Thailand is a cheap place to live and travel. We westerners wonder how the average Thai can live off of $350 per month when some of us blow that much in one night on drinks, dinner and a movie with friends. Well I have a big secret to share with you. Come closer. Closer. Okay here it is: the big key to cheap living and travelling in Thailand - or in any other country at all really - is to eat where the locals eat. And where do they eat? At the street side food stalls! That’s it. My big secret is for you to 'go native', as they say. I know that everyone knows that's what you should do when you visit a foreign country, and you know that I know and, I know…well, I could just go on and on. So why in the world don't more people do it?! On a recent trip to Ao Nang in southern Thailand, I was surprised to see how few foreigners ate at the street side food stalls. There were plenty of Thai people eating at the stalls, but not very many visitors. The majority of foreign people, sadly, were in the western-styled eateries such as pizza parlours or the 'usual suspects' of American food chains such as McDonald's and Burger King, Very frustrating, indeed, particularly since Thai street food is tasty, flavorful, diverse, cheap, healthy and safe!
go to site Tasty and flavourful. Thai street food tends to be stir fried and grilled. Stir frying food in small amounts of oil helps to lock in the natural taste. The meats and vegetables are tender and juicy. Grilling, as you doubtlessly know, gives food a nice lightly smoked flavor and helps with retention of natural juiciness (and yummy-ness!) of the food. Also, Thai recipes use many wonderful types of fresh ingredients, such as limes, chilies, curries, lemon grass, cilantro, Thai basil, coconut milk, oyster sauce, shrimp paste, beef, chicken, pork, fish and on and on and on. And who could forget that world famous peanut satay sauce that is endemic to cuisines all over the region? All of these and more, fresh from the market, are used to create a delightful mix of flavors that are guaranteed to please you right on the street.
go site Diverse. Thai food, whether served in a restaurant or from a food stall, is influenced by four different regions of the country. Foods from the north and northeast parts of the country are mild to hot in terms of spiciness, and it's hot and sour, but rarely sweet. Dishes hailing from the central region are milder in spice than those in the north, but make up the difference in savoury palate pleasers. Finally, thanks to its proximity to nature's bounty, foods from the south have a very broad seafood base. These tastes come together to present a flavour that is uniquely Thai, and one that is often found in its rawest, more pure form at food stalls all over the country.
see Cheap and healthy. Food on the street is cheap. I mean real cheap. For a plate of Pad Thai (fried noodles with vegetables and chicken, beef, shrimp or squid costs 50 baht (about US$1.60 at the time of writing). Throw in a banana, lemon, pineapple or coconut shake and you pay an additional 30 baht. So for about for less than three dollars or two Euros, you can get meal, complete with drink, that's delicious and nutritious and is the rule rather than the exception. Compare that to the price of an average, nutritionally-challenged western burger house combo meal, in Thailand, of about US $4.50. And unlike said burger grub, all Thai street food ingredients are natural; they aren't preserved, processed or overcooked, and most come fresh daily from the market.
Safe. Some people may feel that eating from roadside vendors is risky, but eating street food in Thailand or anywhere else is safe if you follow a few common sense precautions. First of all, check the title again: Eat where the locals eat. Local people don't want to get food poisoning anymore than you or I do. So if you see that a vendor has a fair amount of local customers, chances are good that the food is safe. Secondly, make sure you can see the ingredients that are put into your food before they are cooked, which, at a food stall, is pretty easy since there are few places for the food to hide. You can see if the meat, seafood and vegetables are fresh and up to your standards. Thirdly, don't eat anything that has been pre-cooked and has been sitting around in a tray or pot for God-only-knows how long. Finally, and this is the most important point of all, never, ever eat uncooked seafood from a roadside vendor. As we all know Thailand is a tropical country therefore outdoor, uncooked seafood will spoil much more quickly, and put a cramp in your travel-style - pun most definitely intended!
And while time may always be of the essence, it is never more true when you're on an adventure and want to do as much as possible. A typical roadside dish in Thailand takes a mere ten minutes or less to prepare so you will get your food fast, hot and fresh, and there's nary a heat lamp in site! So the next time you're in Thailand or anywhere that's serving up some local food a la CART, give it a try. You will most certainly go back for more!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Baker is a teacher, writer and traveller from the Bronx, in New York, USA. David is currently living in South Korea with his wife.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Baker is a teacher, writer and traveller from the Bronx, in New York, USA. David is currently living in South Korea with his wife.
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