Recently I decided to have a go at The Thai Street Food Challenge. Basically, I have to eat nothing but street food for every meal for 30 days. In theory it doesn’t sound much of a challenge as street food in Thailand is both delicious and plentiful. However, I have some strict rules that I have to adhere to. For a start I am not allowed to repeat any of the meals. This means that this month I have to eat at least 90 different meals! I also cannot eat in any restaurant or food court. Basically anywhere that has a front door or is air-conditioned. This leaves me open-fronted food shops, food stalls, carts and wandering hawkers.
I have just completed my first ten days of the challenge which has already seen me eating thirty different dishes. That is quite an achievement but I still have 20 days to go! At this moment in time, I still have no idea whether I will be able to find enough different dishes on the streets of Paknam in Samut Prakan. But, I am trying really hard. As many of you know, I prefer to cook food myself and usually only eat street food when I am out and about or when I am too tired to cook. For most people eating out is a convenience as they can stop for food on the way to or back from work. But, for me it is easier to cook or prepare my own food as I work in the vicinity of where I live.
When I first started a number of people said that I would find it cheaper eating out all the time compared to cooking at home. That certainly hasn’t been an exaggeration. In my first week I spent only 608 baht on my meals ($19.50). That works out at less than $1 per meal! When I cook I have the advantage of choosing only the best ingredients. It is also easier for me to avoid the Thai cook’s habit of putting too much sugar and even MSG into the food. However, that comes at a price. So far I have spent less on street food than I do during my weekly supermarket visits. I think the main difference is that when I cook myself I use more meat and probably better quality. Another saving that I think I will see this month is on electricity as I am not using the electric cooker or oven.
When I am eating out I also take advantage of the free drinks that they offer at most food shops and stalls. This is usually boiled water which is safe on most occasions. I usually say that if you see a lot of Thais at a food stall then you shouldn’t have any a problems with bad food. However, if you are a tourist then it might be advisable to ask for bottled water. This usually costs 10 baht. Some food shops will charge 1 or 2 baht for ice. They often sell other drinks which are also worth exploring.
When I told people about the street food challenge for one month they likened it to the “Super Size Me” movie where the film-maker ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 28 days. He said that as a result of this he gained 11 kilos in weight and suffered from high cholesterol and mood swings. I guess I was a little concerned about my own experiment. Mainly because of hazards like MSG. I know I am getting variety but I am not having the usual vegetables and fruit that I normally eat most days. There is also a lot of deep fried street food that I am eating. However, so far I am not experiencing any ill-effect and I have also lost 1.5 kiols in weight without even trying!
It hasn’t been easy, but I have been doing my best to pace myself for the 30 day challenge. The temptation is to eat all my favourite food straight away but that would leave a very boring last two weeks! So, I am trying to mix it up a lot. It hasn’t always been easy as there is a lot of food out there that I don’t normally try. Like many people, I often just stick to my core favourites which I keep repeating. However, at least I am exploring and finding some new dishes that I will probably try again after the challenge has finished. Another good thing is that I have been exploring my city a lot and have found places that I didn’t know existed before!
The biggest challenge for me has been breakfast. There aren’t that many stalls open near where I live in the morning. And anyway, there are probably only 3 or 4 good dishes to have for breakfast. For example, johk, khao tom, salapao and pathongko. I am still trying to get used to having spicy food so early. For Thai people they often just eat what was left over from the night before. So, taking a page from their book, I have started to buy food down the market the night before to eat for breakfast.
You can follow my Thai Street Food Challenge live on Twitter by going to @EnjoyThaiFood. I am also posting a daily summary over at www.EnjoyThaiFood.com. In addition, you can follow my challenge on a photo map.