Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thai Food Challenge Day 01

This is day one for my 30 day challenge to eat street food for every meal. I started today with pathongko together with nam tao hoo (ปาท่องโก๋ น้ำเต้าหู้). This is sometimes translated as Chinese Doughnuts though it is shaped like an "X". The drink that comes with this deep fried dough is sweetened soy milk. This set cost me only 10 baht. This is not really a traditional Thai brekafast but as it is often sold early in the morning then many people eat it at this time. I bought it at a stall near my house and they usually sell out by 9 a.m.

For lunch I had one of my favourite street food. It is khao mun gai tod (ข้าวมันไก่ทอด) which is fried chicken on rice that has been boiled in chicken stock. It also comes with some soup. An alternative is to have boiled chicken which I will have another day. Normal price for this is 25 baht but I ordered "piset" which was 30 baht.

I bought my evening meal at the monthly Paknam Food Festival in Samut Prakan. It is called krapho pla (กระเพาะปลา) which is a thick soup that has fish stomach, boiled duck blood in cubes, bamboo shoots, chicken and quail eggs! It cost 30 baht. I don't normally eat this dish but I thought I shouldn't just stick to all my favourites in the first week!

I decided to finish the day off with a dessert called sangkaya fakthong (สังขยาฟักทอง). This is a pumpkin custard which cost only 25 Baht. It is good but it was very filling! So, I managed to survive my first full day of Thai street food. Today I spent 95 baht on food which is about US$3.70.

Thai Street Food Challenge

One of the best things about living in Thailand is the food. It is not only delicious, but it is also plentiful and cheap. In fact, you can find it on almost any street corner at any time of day or night. I guess we are spoilt in Thailand in having such easy access to Thai food. After all, one meal in a Thai restaurant in say London, New York or Sydney would probably be the same as our weekly food budget. I know that is not really fair to compare as portion sizes in the West are far greater than what we get here. In addition, if you order say chicken curry in a London restaurant you are actually going to get a fair amount of meat. Here you will probably get a lot of bone and a bit of meat! Basically you get what you pay for.

As you probably know, I love to cook. So, I don't actually go out and buy street food that much. If I am going to eat green curry, I like to have a good amount of quality meat in it. If I am going to have stir-fried vegetables, I want to make sure that it isn't sweetened with a lot of sugar or "flavoured" with a tablespoon of MSG. I also like playing around with recipes mixing Thai and Western recipes to create my own innovations. It is fun. Cooking for myself also means that I can have more Western meals. Variety is always good I think. I don't live in Bangkok and we don't get much of a choice here in Samut Prakan.

One of the downsides to cooking at home is the cost. If you are buying quality ingredients or cooking Western meals then it is going to cost you more than the average meal bought on the street. Electricity is also expensive and my cooker and oven contribute greatly to my electricity bill. In the West we cook at home in order to save money. If we go out we might prepare sandwiches and a flask of hot soup. In Thailand, in theory, it is the opposite. I think a lot of us would say that it is actually cheaper to eat out every night. Of course, that doesn't mean dining at five star hotels every evening and drinking wine or beer. You can easily go through a lot of money that way.

Eating out for us is going to a local food shop or buying something from a food cart. Something that I don't do nearly enough. Which is what gave me the idea for this food challenge. I decided for one month that I would eat nothing but Thai street food. This would be three meals a day, seven days a week. I am not allowed to go to supermarkets, restaurants or even 7-Eleven. At home I cannot cook or even heat things up. I won't even be allowed to boil some water to make a cup of coffee. Quite a few Thai families don't have a working kitchen. Or if they do then it is just a single gas hob. What I want to see is if I will really save money by eating out for every meal. I have already made a note of how much I spend weekly at the supermarket and also the monthly average for my electricity bill.

To make it a bit more interesting, and certainly more challenging, I am not allowed to eat the same dish twice. Straight away this means I will be eating at least 90 different dishes in one month! I am not sure if that is even possible. In addition, I cannot return to the same food shop, food cart, stall or food vendor twice in the same week. To be honest, I am not sure how easy it is going to be for me. Breakfast is certainly going to be a challenge. My Soi doesn't sell much in the morning and I have to be at work by 7.15 a.m. So, I might have to do what many Thai people do and eat leftovers from the night before. Though, of course, for me it has to be something new bought the night before. I was never one for eating spicy food so early in the morning!

My Thai Street Food challenge starts on Wednesday 1st September 2010 and will last until the end of the month. I will also take notes about the kinds of places that are selling food. I will then write about my findings here at the end of the month. So, what do you reckon? Will it really be cheaper for me to eat out for every meal? Will I be saving money or will I just be putting on a lot of weight? Let's see!

