Category Archives: Enjoy Thai Food

Eating Thai Street Food in Thailand

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.

My Thai Street Food Challenge

One of the best things about living in Thailand is the food. It is not only delicious, but it is also plentiful and cheap. In fact, you can find it on almost any street corner at any time of day or night. I guess we are spoilt in Thailand in having such easy access to Thai food. After all, one meal in a Thai restaurant in say London, New York or Sydney would probably be the same as our weekly food budget. I know that is not really fair to compare as portion sizes in the West are far greater than what we get here. In addition, if you order say chicken curry in a London restaurant you are actually going to get a fair amount of meat. Here you will probably get a lot of bone and a bit of meat! Basically you get what you pay for.

As you probably know, I love to cook. So, I don’t actually go out and buy street food that much. If I am going to eat green curry, I like to have a good amount of quality meat in it. If I am going to have stir-fried vegetables, I want to make sure that it isn’t sweetened with a lot of sugar or “flavoured” with a tablespoon of MSG. I also like playing around with recipes mixing Thai and Western recipes to create my own innovations. It is fun. Cooking for myself also means that I can have more Western meals. Variety is always good I think. I don’t live in Bangkok and we don’t get much of a choice here in Samut Prakan.

One of the downsides to cooking at home is the cost. If you are buying quality ingredients or cooking Western meals then it is going to cost you more than the average meal bought on the street. Electricity is also expensive and my cooker and oven contribute greatly to my electricity bill. In the West we cook at home in order to save money. If we go out we might prepare sandwiches and a flask of hot soup. In Thailand, in theory, it is the opposite. I think a lot of us would say that it is actually cheaper to eat out every night. Of course, that doesn’t mean dining at five star hotels every evening and drinking wine or beer. You can easily go through a lot of money that way.

Eating out for us is going to a local food shop or buying something from a food cart. Something that I don’t do nearly enough. Which is what gave me the idea for this food challenge. I decided for one month that I would eat nothing but Thai street food. This would be three meals a day, seven days a week. I am not allowed to go to supermarkets, restaurants or even 7-Eleven. At home I cannot cook or even heat things up. I won’t even be allowed to boil some water to make a cup of coffee. Quite a few Thai families don’t have a working kitchen. Or if they do then it is just a single gas hob. What I want to see is if I will really save money by eating out for every meal. I have already made a note of how much I spend weekly at the supermarket and also the monthly average for my electricity bill.

To make it a bit more interesting, and certainly more challenging, I am not allowed to eat the same dish twice. Straight away this means I will be eating at least 90 different dishes in one month! I am not sure if that is even possible. In addition, I cannot return to the same food shop, food cart, stall or food vendor twice in the same week. To be honest, I am not sure how easy it is going to be for me. Breakfast is certainly going to be a challenge. My Soi doesn’t sell much in the morning and I have to be at work by 7.15 a.m. So, I might have to do what many Thai people do and eat leftovers from the night before. Though, of course, for me it has to be something new bought the night before. I was never one for eating spicy food so early in the morning!

My Thai Street Food challenge starts on Wednesday 1st September 2010 and will last until the end of the month. I will be posting pictures of every meal as well as running costs on my new Twitter account @EnjoyThaiFood.com. I will also be posting daily updates over at www.EnjoyThaiFood.com. As I will be exploring the Thai food scene in Paknam a lot over the next month, I decided I should also take the opportunity to do a survey about Thai food. So, I will be working on a food map and making notes of what kind of food is being sold the most. I will also take notes about the kinds of places that are selling food. I will then write about my findings here at the end of the month. So, what do you reckon? Will it really be cheaper for me to eat out for every meal? Will I be saving money or will I just be putting on a lot of weight? Let’s see!

How to cook… Nam Phrik Mamuang

This is a dip called “nam phrik mamuang”. In the ingredients pictured below, you can see palm sugar, red chilli, red shallots, dried shrimp, green mango and shrimp paste in the middle.

Put the shrimp paste into a mortar and pound in the shallots and dried shrimps. Also add the hot chilli, sugar, fish sauce and finally the shredded green mango.

How to cook… Pork Soup

This is the Thai version of pork soup that is a little on the spicy side. In the ingredients below you can see diced potatoes, pork, carrots, Chinese celery, lime, stock cube, bird eye chillies and plum tomatoes. You could use chicken instead of pork.

Boil the pork in the stock until nearly cooked. Add the carrots and potatoes and continue to boil until cooked. Next add the plum tomatoes and Chinese celery. Season with fish sauce, salt and sugar. Take it off the heat and add the lime juice and slightly crushed bird eye chillies. We will have another Thai Food Recipe for you next week at www.thai-blogs.com and www.EnjoyThaiFood.com.

How to cook… Crispy Fried Vegetables

It is that time of year when people are eating vegetarian food for ten days. So, I thought we should kick off the festival with this simple dish. You can basically use any vegetables that you like, but in the ingredients pictured below, you can see green beans, onion rings, mushrooms, baby sweetcorn and sliced carrots at the bottom. There is also a dish of flour.

It is very simple to cook. Just mix the flour with some water to make a smooth mixture. Heat up some oil in a wok. Dip the vegetables into the batter and then into the hot oil. Starting tomorrow I will be eating vegetarian for ten days for the Chinese Vegetarian Festival. I will be posting here pictures of the religious ceremonies at the Chinese temples as well as pictures of the vegetarian food markets and the food that I am eating. I will be posting a lot of pictures over at the Samut Prakan Forums and www.Paknam.com.