Thailand, Digested: Top 5 Delights, Part 1

by Zora O'Neill on February 1, 2010

Grilled BananasOK, before we begin, I just want to make something very clear–something that other people failed to do for me before I visited Thailand. (To be fair, Cristina did come closest to warning me, in the way her eyes gleamed when she talked about the place.)

Sure, I read that the Thais have a very strong food culture. Yes, I knew they were into street food. Yes, I was sure Thai food in Thailand would be very different from what we get in restaurants here. But this did not even begin to scratch the surface of the truth:

The Thais are complete maniacs about food!

Really. Slavering maniacs. In the best possible way. I have never been anywhere where people are so food obsessed. I’ve been to France. I’ve been to Italy. I’ve been to Aleppo, where everything is delicious and people talk about food all the time.

But none of this was anything like Thailand. People are eating 24 hours a day. You cannot walk a block in Bangkok without passing some stall selling food. And not just, like, hot dogs. This is food that involves a dozen ingredients, and it’s made to order. Food that is deep-fried on the spot. Food that is simmered to perfection. Food that is savory. Food that is sweet. Food that is mind-blowingly both.

I left Thailand more than two weeks ago, and I still quite can’t believe all that I saw and ate, and we barely scratched the surface. So, to bring some arbitrary order to the buzzed incoherence, I put together a short list of the best things we ate. And because I got too enthusiastic while typing, I broke each item into a separate post. So:

1) Cockles and mussels. This was the night the true bizarreness of Thai food culture finally sank in. We walked all day through Chinatown, which, because it was Sunday, happened to be mostly closed. We had some dumplings and some noodles with spicy beef and also some meat on a stick, and some odd little deep-fried puffs. Like I said, most everything was closed.

Late in the afternoon, we finally got over to a dedicated market zone, but everyone was closing up shop. I got a charger for my phone for $2, so it wasn’t a complete loss. We figured we’d wander back to the nearest metro stop and skip out of this dead neighborhood. The area was also oddly dirty. (This is another thing no one told me about Thailand: the Thais are total clean freaks. Not a shred of lettuce on the ground in a market, for instance.)

And that was when we turned onto Thanon Yaowarat.

While we’d been walking around in the shuttered business-y part of Chinatown, half of Bangkok was setting up the dinner stalls along this street. And the other half of Bangkok had arrived to eat. Imagine the strip in Vegas, but with all the neon in Thai and Chinese characters, and instead of casinos, restaurants selling various parts of pigs. And then add a second layer of sidewalk restaurants.

We wound up on a side street called Soi Texas, where every sort of seafood was available. Which was where we sat by a street cart and ate the clammiest little cockles, with black-bean sauce, and meaty mussels, all shucked by a husband-wife-daughter team who were totally in the zone.

Cockles and Mussels

After this, as well as some satay from some other alley, we finally staggered out of Chinatown. We went to a crazy-deluxe movie theater (Barca-lounger seats, with pillows and blankets) at a mall, but not before getting briefly lost on the ground-floor food court. Which was, of course, mobbed (I thought everyone was in Chinatown!) and delicious-looking, even in its upscale-ness. After the movie, we staggered out of the mall and peered over the SkyTrain platform onto the street below. And of course the street was lined with street carts, all of which were thronged with customers. That’s when Peter and I just started laughing out loud.

Sidewalk Food Stalls

To be continued….

**For more pics, see my Flickr set.***

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christina February 1, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Oh my. I’m stuffed to the gills from tonight’s dinner, and yet this just made me hungry. I can’t wait to read more.

2 Naomi February 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Love love love! I remember the shock of the food courts in Shanghai, incredible food. I felt guilty and weird about eating in a mall, but I eventually got over it when the tasty goodness hit my lips!

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