I Likes Thai Food

Authenticity is perhaps the biggest lightning rod when it comes to fodder amongst hardcore food enthusiasts, especially for those online. It’s an odd criteria, a subjective crystallization of a certain trope of a certain group at a certain locale at a certain time, a tall benchmark that gets zealously applied, particularly when speaking of ethnic restaurants. The best compliment that any ethnic restaurant can receive? It was authentic.

Such was the online discussion about I Likes Thai Food, a relatively new restaurant on the Main Street of a city already littered with Thai-ish restaurants. Discussion boards, blogs, etcetera were all raving about the restaurant, emphatic about its authenticity, despite the fact that many of those opining have likely never been to Thailand for longer than that rite-of-passage backpack trip, if at all.

The key or at least starting factor in this judgment seems to be based on ketchup. Many Thai places around town use an abundant quantity of the condiment when making their pad thai: of course, no such use occurs in Thailand, or so I’ve been told. In fact, out of the sheer number of Thai restaurants in town, there are surprisingly few of them that don’t use ketchup, and so the pad thai/ketchup criteria has seemingly developed as a determinative criteria (particularly amongst those on Chowhound) as to whether a restaurant is authentic enough to be worthy of a visit.

No, I Likes Thai Food does not use ketchup in their pad thai ($12). Instead, their version is tangy with tamarind and fish sauce, and made with the standard bean sprouts, egg, tofu, and prawns, dusted with peanuts. Pad thai, I suppose, is one of those dishes where “more” is not more, and many places go horribly awry when the urge to add gets out of hand.

As one would surmise, there are many curries on hand as well, which you can eat in their loosely decorated room where reggae is king and the atmosphere akin to a Main Street living room (albeit cleaner and brighter, though just as conservative with luxuries). The green chicken curry ($10.50) is a dense layering of flavour upon flavour, indebted to lemongrass and wed to coconut milk. A roasted red duck curry ($13, not on the regular menu) is not nearly as spicy as the waitress had warned (she had already been back to the kitchen to report numerous complaints, which I suspect led to the anticlimax), and balanced out with pineapple and lychee. Neither curry were particularly generous with the protein, another slight disappointment that one must overlook.
What can’t be overlooked, however, is the mess that is the Swimming Rama ($9.50). The dish’s name is derived from the Hindu deity Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, who, in some depictions of Rama’s battle with the demon god Ravana, has a green body, which is represented by the leafy vegetables in the dish (at Bob Likes Thai Food, spinach). This then ‘swims’ in the peanut sauce and protein (at Bob Likes Thai Food, tofu), or drowned, in this version. A more sturdy vegetable than spinach would have had more of a fighting chance, but the limp spinach really needed a miracle to save it from sacrilege.

Salads fare a bit better. The green papaya salad ($6.50) is fresh and crunchy, heavily dressed and sweet, though with an ambitious amount of spice. The laab moo ($10), a salad originating from the Isaan region in northeastern Thailand, mixes ground pork, well-flavored with lime and chili, with not-quite-enough toasted rice: contrasts in flavour without a contrast in texture. Both, though, are worthy introductions to the restaurant.

At the other end of the meal, you’ll need to ask your server about dessert before they proffer. They don’t appear on the menu, and, at times, aren’t necessarily pronounceable by the non-Thai staff. Tai, the proprietor, came out to offer us Ka Nom Tom, traditional sticky rice flour dumplings coated with shredded coconut and with even more coconut in its centre, a delight to think about and even better to eat. The desserts don’t seem to be made on site, so expect the options to vary.

To be upfront honest about it, I’ve never been to Thailand, though I have eaten at many Thai restaurants. I’ve never been to the Mississippi Delta, though I have listened to enough blues records. I’ve never been in a Hong Kong triad, though I’ve watched a fair share of Johnnie To films. Point is, all of these things have given me a glimpse of someone’s view of a certain place and a time, and I measure their success in terms of how vivid that glimpse or depiction is. And though I’ve never run boats off Koh Samui or dodged scooters on the streets of Bangkok, the food at Bob Likes Thai Food gives a certain snapshot of it, and, authentic or not, it’s a lively one. And that, much more than authenticity, seems like a worthy criteria.

Thailand Alcoholic Drinks

The three alcoholic drinks that are most readily available in bars throughout Thailand are the following: Sang Som is a Thai spirit which tastes like a mild whiskey. It is ruby in colour and is usually drunk with cola or lemonade. Thais however, will usually drink it with ice and no mixer.
Chang Beer can be found in literally all bars and has an alcohol content of 5%.
Singha Beer is a popular beer with an alcohol content of 6% and is pale in colour.

Durian - The 'King of Fruits'

When strolling through Thai markets or supermarkets passing the fruit section, you may notice an unfamiliar somewhat pungent smell. This is the unusual aroma of Durian.

