Thailand Travelogue #2 - Food

· by Steve · Read in about 5 min · (905 Words)

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for good food. The thought of eating anything from a fast food establishment utterly repulses me, and although I did go through the usual period of bachelorhood that most of us males do, when plastic knives and forks, take-away food and Pot Noodle were de rigeur, I quickly came to the conclusion that I was going to have to learn how to cook. Luckily Marie feels the same way and while we don’t claim to be experts, at least the majority of the meals in our house are prepared with fresh ingredients rather than from packets and we have quite a varied menu.

I got a taste for Thai food many years ago around the time I first visited the country, and since then have learned to make some dishes, and regularly dined in local Thai restaurants. We’re lucky here in that we have lots of good quality restaurants and our current favourite local Thai is very authentic, owing to the fact that it’s small and run very traditionally by a native. They make a killer Tom Yum Goong there, provided you are willing to accept that it will take the back of your head off if you eat it too fast.

Thus, on my second trip to Thailand, I found we had to be a lot more choosy about where we ate. The first time round I was fairly green, and I enjoyed the food but I realise now I was getting the ‘Farang’ version which is deliberately toned down. Less chilli,  but also less of the other flavours too such as galangal and sweet (holy) basil. Being super-tired on the first night we ate in the hotel restaurant in Bangkok, and were pretty disappointed at both the price and the taste - way too bland. The key, as always wherever you go, is to seek out the places where the locals are eating, which is usually the small, sometimes shabbier looking establishments - in Rome they had a saying: ‘the more you pay, the worse you eat’, and that seemed to apply in Thailand too.

One of the best places we ate while we were there was a place called ‘Same Same But Different’, down in our second port of call of Koh Lanta Yai. It was literally built out of driftwood directly on the sands of the beach, a short stroll from our hotel, and run by a family who seemed to work there almost 24/7. The food was dirt cheap but absolutely fantastic, and the ambience particularly in the evening (provided you don’t mind defending your food from bugs and wandering cats) was great. I remember one night we ordered some fish, and what they had that night was a really large black and white snapper. It was delicious but the owner ended up apologising to us afterwards when she brought the bill because it was quite expensive (as with many places most fish dishes are unpriced, and the amount you pay is based on the type and weight) - but in fact this meant it was about a fiver! We could obviously live with that, even though it pushed our meal up to a record-topping fifteen quid that night (with drinks) 😉

Probably my favourite Thai dish is Pad Kaprao , preferably with chicken (Gai). It’s hot, but it’s a slow-burner unlike a good Tom Yum which is liquid fire, and the blend of flavours, particularly from the thai basil leaves (which are completely different from european basil), is something else. Same Same did that dish really well so I was well catered for. There’s really nothing quite like traditionally cooked Thai food, and if you’ve only ever eaten Thai in the west, bear in mind that what you’re getting is probably not a lot like the real thing, less hot and probably a bit over-sweet unless you’re lucky enough to have access to a place which cooks it more traditionally.

On a final note, I was surprised that one of our hotels had Vegemite on the breakfast buffet, and having heard some Aussie’s claiming it’s better than Marmite, I just had to try it. I’m sorry for the inevitable offense chaps, but Vegemite is just a castrated version of Marmite. Yes, it’s really just like Marmite would be if you could somehow unman a foodstuff. I spread a little on my toast, and took a bite. Waited. And waited. Hmm, there was a slight hint of a taste there. So I spread it a bit thicker, and yes, indeed there was some taste there - almost exactly like if you took Marmite, watered it down by a factor of 10, and then somehow extracted any remaining tang/kick it was desperatey holding on to.

If I’d spread Marmite on my toast as thick as I had to spread Vegemite to actually get any taste out of it, my mouth would be smouldering for the rest of the week. Highly disappointing - I liken it to the difference between English mustard and the embarrasingly weak French or American varieties, which you could almost drink with your food. But on the upside, it’s always fun to watch an American visiting the UK encountering our local mustard for the first time, and spreading it on his food like he does on hot dogs back home. Sit back, relax and wait for the fireworks to start - tee hee 😉