Back in the states, most people get their Thai food from a Thai restaurant. Acquiring the right ingredients, locating the proper equipment, and finding the time to give new recipes a shot is a bit of a hassle for the every day person. They’d rather swing through the local Thai hot spot, pick up a plate of Pad Thai or some form of curry, and call it good.
If they’re lucky, their local Thai restaurant has a bit of flare and provides a nice eating environment. My favorite Thai restaurant back in the Seattle area is Kwanjai in the Fremont area. It’s a little one story house turned restaurant with less than a dozen tables and a kitchen right there in the corner. You can watch the food being made and chat up the chefs while you’re at it … a great atmosphere. The rest of the Thai restaurants I’ve been to are like any other restaurant – upscale, could be any type of cuisine, nothing too special.
This is why I was super thrilled to actually come to Thailand and experience Thai dining “Thai-style”. Whether walking the streets of Bangkok or the stalls of my local village market, sitting down for a meal truly is an experience.
My favorite “restaurant” in my village is a tiny little hole in the wall right on the main street corner. A small glass case displays all the meat options and behind it is a 40-something year old woman taking orders and chatting away with the customers. Other members of the family – usually a son and whom I would presume to be his wife – are working the woks off to one side. Two tables in the back are usually filled with grandparents, yaais (older women in the area), or a group of men talking and laughing over a bottle of Hong Thong. A young toddlers meanders through the tables and chairs giving all the customers a good smile. It’s the perfect eating experience.
I never thought I would say that.
Back in the states my typical restaurant experience was Red Robin or if I felt like dishing out a few extra bucks, Olive Garden. While I love the atmosphere at Kwanjai, I never got their very often, and I never took it upon myself to go restaurant hopping to try and find other hole in the wall restaurants with great food and a great ambiance to go with it. You better believe this will be a common practice when I get home.
Back to Thailand.
I also love, love, love the concept of street vendors. Back in Seattle we have very few, mainly the two in the morning drunk dogs – a hot dog with cream cheese, tomatoes, and a pickle (a very tasty treat when exiting the bars). We aren’t lucky enough to have the daytime pretzel or hotdog vendors of New York or Philly … and we definitely don’t have the vendors of Thailand.
You can get anything on the street in Thailand. My favorite are the fruit vendors follow by the meat-on-a-stick guys coming in a close second. My favorite meal here is a few sticks of meat, a small pack of sticky rice, a bag of fresh pineapple, and a bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice (I love even more than I can get that for around $1 USD!). I love roaming the carts, chatting up the vendors, making an event out of it. It’s like an adventure in a meal.
Put the street vendors and the small market stall restaurants together and you have an incredible atmosphere for eating. No matter what restaurant, market stall, or street cart I walk up to, the food is always great and the conversation is always entertaining. I’ve never had a dull meal in Thailand and I don’t see it happening any time soon.
Looking forward to tomorrow when I can chat up the local village woman over a delicious plate of Pat Ga Praao Gai … or maybe I’ll go for the Pat Pak Bung. Whatever I choose, I’m sure it’ll be an memorable experience.