In its uncut form, it can be recognized by its brownish green thorn like tough skin. Once opened, the flesh is typically a pale yellow or cream colour, but some species of the 'King Fruits', as it is locally nicknamed, can be red or bright yellow.

Taste and Texture:
The fruit is often referred to as tasting like a creamy almond custard. Upon eating the fruit, you will notice that it is soft, smooth and has no juice. Many also like to eat it due to its nutritional value as it is high in protein and carbohydrates.

Durian fruit can be eaten raw just like any other fruit. It is common in Thailand for it to be mixed with pumpkin and transformed into a paste. The paste is a dark brunt orange colour and is sold in tubes. It is then used as fillings for foods such as moon cakes, cakes and biscuits. Western foods such as milkshakes and ice creams have been given a Thai twist with durian flavouring being added to them turning the fruit into drinks and desserts.

It is not uncommon for high class supermarkets, restaurants and even hotels to have signs present that state 'No Durian'. This is purely due to its smell, as many westerners in particular do not like the fruit and find it off putting. People within Thailand and throughout other Asian countries such as Malaysia and China, also believe that to eat the fruit with alcohol is bad for you. An Asian Myth states it causes bad breath, which in turn reduces the body's ability by 70% to release harmful toxins.

About Koh Samet Island

The Island of the White Beaches

= Short Facts =
In Thai language: เกาะเสม็ด
The name means: Island of the cajeput tree
Distance from Bangkok: About 220 kilometers
Location: Central Thailand, in The Gulf of Thailand
Status: National park
Located in district: Amphoe Muang (เมืองระยอง)
Located in province: Rayong (ระยอง)

= Getting Here - Go to Koh Samet =
From Bangkok, the most common way to get to the island is by regular bus or minibus (plus ferry). The buses leaves from either Ekkamai (Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal), from Suvarnabhumi Airport or from Khao San Road (known "backpacker-street" in Bangkok). Tickets are available at the bus station or in virtually any travel agency in Bangkok.
There are also daily minibuses from Pattaya, Jomtien Trat and Koh Chang. If you're going from other places just buy the tickets at a local travel agency. However you will then usually have to change bus once, or even twice.
The bus will take you to either Rayong, or directly to the ferry pier in the fishing village of Ban Phe. From Ban Phe there are direct boats to Koh Samet. If the ferry ticket isn't included in the price, you are able to purchase a ticket next to the pier.

= General Facts =
Ko Samet (or Koh Samet) is a national park and a place of great natural beauty in the Rayong province. Samet is not that far from Pattaya and Bangkok, but the close distance is probably the only thing this island has in common with the other two destinations.
Ko Samet has fabulous beaches but a minimum of night life, bars and discotheques. The island is located about seven kilometers from main land and the beaches here are among the best in Thailand (together with the ones in Krabi).
The most well-known beaches in Samet are Hat Sai Kaew, Ao Phai, Ao Vong Duan, Ao Wai and Ao Kui Na Nok on the East coast and Ao Prao on the West coast.
Many of these beaches has sand that is so fine and white, so that it almost can be compared with flour. If you have brought your camera, iPod / mp3 player etc. make sure you do not get this fine sand into these devices.

= National Park Fee =
When you arrive at Koh Samet, you will have to pay a small fee to enter the island and the National Park. Tourists pay about 400 Baht and Thai citizens pay about 40 baht. If you arrive with the regular ferry to the pier, and go from there with a taxi or a pick up truck, it will stop at an office where you are able to pay the fee.
But if you travel by a speed-boat and arrive directly at the beach, you will probably meet an officer who will collect the fee. The boat trip from Ban Phe to Koh Samet will last about 30-45 minutes, depending on weather conditions.
When you purchase the boat ticket, the sales persons might try to sell you the entrance fee to Koh Samet. But our advice is to buy it when you are on the island already
= Weather on the Island =
The weather in Koh Samet is normally good the whole year. Also during the rain season, between June and October, people go here because it's not generally raining that much during the rainy monsoon season here. Koh Samet is actually the island in Thailand that has the driest weather during the rain season.
There are many really nice resorts and cozy bungalows in Koh Samet and you can easily book them from this website. It is 100% safe and we are open 24 hours a day.

Bangkok Maps

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Bangkok Weekend Market - Jatujak

Once only popular among wholesalers and traders, Chatuchak Weekend Market has reached a landmark status as a must-visit place for tourists. Its sheer size and diverse collections of merchandise will bring any seasoned shoppers to their knees – this is where you can literally shop ‘till you drop’.
The 35-acre (68-rai) area of Chatuchak is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. On a typical weekend, more than 200,000 visitors come here to sift through the goods on offer. Veteran shoppers would agree that just about everything is on sale here, although not all at the best bargain rates. But if you have one weekend in Bangkok, squeeze in a day trip to Chatuchak Weekend Market and you will not be disappointed.

