Travel Thaiaries – what’s the food really like?

This piece is one of about ten so far on our trip to Southeast Asia, please start here.

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When I talk to people about traveling to Thailand (or anywhere), they inevitably ask ‘what is the food really like’.  I have those same questions.  I think the food aspect is the best part of traveling.  You may also know that other regions’ foods are generally not like what we eat here under that banner.  Meaning – you won’t find chimichangas in Mexico.  You won’t find much pizza, or good pizza, in Rome.  ‘Pizza’ in Rome is basically naan with some olive oil and maybe a sliced tomato.  Actually, naan is far superior. You won’t find sesame chicken in China, either.

But what about the greatest dish of all time, Paella?  Yes, that is everywhere in Spain, and it will make you a better person.  What about the second best world dish, Pad Thai?  Does that actually exist in Thailand?  Yes.  Yes it does.  But, do they make it weird there, like with hairy oxen anus parts?  No.  That is why Spain doesn’t get credit for eating like we think they do… because we don’t get Paella here, sadly.

That is the best thing about Thai food.   It is what you expect, and want, and it’s great!

Unlike perhaps anywhere else I have been in the world (both Northern… and central Arizona)… Thai food in Thailand is the most similar to what you get here.  It isn’t just super good, it is what you expect.  Also, quite wonderfully, pad thai is street food.  You can get it from a lady in a hot dog cart on the side of the road, and its good.  And it tastes like you think it should taste.  It looks like you think it would look.  And it’s a buck!

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If your response to that last sentence is “I am never going across the earth to eat street food from a cart”, then stop reading now.  Then, stop traveling… now.

Wherever you go on earth, eat the street food.  It is good, cheap, and it is what the local people eat.

Thai food is awesome, and it’s what you would expect.  Even though I consider myself adventurous… that was a nice thing for me.  If you break into people’s homes in Thailand, to see what they are really eating… it is Pad Thai, it’s basil pork fried rice, Massaman Curry, and the like.  They will ask you to leave, eventually.

I take pains to point this out because how a family eats in Mexico looks nothing like what you have ever had at a Mexican restaurant. It’s great, and maybe better.  Italian food was far better than we expected, but much simpler and tastier than what we have here.  Yes, everything has noodles, but I don’t think we had a single tomato based red ‘spaghetti’ sauce once.

If you go to China, though, and break into people’s home… they are not eating Sesame Chicken.  They are probably eating hairy yack anus.  I know what you are thinking; isn’t it incredibly dangerous and rude to break into people’s homes to get an ethnographic feel on food habits?  No.  Remember, no one else carries guns around the world.

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So go and eat the street food wherever you go.  Go and eat what the locals eat.  We were in Cambodia, and asked our driver to take us to where he eats.  For the first three days, he kept taking us to places where he figured we would want to eat.  He (the guide) and our driver would just sit in the shade.  Our meals were like $12 each.  We knew that wasn’t how locals ate.  That is a month’s wage in Cambodia.  We finally got him to take us to where he eats, only if we promised not to tell ANYONE.

Cambodia (neighbor of Thailand, and most famous for having Angkor Watt) is super duper poor, as they just got out of a 40 year civil war that killed everyone.  These wonderful and sweet and resilient people live on something like 50 cents a day.  So, what’s for lunch?  I don’t know what it was, but I can’t rule out the fact that it was hairy yack anus.  Whatever it was had been an animal at some time, as evidenced by the hair on the bones in the soup.

*** postscript – you will note once you leave the US that most countries don’t refrigerate much.  Outside of North America and and wealthier European countries… people don’t use fridges at all.  Even when I stayed with families or places that had perfectly good electricity… you don’t see fridges.  You will go to markets and be outside in the blazing hot sun and all manner of meats and flies are there for you to choose from.  Around the world they don’t need fridges.  They buy enough food for a day or two, and simply eat what’s in season and available.

Stop being such a pussy and just try the crickets once.  Only once, though.  That shit is gross!

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