Thursday, July 05, 2007

Thai Street Food.

One of the best things about traveling in Thailand has been the street food. Stepping out of our guesthouse in Bangkok, we were immediately surrounded by four or five stalls selling fresh fruit, iced coffees, or small one-dish meals. For a traveler, its a good way to eat cheap- a two dish meal, beer and dessert can cost less than $1. Wherever we've gone there's been a wide range of streetfood available, from satays sold at streecorners, curries from sidewalk restaurants, and local specialties sold at market stalls.
A staple of any Thai restaurant in America, pad thai is readily available at street stands and sidewalk markets. Phad/phat Thai, which translates as 'Thai Fry-up', is always a great option from street vendors because it's delicious, usually cheap, and great fun watching them cook it. At one stand I saw in Bankok the chef kept piles of noodles and beansprouts perched at the edge of her wok. When she received an order she'd throw on some oil, cook some chicken or tofu, fast fry an egg, and pull a little from each of the piles. She whipped it all together, spread it on a platter and handed it to me, so that I could then garnish it how I wanted, with dried chili flakes, ground peanuts, and fish sauce.
The range of foodstalls at the Chatuchack weekend market in Bangkok was staggering. Wanting to try something new, but wary of the grilled squid-on-a-stick, Bordeaux and I ordered a skewer of fishballs. I let Bordeaux try one first, and I should have been warned by his expression as he chewed it. The texture was nice, sort of bready, with a taut skin and a doughy interior. The first taste was delicious, the result of the sweet chili sauce that covered the fish ball. As I chewed, however, the flavor of chili receded, and the taste of dried fish emerged, the flavor of which I can only describe as being similar to drinking the water of an unclean goldfish bowl.
Thankfully, most surprises work out better than that. Traveling the Mae Hong Son loop, Bordeaux and I found quiet towns with few options for dining. On an afternoon stroll through Khun Yuam, we saw a man busy grilling satay. He also sold food packaged in neatly folded grilled banana leaves. We asked him what was inside, and he simply stated that it was chicken. We bought one, and sat down nearby to try it. Inside was a strange pale paste that had taken the form of the banana leaf package, topped with a single red chili. We both scooped out a small piece to try, and found that it was extremely delicious, with the strong flavor of green curry. The paste seemed to be made out of ground corn, molded around pieces of grilled chicken and vegetables- kind of like a green curry tamale. We tried a similar banana leaf package in Mae Hong Son. It was equally delicious, but very different- a pork dish with the strong flavor of lemongrass.
Much less appetizing are the Thai desserts often available at stands and streetside tables. They usually come in pop plastic colors, and often involve some kind of gelatin floating in some kind of milk. Walking past a dessert stand in Mae Hong Son thogugh, Bordeaux and I felt tempted to try one. We opted for the most appealing looking- a yellow doughy gelatin coated in shredded coconut, displayed on a banana leaf. It was, surprisingly, pretty good. Most of the flavor came from the coconut, which added a nice texture and sweetness. On its own, the yellow doughy bits tasted a little like very soft, somewhat bland, shortbread.
A much taster after dinner treat is the streetside mataba, sometimes called roti or pancakes. Upon selecting a filling, the cook throws out some batter on her wok. She cooks up a thin roti, fills it (my choice was bananas), folds it, cuts it, and sprinkles it with sugar and condensed milk. The result is warm, gooey, and perfect for the walk back to the guesthouse.

2 comments:

Timo said...

Strangely, the foods I now want to try most are the fish balls and the "pop plastic" desserts. But I guess that just speaks to my contrarian/sensation-seeking approach towards eating.

Lovely photos, as always.

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