Where to even start. The food here is amaaaaazing!
The streets are filled with restaurants– most people in the city, from what I can tell, eat out pretty much every meal. Ingredients at the market end up being more expensive than having someone cook for you. Noodle stalls are really popular– vendors display their ingredients in a glass case and you decide what type of noodles and meat you want in a pre-made broth. Roasted meat, fish balls, and fresh fruit are also popular stands. Then there are my favorite stands, which have 5-10 dishes laid out on a table and you pick whichever one looks the most interesting. Although I often don’t recognize the ingredients, it often turns out to be something yummy, like fish and Thai eggplant in sweet coconut milk broth. Though, I got this dish the other night, and I would challenge you to tell me what kind of meat was in there. I’m pretty sure it was something like praying mantis, or snail. It was unreal.
One thing I’ve found is that the more you spend around here on ANYTHING, the less you really get. If you go to touristy restaurants, they will take out the majority of the spices in the food in order to “play it safe” and not offend any foreign palates. OR you can go to a street vendor and spend about 60 cents on a delicious meal, and get to talk to some really sweet, down to earth locals.
(This is true of things other than food, too– you can go to the famed “floating market” Damnoen Saduak, and get ripped off on a boat that will most likely just take you to shops that will harass you to buy stuff… Or you can travel to Amphawa, a more local floating market 30 minutes away, and spend practically nothing to go on a boat tour lit by thousands of fireflies!)
But, I digress.
The Thai cooking philosophy is quite interesting– the idea is that every dish should balance sweet, salty, spicy, and sour flavors. This can go extremely well, such as it did in my lunch today; half the plate was filled with pineapple marinated in a spicy, sweet tomato sauce, and the other half was full of salty pickled cabbage. When done right, I think these four flavors can balance each other out nicely. Other times it can go horribly wrong, in my humble opinion. An example was when I decided to try this bag of fruit that I picked up at a fresh fruit stall:
I thought I was about to have some kind of fruit with brown sugar crystals on it. Maybe a sprinkling of cinnamon or some other nicety. Dead wrong.
I about had a heart attack when I bit into the first piece. It was fruit, but it was covered with fish sauce, flaked chili peppers, and enough salt to knock you out. Some surprises I could do without.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had the spiciest food I’ve ever tasted in my life. Sometimes I’ll be chowing down at a restaurant, and the food slowly gets spicier and spicier until I feel like the apocalypse has hit. At that point I usually stand up from the table and run around the restaurant flailing my arms and causing a scene. People stare, and they laugh, but I know they feel for us Westerners– sometimes even they have a moment when they might lose it from all the spice.
There is a pretty good reason for using so much spice, I’ve learned, and I’d never thought of this before– it’s to kill germs. In a hot and muggy climate, when refrigeration, sanitation, and hygienic food preparation are often not the greatest, adding a lot of spice to the food helps kill bacteria and helps the food keep longer. I could never understand before why someone would subject themselves to such spicy torture on a daily basis, but this one reason motivates me to keep on chuggin’ and try to raise my spice tolerance.