Foreigners love their hamburgers, French fries, and soft drinks and Thai’s just have to have rice with every meal. But which would I prefer after living most of my life in Canada and now having retired to Chiang Mai, Thailand?
As with any large city, there is an abundance of fine restaurants catering to different tastes and budgets. Chiang Mai is no different. Thai people love to eat. Restaurants are full of Thai’s and foreigners enjoying all types of cuisine. Rather than deal with fine restaurants which we all dine at but not every day this article deals with the day-to-day dining of the Thai people here in Chiang Mai.
Popular restaurants in North America are Harvey’s, Mcdonald’s, and Burger King. Here we have the street vendors. The end result is a quickly prepared affordable meal.
The street vendors may sell fresh fruits such as pineapple, mango, watermelon, strawberries (locally grown), and more. Each fruit is cut up into small pieces and placed in a plastic bag and you are provided a long wooden stick with which to eat it. The cost is normally 10 baht which comes to about 29 cents U.S. and the fruits are kept cool and are delicious. Also, vendors here sell fast food and snacks. Get a meal of cooked rice, meat, and veggies again placed in a plastic bag but this time wrapped tightly by an elastic band for about 20 baht or 57 cents U.S. Take your pick of a rice dish, or a noodle dish, or a soup. Tasty and normally already prepared and wrapped and still warm or if you want to wait one minute they will take it out of the pot and put it into the bag while you wait. So a cooked meal and a tasty snack for a total of about 75 cents U.S. For many Thai’s in Chiang Mai, this is their most common meal. They then proceed to drive home, unwrap the elastic, put some rice in a bowl, and place several cups on the table with a bottle of water and that is one of their meals.
We all love fast food and we all want it to be affordable. That we have in common. What you will find different between here and there is the price, quality, and service.
Price. The price of meals whether it be at restaurants or street vendors is cheap compared to what we are used to. A filling meal can be had for less than 1US dollar for a meal I described above which includes a bowl of rice, a cooked meal from a street vendor, and fruit from a street vendor. For only $2.50 U.S. you can dine out at an all you can eat full course buffet, desserts, coffee, tip, and taxes included as well as a tip for the parking lot attendant The prices are low because the ingredients are locally grown, and because the labor cost is inexpensive.
Quality. The quality of the food is much healthier here than back home. Back home KFC, Mcdonald’s, and Harvey’s are popular lunch and dinner restaurants. If you think you are thinking of healthy foods there think again. Here you do not have the greasy French fries, Hamburgers stuffed full of ketchup, mustard, onions, mayo, and more to hide the taste of the meat you are eating. Here you eat rice, fresh vegetables, and fresh fish, and drink water with the meals as opposed to a bucket-sized plastic container packed full of ice and watered-down sugar-flavored soft drinks.
Service. A teenager earning a few extra bucks in a fast food restaurant or an adult making a living out of working full time in a restaurant here. Which one would you expect to provide the best service? Nothing more needs to be said.
If you come to Chiang Mai do not go searching for restaurants that have what you normally eat. You may as well stay home and buy a video about Thailand, or watch a TV program about Thailand.
The foods here are tasty, healthy, and inexpensive.
The basic ingredient in all meals is rice. Yes, rice for breakfast too. I have never been one for rice. Potatoes were my staple. But here potatoes are pricey and although I admit to buying them and making potato soup and french fries it is the exception and not the rule.
As I have said before, the Thai’s are known for making anything taste good.
So take fresh ingredients and combine that with rice and special sauces which are the key to the taste and there you have it – Healthy, Tasty, and Inexpensive meals.
Top it off with locally grown fresh pineapple, watermelon, mango, strawberries, or a dozen or more fruits and you have a meal you will enjoy and which is good for you.
The funny thing about food is that whatever you really like is NO GOOD for you. What are your favorites? Cake, pies, French fries, hamburgers, ice cream. Well, they are not that good for you in terms of eating them regularly. What do you hate to eat? Broccoli, asparagus, spinach, brown rice, boiled chicken. Well, these are good for you.
So if you come here to Thailand, do try several different types of Thai foods. You may find a soup that you just cannot get enough of or a Thai dessert that you have no idea what it was and which you absolutely enjoyed, or fresh fish which is abundant here. Prawns, sea bass, and more cooked up on a large plate will leave you wanting more.
I have eaten meals, snacks, and fruits sold by small roadside food vendors and never experienced any problems. The ingredients are fresh, kept on ice if required, and the cooking areas are cleaned regularly. So I see this as a safe, inexpensive way to buy snacks and meals. I would recommend that you carry a bottle of water which can be purchased at 7-11 for only 13 cents as you may get a bit dehydrated especially if you are doing a lot of walking and this if anything may be the cause of a quick jaunt to the rest room.
Are there things that I do not eat that Thai’s eat? Yes there is a fruit called Durian, the Thai’s just love it but it has such a foul odor that when I gave it a try I had to breathe through my mouth. Apart from the odor it has the texture of a pudding and is rich in flavor. What I did not dare to try and which I expect would be healthy to eat was the fried insects. I suppose that it is just a matter of getting used to the sight of them. Perhaps I could dine on both the fruit and insects regularly if I kept breathing through my nose and kept my eyes shut while I ate.
But you should try what we call Suki. It is a soup that you cook on your table in a pot with hot coals underneath. You decide on the ingredients such as chicken, beef, liver, and fish, and add them and take them out when they are cooked. Normally the meats go in first as they take longer to cook and then the vegetables. In about 5 minutes you have your soup. Two small bowls will accompany the meal. They are both made of hot peppers. One has the appearance of a green paste and the other a red paste. You can either dip your meat or fish into the paste or put a teaspoonful into your soup. The green paste is spicy, makes me perspire a bit, and gives me a longing for a cold glass of water during I eat my soup. The red paste I do not touch it and would not recommend you try it unless you are accustomed to eating it or you are Mexican. My girlfriend eats her Suki with the green paste and admits to making trips to the washroom during the middle of the night and not brushing her teeth. A filling meal for 4 people for about $3 U.S. and that includes taxes, tip, and bottled water with a bucket of ice.
Remember how earlier on I said that the Thai’s have a reputation for making any food taste delicious? That is true. The KEY is the sauce. I do not know what ingredients go into the sauces but I do know that I was not a rice eater and now with I will be scraping the bottom of each bowl of food that is served to me. Normal white rice cooked in a rice cooker combined with fried vegetables and meat with a special sauce is simply delicious.
And if you want to know where I would eat given the choice now, a fast food restaurant there or a street vendor here? My reply would be a street vendor here. After the meal here I am filled up, the food is delicious, the fruits are fantastic and prices are so low and I feel fitter.