.  A few others offer fruits with crepes, or even on their own.  Grocery stores and markets also have a huge selection of tropical fruits, and it's easy to walk away with a juicy treat while you wander around town. Mangos, pineapples, and dragon fruit seem to be very popular. However the most popular fruit appears to be durian.

I'm not sure if durian is actually popular amongst the locals, or if it's some kind of silly tourist scam.  You find many durian stands all over tourist areas, but you don't really see locals lining up to eat the stuff.  If you've never tried durian before, the taste is smooth and creamy, but the smell is like an old sweat sock filled with rotting onions.  The smell is also fairly potent, so strong that the airport has warnings about not allowing you to bring durians onto the airplanes.  So these stalls all over town must be selling to someone, either Thai people that somehow have built a tolerance for this very smelly fruit, or tourists that try it as a dare.

One of the unique things I noticed about eating in Thailand is the choice of utensils.  You might assume that since it's an East Asian country, chopsticks would be the tools of choice, but that's not really true.  Chopsticks are around, but the eating tools of choice are forks and spoons, but not in the way you might be using them yourself.  In North American you generally use a fork to stab some foods, and a spoon to eat liquids.  In Thailand however they have a really unique way of eating their food.  They use a fork to collect the food onto the spoons.  Once the spoon is loaded up with a nice balance of all of the elements from the plate, you're left with a nice organized perfect bite of everything on your spoon.  You enjoy that perfect bite, and then start to collect the food with your fork to make another.

It seems like a strange way to eat, but it really makes for a very pleasant meal.  Each bite is a perfect balance of all of the flavours that you enjoy from your plate.  It's delicate, intricate, and really improves the way you eat.  It does slow things down a bit, but it's really worth it.  I may start eating like this more often myself at home.

I think if you're a foodie person Thailand has a lot to offer you. I also think if you're a picky eater there's plenty of simple western cooking available as well.  You may have to walk by a stall with squids hanging on a bar, or watch a person eat a deep fried fish head, but there's certainly something for the weak stomached and the food adventurer.
My only complaint about the food is the abundance of American and Japanese places.  Not that I don't like a few now and then no matter where I travel, just in some cases it was overwhelming.  There seemed to be some areas of Bangkok where the only Thai food available was the street food, and if you wanted to eat at a restaurant you had to either eat Japanese or American.


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