I’ve never eaten so much on vacation, so frequently, while still managing to lose weight. Three square meals and then some! Thai food is delicious and flavorful and varies depending on the region (cuisine in the north contains more herbs and spices, the central region has more coconut milk, and the south is the land of spicy chilies – or so I’ve been told). To not make this post too long, I’ll only share my most memorable and favorite meals. And now you get to hear about it all in excruciating detail.
I didn’t even make it out of the Bangkok’s airport before I started on Thai cuisine. Fresh Fruit Smoothies were a particular joy during this trip, not only because they were cool and refreshing and available everywhere at any time, but because as someone who developed bad stone-fruit allergies in her 20s, I don’t get to enjoy much fruit anymore other than berries and citrus. Tropical fruit varieties seem to be just fine (with the exception of Jack Fruit, which tastes like mango, but definitely bothered my allergies)! So, what other types of smoothies did Thailand have to offer? Dragon fruit, passion fruit and strawberry, more mango, pineapple, more passion fruit, mixed fruit, coconut, orange…everything, and each was better than the one before it. Another similarly refreshing and abundant drink is Fresh Coconut Water served right in the nut!
I was pleased to learn the Thai love their coffee and adore Iced Coffee. There are coffee places everywhere and one could probably spend an entire trip just trying all the different varieties and concoctions. Another local favorite is Thai Tea, which blends tea and sweetened condensed milk – quite dangerous for the waistline.
Cup Fine Day, a nice little coffee shop located next to our hotel in Chiang Mai, offered a few types of breakfast—I opted for the Vietnamese Breakfast Bowl which contained an egg, baguette, and a few types of prepared pork including one that was cotton candy-like in its consistency called Rousong. It was sweet and delicious and something I could eat at least once a week.
A more common breakfast is Jok or Chok, a type of savory and soupy rice pudding that is often topped with pork or shrimp. It is a hardy meal that kept me full and satisfied until my stomach told me to make room for something else that looked delicious.
MARKETS AND STREET SNACKS
There are many nighttime and food-based markets in Thailand. While walking through some of the daytime food markets, I saw plenty of things I would not be eating: pickled field rat, frogs stacked on top of one another in a plastic bag while still alive, skinned snake, roasted chickens with their heads still on, pig snouts, bee larvae in honeycombs, fried chicken feet, dried salted frogs, fried cockroaches and other bugs… But for every item I saw that turned my stomach, I saw something that had me salivating!
Markets are a great place to get amazing noodles or soups. They taste like they’ve been cooking for hours, maybe even days because they probably have been. Deep, complex flavors that are entirely satisfying. One of the best Pad Thai I had was at a night market. We ordered Chicken Pad Thai from one stand and GIANT Pork Spring Rolls from another. We had more Pad Thai, even Jumbo Shrimp Pad Thai in Egg Casing from the well-known Thipsamai, but none compared to the one from the night market. I also had a few amazing types of Soup with Noodles and Pork Balls or just Noodles with Pork. Of all the things I ate in Thailand, I think I miss these simple and flavorful dishes the most. They were just quality all around—I was always satisfied and never felt like I over ate despite the gigantic bowls in which they were served.
In some ways, the street food felt very familiar to Minnesota in that you can get all sorts of things served on a stick! Braised Pork on a Stick, eggs…anything! There are lots of finger-foods too, like delicious Pork Steam Buns that just melt in the mouth…
One of my favorite bits of street food was Khanom Khrok. Its shell was almost like a crepe consistency and was filled with a coconut custard with scallions inside. Each half is cooked in something similar to a large escargot pan before being joined while still hot. Sweet, savory, rich, and satisfying. I could eat these all day. In Bangkok, we had a similar tasting treat, except it was shaped like a pancake and filled with a sweet coconut custard (I think it was Khanom Tokyo). There were a lot of other delicious street sweets, like Fried Sesame-Coated Dough, which was chewy and airy inside, Fried Bananas, and Roti drizzled with a sticky frosting. Oh my goodness, everything is fried and wonderful!
We had a few notable lunches that somehow made the trip more special. One day we gathered our entire lunch from the local food market and had a picnic after driving through the highlands of northern Thailand. Everything was delicious! In addition to Khanom Khrok, we had tender and juicy Roasted Chicken (sans head or feet) with a Red Pepper Dipping Sauce, Som Tum Thai (Spicy Green Papaya Salad), Fruit Salad, and Sticky Rice, which, as the name suggests, really does stick to the ribs and makes you feel quite full when it starts to expand.
Another day, I had the opportunity to learn how to cook Ginger Pork with my husband’s uncle’s mother-in-law. We don’t share a common language, but you don’t always need words to learn how to cook, just your eyes to observe, your ears to listen to the sizzle, your nose to breathe in the aromas, and your mouth to taste test your work as you go along. We also made a Spicy Pepper Paste, which can be added to almost anything, and fried up some Beetles, which I did not try…but was considering.
We met my husband’s cousin in Bangkok to try a top-rated hole-in-the-wall food spot called Jok Phocana. The owner and chef is a heck of a salesman. I asked him to make a suggestion and he proposed his Fried Red Snapper, which he served with pepper, chili, and garlic salsa topped with fried basil leaves. I was sad when we cleaned the fish to the bone, it was that good. I also tried the eyeball, just for fun. This little spot is worth scoping out.
DINNER AND DESSERTS
We had our first dinner at a restaurant along the river in Chiang Mai. I opted for Sai Oua, a northern spicy pork sausage served with pickled vegetables, cilantro, scallions, peanuts, dried hot chilis, lime, shallots, and raw garlic – it was a full plate! Even though this was a lot of food, it wasn’t very heavy…I ordered dessert – Mango Sticky Rice, which is sticky rice covered in coconut cream and slices of the freshest mango I’ve ever tasted…
My husband’s uncle and aunt took us to a beautiful open-air restaurant, Khaomao-Khaofang, for what was one of my favorite dinners. We ordered EVERYTHING, or at least it seemed like it – Fish Balls (meatballs but with fish); a spicy Chiang Mai soup; Green Coconut Curry; DIY Leaf Wraps, an edible aromatic leaf that one fills with a peanut, ginger, fried noodle, and garlic mixture; Fried Fish; Fried Prawns and more dishes I cannot remember at this point. It literally was a feast. Everything was incredible and full of flavor from the moment it touched one’s lips.
My final meal in Thailand, well, dessert because I was too full from a day of street food to eat a full meal, was Fried Bananas, which were battered with a mixture of panko and dried coconut, and served with Coconut Ice Cream. I can’t remember if I ended up being generous and sharing this at all or if I ate it all myself; I remember thinking I did not want to share it and I wanted to order another.
I hope this post made you hungry! I know writing about Thailand has made me miss it. There are so many more things that I want to go back and try. It would be so easy to immerse myself in this cuisine and never get bored. My stomach and I thank you, Thailand, for a great experience!