A Post About Thai Food

I write this sitting in a restaurant in Chiang Mai, eating a bowl of what has been described to me as spicy ramen soup with tonkatsu.

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After almost three weeks in Thailand, I found my first mango sticky rice yesterday in Chiang Mai. What have I been eating? You might ask. I think I can safely say I’ve been eating Thai food. After all, it has all been made by Thai people, ordered in Thai, by roadside stalls, and more or less the same throughout.

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With family and friends, we all know what we mean when we say “let’s go for Thai food” – this includes food such as pad thai, beef noodles, pineapple fried rice, tom yum, pandan chicken, basil minced pork, fried whole fish with mango/papaya salad drizzled in thai spicy sauce, red ruby, mango sticky rice. I think these are more than available in Chiang Mai city, but these are not what I eat everyday. In fact, we eat plain old kway teow soup, khao pad (fried rice), mixed rice, and (fine I admit) some pad thai.

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Is Thai food what the average Thai person eats? If so Thai food is rice, with maybe a fried egg and some vegetable curry.

Is it what foreginers imagine it to be (for we are the only ones who call it thai food)? If so then Thai food is the obvious list above.

Is it what touring cyclists eat? No doubt, this is kway teow soup and fried rice.

Is it what Thai people in the prominent cities (Bangkok, Chiang Mai) eat? If so, then this list is complicated.

"Farang" is foreigner

“Farang” is foreigner

As I finish my bowl of ramen I think the same questions can be asked not just for food but for what is Thai? Who are the Thai people and what represents Thailand and its culture?

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One thought on “A Post About Thai Food

  1. Andrew Johnson says:

    This post makes me hungry.

    Some of the “Thai food” you mention, you probably won’t find in Thailand.
    Pineapple fried rice? No.
    Pandan chicken? Not likely.
    Mango sticky rice? Ok, well, that’s around some places.

    Thai cooks abroad often overestimate the foreignness of foreign tongues. They imagine that foreigners, whether Singaporeans or farangs, want Thai food to be sweet, not (too) spicy, and not too fishy. So a lot of the food you get here has been, for lack of a better word, all tarted up with sugar. Sometimes they just invent something anew (see: anything with peanut sauce).

    So, to try:
    You’ve already hit the kway tieaw and the khao phad (fried rice). So let’s give that a miss for now. Find some Isaan food (Lao food) and go for some laab or muu nam tok (“waterfall pork”). See if you can track down pulverized fried catfish (pla deuk foo). Som tam (papaya salad) has a long and wonderful number of different varieties (with salted crab, with fermented fish sauce). Yen ta fo (yong tao foo) is pretty popular, as is khao man kai (chicken rice), and I like these better than their Singaporean equivalents. Blood curry is popular in the north, as is frog curry – see if you can find these! But absolutely don’t miss out on Shan noodles (khao soi) or Burmese pork curry (kaeng hang-lae) when you’re in the North!

    Hell, just go here:
    http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/ShowUserReviews-g293917-d1390041-r125961144-Tong_Bar_and_Restaurant-Chiang_Ma.html
    And eat everything. The owner is a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in maybe 7 years and might have forgotten me.

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