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Meanwhile in Thailand…

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Thailand #1

If you ever find yourself in Thailand, be sure to pack a second stomach because it’s a foodie paradise! This November,  I ventured through the vibrant culinary scene of Thailand and found creative, unique, and delicious food in every direction. On every street corner, in every alleyway, and at the heart of every shopping centre, are enticing smells, sites, and tastes. From pad thai to mango sticky rice, taro puffs to succulent meat skewers, it’s a serious endeavour to determine which delights are most deserving of your stomach!

After 3 weeks of labouring in the foodie fields, there were so many things tasted and certainly a few things to be learned. In this post you’ll find the delights you won’t want to miss, tips on where to find the best eats, and the scoop on how much it all costs! I hope this inspires you to make the most of your foodie experiences – I’d eat it all again if I could!

1) Pad Thai – Though this might be obvious, don’t discount it! The taste is impressively different from what they serve up in North America. I found that the noodles were much bouncier and that the signature sour/salty taste was much more distinct than what I’ve experienced in restaurants in Vancouver. With a squeeze of fresh Thai lime, this is a staple choice for a meal!

Where to find: In almost every Thai restaurant, numerous street stalls.

Tip: People are often wary of the cleanliness of street food, and rightfully so! However, Pad Thai from street vendors often trumps the authenticity of sit-down restaurants. Key to safety is noting how the meat is prepared (made to order is best) and the general hygiene of the prep area. With a keen eye, you can get some really amazing (and budget-friendly) street eats!

Cost: Street – 30-90baht ($1-$4 CAD), Restaurant – 70-190 ($3-$7 CAD)

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2) Green Papaya Salad – A refreshing splash of young papaya, shredded carrots, cabbage and fresh chillis.

Tip: At street stalls, look for the use of a mortar and pestle. By pounding the “salad dressing” together (Palm sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, chilli, chilli paste) the flavours blend well and fragrantly. If you’re enticed by the “with crab” option, note that just the shells are added for flavour (you won’t be getting any crab meat!)

Cost: Street – 30-80 baht ($1-$3), Restaurant – 80+ baht ($3+)

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3) Black Pepper Prawns – Similar to the Singaporean-style black pepper crab, the crispy prawns are stir fried with garlic and fresh ground pepper. A seriously satisfying addition to a meal!

Where to find: I didn’t spot this on the street but, as I said, my eyes were drawn in every direction! Any Thai seafood restaurant likely has this on their menu.

Cost: Restaurant – 300+ baht (can also be by weight) ($10+)

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4) Fruit Shakes – An oasis for those scorching hot days! Blended with ice and sweetened with coconut water.

Tip: Go for the fresh fruit flavours at the street stalls (the fruit should be covered and lying on ice). Banana and pineapple were my favourites! Note that a “smoothie” contains milk, and a “shake” will just have blended ice.

Cost: Street – 30-100 baht ($1-$4), Restaurant – 50-150+ baht ($2-$5)

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5) Thai Iced Coffee – If you’re already addicted to coffee and you can appreciate a good kick of sugar, you’ll like this blend of caffeine and condensed milk. I had one almost every day!

Tip: For safety, try to note how the ice is contained. It’s usually a good sign if the ice is covered, but again, use your judgement!

Cost: 10-90 baht (>$3). This is usually made with Nescafé powder mix – if you have it made with fresh coffee, the price will go up.

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6) Mango Sticky Rice – As simple as this dessert sounds, it’s complex flavour will surprise you. When fresh, this traditional Thai dessert features fragrant mango slices,  glutinous rice sweetened with condensed milk, and toasted sesame seeds.

Where to find: Most everywhere, but I had this one in a mall! Though food court cuisine is often frowned upon by foodies, this is not at all the case in Thailand. There is a never-ending expanse of delectable food options to try in the shopping centres!

Cost – 30-120+ baht ($1-$4+)

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7) Chiang Mai Noodle – A curried noodle, specific to Northern Thailand. The taste of the curry is derived from coconut milk and curry powder.  I hadn’t tasted anything like this before and I would highly recommend the dish.

Where to find: In Chiang Mai! Though you are likely to find this in markets and restaurants, I actually made this at a Thai cooking class!

Tip: Above elephant riding and zip-lining, the cooking class was, by far, the most valuable and rewarding activity during my trip. You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy the experience, it’s a fun and engaging way to meet other travellers, learn how to make Thai food, and have a fantastic meal! Check Trip Advisor to find out about the variety of cooking classes offered! I spent an evening at Baan Thai Cookery School and had an amazing time. http://www.cookinthai.com/

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8) Deep Fried Fish with Spicy Sauce – Need I say more?

Where to find: I enjoyed this at Ao Nang, a beach town on the southern coast of Thailand. The catch of the day was laying on ice outside of the restaurant and I couldn’t resist!

Tip: The servers and chefs might ask you if you like “Thai spicy” or normal spicy. I love spicy food, but Thai spicy has the power to knock your socks off.

Cost: Restaurant – 350+ baht (can also be by weight) ($11+)

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9) Tom Yum Goong – A spicy, hot and sour soup made from fresh ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and chilli peppers. Of the vegetarian/chicken/beef/seafood options, my personal favourite has always been seafood!

Where to find: Any restaurant. Select street vendors will serve only tom yum soup, but seating around the cart is at a premium!

Tip: If you want to make this dish a meal, ask to add glass noodles to the soup!

Cost: Restaurant – 90 – 200+ baht ($3-$7)

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10) Thai Pancake – No matter how full you may be, there’s always room for a Thai Pancake! This super-addicting, pan-fried street food is similar to the Indo-Malay roti. It’s a simple dough of egg and flour, that’s flopped in a wok of hot butter. There are 20-30 varieties of toppings, depending on which street cart you choose! 

Tip: Go for the fresh fruit flavours! Choices like coconut, pineapple, and banana are sure fire wins – they put slices of fruit in the middle of the pancake! YUM.

Cost: 30-90 baht ($1-$3.50)

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As an eat-hard foodie, I have such a great time sampling the food when I travel. Experiencing a city through a culinary lens is an incredible way to gain perspective on food (obviously), culture, and even history. The next time you’re looking for your next destination, let your hunger guide you!

Already eaten your way across the map? We’d love to hear from you! Share your favourite cultural dining experience with us in the comments below!

Joyce Chua

About Joyce Chua

I’m fascinated by food and its impact on culture, especially in an increasingly globalized world. I love how Vancouver’s multicultural food scene opens doors to history, culture, and understanding. Here’s to a life of eating and learning!

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