I think one of the first phrases I learned when I arrived in Thailand was “gin khao reu yung?” This is a phrase that asks if you have eaten yet but is really more of a greeting than an inquiry. They are not really interested in when you had your last meal. If you dissect that phrase a bit more you will find a clue to as what is the main component of their meals. In Thai, “khao” means “rice”. So, what they are really asking is, “have you eaten rice yet?”
A second thing I noticed was that Thai people seem to eat all the time and they don’t really have the regular mealtimes like we do in the West. I would go as far as saying that for many people, eating is like a hobby. They have a phrase which says “gin len” or “play eating”. This is a bit like our snacking. I see some people eat all the time and they never seem to get fat. However, some do and I will talk more about that another time.
Wherever you go in the streets you will always find food stalls. From dawn to dusk and in some areas, all night. By far the majority are mobile. At the end of their day they wheel their carts back home. Some are pushed and others have bicycles or motorcycles attached. However, an increasing number just leave their cart on the sidewalk and maybe just pull a sheet over it.
Around the corner from where we live there must be at least a dozen of these stalls. For breakfast you can go and eat jok which is a kind of rice porridge with bits of pork and an egg. There are also little rice and coconut puddings called khanom krok. More substantial meals include pad thai (lightly fried noodles), ba mee (egg noodle soup), kao mun gai (Chinese chicken), hoi tod (oyster omlette), som tam (papaya salad) and many more. Then there are the snacks on a stick. Both seafood and meat.
One of my favourites is the fried chicken cooked by the Muslim guy (a.k.a. the “chicken man”). His secret recipe is so much better, and of course cheaper, than KFC. I don’t think his sales were affected much by the bird flu scare. In fact, everyone I know were a bit upset when he disappeared for a week or so. We later found out it was the Muslim new year so I guess he deserved a holiday. The “chicken man” starts the ball rolling mid-afternoon and then his wife takes over late afternoon. By about 7 p.m. all of the best pieces of chicken have long gone.
With all of this abundance of cheap food on every street corner it is not surprising many Thai people either eat out or get “take-away” on their way home from work. A basic meal costs from 20 baht and 5 baht more will give you an extra helping. Just ask for “piset” which means “special”. It is not that difficult to order and all of the vendors around here are very friendly. I obviously have my favourite meals but I don’t want to let any of the vendors think that I am avoiding them intentionally. So, I have this rotation worked out.
Although I do like eating Thai food, it is also nice to have Western food. Since moving into my own house and rediscovering the kitchen I often cook at home. Most of these meals are Western (like meat and three veg) though I do experiment with Thai ingredients sometimes. I think that if I want to eat Western food then I should cook myself. There are some restaurants around Paknam that have Western menus but it can work out very expensive.
Most of the Thai people I know don’t really like Western meals. They are not so keen on steak and they would rather not have extra cheese on the pizza. If they eat a hamburger they would much prefer to eat the meat and then just peck at the bread. They do have milk but it is mainly seen as a children’s drink. So, they wouldn’t have cereals. They like bacon but again it is not traditional to have egg and bacon like we do.
For myself, I prefer a good breakfast of egg and bacon on toast or some cereals with a cup of coffee. Go to a restaurant and that kind of meal would set you back 100 baht at least. On the other hand, Thai people would have a jok rice porridge for just 20 baht or so. Other Thai people I know would eat food left over from the meal the night before. Although I like curries very much, I just cannot bring myself to eating anything hot and spicy so early in the morning!
I will talk more about mealtimes tomorrow.