By Alice Ailes, Teacher in Tak, Thailand
Food has been a massive and integral part of my new life in Thailand and I’m excited to share my thoughts and insights after eating my way from Chiang Rai all the way down to Phuket.
Is Thai food in Thailand similar to what you get in restaurants back home?
The main difference about true Thai food that struck me when I arrived was the huge array of choices compared to the limited selection of green and red curries, pad thai and spring rolls which seem to feature heavily on Thai menus in England. The variety in Thailand is endless and exciting. Not to mention the huge difference in price as well! It seems crazy to think that you pay 12 pounds for a pad Thai at your local Giggling Squid compared to 40 baht (equivalent to £1!) down at your local food court (and not to mention way tastier!).
What has been the best thing you have eaten since arriving?
Without a doubt my favourite dish in Thailand is khaosoi – an amazing dish famous in the North of Thailand and possibly one of the best things to happen to me in Thailand… It’s a delicious creamy noodle soup made with a coconutty and slightly spicy broth and I was blessed to have access to some of the best in my city for just 35 baht a bowl!
What has been your worst food experience since arriving?
After leaving the land of chips and gravy, it is unfortunate but inevitable that you will succumb to Thai tummy. The spicy food can be invigorating and delicious but it can also leave your stomach in pain from time to time. An unfortunate bout of food poisoning from some suspect meat left me debilated for 24 hours but this is always expected when adapting to such a new diet.
What has shocked you most about food in Thailand?
This is quite hard to narrow down so I will choose two things. The first to strike me is how much sugar is in the food and drinks. A lot of dishes sometimes taste unusually sweet due to the added sugar. And say goodbye to sugar-free drinks as condensed milk and syrup become your new best friend in your iced coffee. You might get some strange looks when you ask for mai wan (no sugar) when ordering a drink as sugar is such a staple in Thailand. The second thing that was very shocking is the sheer amount of plastic they use in their food containers and packaging, particularly noticeable when you’re buying various tidbits from the market. It’s too easy to find yourself clutching at least 4 plastic bags, with plastic containers, plastic straws and plastic cups. Investing in a handy reusable bag will leave your conscience slightly less heavy when tucking into your tasty Thai treats.
What do you usually eat when you are at school?
At school we had a canteen with 5 or 6 different food stalls with a nice array of varied dishes. Grabbing lunch for 25 baht in the school canteen was a stress-free and yummy way to fuel yourself for a day of high-energy teaching. Eating lunch at 11am most days was pretty strange though, but this seems to be a common time for Thai people to eat lunch.
Do you usually eat out, get delivery or cook for yourself in the evenings?
In my one-room apartment, cooking wasn’t really much of an option for me due to the lack of space and equipment. However, when you have unlimited options at your fingertips on the selection of delivery apps for such cheap prices, I never complained and basked in the convenience of having my food delivered to me most evenings.
What is your least favourite thing about Thai food in general?
Personally my least favourite thing about Thai food is the lack of fresh vegetables in their pre-cooked dishes. As cooking for myself was not really an option, getting fresh veg into my diet wasn’t always easy, but I could always lay my hands on a fresh salad either from the market or FoodPanda to get my nutrients in.
What one Thai dish would you recommend to anyone visiting Thailand for the first time?
Shabu is a really social and yummy way to spend an evening with friends or colleagues. It is essentially a DIY hot pot and grill and a must-do in Thailand. Remember to wear your stretchy trousers though!
That, and Moo ping – BBQ pork skewers with sticky rice – a staple to pick up either for breakfast (weird, I know but don’t knock it till you try it) or at your local night market.
A piece of advice if you’re really into your food and wanting to try as much as possible: ask your colleagues and other Thai people you know for food stall/restaurant or road-side cart recommendations – that’s how I found out about my favourite khaosoi. A very kind colleague drove me and a friend around the city showing us all the best places to eat that we otherwise would’ve never known about.