= Navigating Chatuchak Weekend Market =
For first-timers, ‘conquering’ Chatuchak may seem like an impossible task, but worry not. There is a system to help you navigate your way through Chatuchak. Inside, one main walkway encircles the entire market, and it branches off into a series of numbered alleyways called Soi 1, Soi 2, Soi 3, and so on.
These alleyways are grouped into sections, with 27 sections in all. You will find more than one category of goods contained in one section, and the same category of goods will appear again in the other sections. In terms of locating your category of goods, this system is rather useless; but it will come in handy when you try to locate your particular stall or where your exact location is on the Chatuchak map.
Another way to find your way around Chatuchak is to find points of reference as you go along. The BTS and MRT stations as well as banks and numbered entrance gates are good points of references, as you will come across them as you turn corners. Then again, use the map to locate these references to find your correct orientation.

= What’s For Sale? =
If you can dream it up, Chatuchak probably has it. Here, you will be amazed at the sheer variety of merchandise, whether a Moroccan lamp, an antique wooden chest, a pair of vintage Levi’s jeans, or, on the exotic side, a python.
Although it’s impossible to name all, the selection of goods being offered at Chatuchak can be roughly divided into 11 categories:
  • Clothing & Accessories (sections 2-6, 10-26)
  • Handicrafts (sections 8-11)
  • Ceramics (sections 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 25)
  • Furniture and Home Decoration (sections 1,3,4,7,8)
  • Food and Beverage (sections 2, 3, 4, 23, 24, 26, 27)
  • Plants and Gardening tools (sections 3, 4)
  • Art and Gallery (section 7)
  • Pets and Pet Accessories (sections 8, 9, 11, 13)
  • Books (sections 1, 27)
  • Antiques and Collectibles (sections 1, 26)
  • Miscellaneous and Used Clothing (sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 22, 25, 26)
When buying goods at Chatuchak, particularly ‘antiques’, it is wise to exercise a few precautions. Check your goods thoroughly to see whether there is any damage, as many vendors sell factory rejects. For ‘antiques’, don’t trust the vendor when he tells you it is genuine. It’s better to bring along an expert, unless you are happy with what you are paying for.

= Bargaining Tips =
Chatuchak Weekend Market is the perfect place for bargain hunting, although whatever you buy here is probably no longer the best deal you can find. So brush up your negotiation skills and be prepared to walk away when the deal fails to go your way. Then, you’ll either be offered a lower price or simply find the same merchandise at another stall. It also helps to do a few practice runs before you actually start buying. Note that a friendly attitude and big smile are your biggest allies in securing the best possible deal.

= How to Enjoy Your Shopping Experience =
Few people go to Chatuchak knowing exactly what they want or which stall to go to. Many expect to be surprised and let the sights of all the goods take them through a journey down the maze of stalls. Most often, shoppers arrive with a rough idea of what they want, then are hypnotised by what they see and end up going home with more than a few extra shopping items.
So, the best advice is, if you are going for the first time, to pick a starting point then just follow your instincts, enjoy the experience and bring home your exciting new finds.

= Before You Go to Chatuchak =
Chances are you will end up spending at least half a day here so it is a good idea to prepare a few things to ensure that your shopping experience at Chatuchak is an enjoyable one.
  • Wear light and comfortable clothing, e.g. shorts and a t-shirt/tank-top
  • Wear comfortable shoes, e.g. a pair of sneakers or sandals 
  • Protect yourself against the sun, by wearing sunglasses, a hat and use sunscreen
  • Bring a backpack for storing your new-found treasures. It is recommended that you wear your backpack on the front rather than on your back
  • Always have bottled drinking water handy 
  • Bring enough cash. Most vendors do not accept credit cards, and it can be a long walk to the next ATM
  • Beware of pickpockets and watch your belongings 
  • Plan to go in the morning, as it can get very hot and crowded in the afternoon
  • Free maps are available from one of the information kiosks

= How to Get to Chatuchak =
Hop on the skytrain (BTS) to Mo Chit station, take exit no. 1 and follow the crowd until you see rows of canvas stalls selling clothes. Turn right while continuing to follow the crowd and you will see a small entrance that leads into the market (clothing section).
Another option is to take the subway (MRT) to Chatuchak Park station (exit no.1), then follow the crowd until you arrive at the small entrance that leads into the market (clothing section). For the plant and flower section, get off at Kampheng Phet MRT station (exit no. 1).
The weekend market is open on Saturdays and Sundays, 09:00 - 18:00, and Fridays 18:00 - 24:00. Plant sections are also open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 07:00 - 18:00.

We Love Pattaya

Where there is a beautiful woman in Pattaya, Thailand