We were eating Thailand. We ate from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, from Sukhothai to Chiang Rai, from Chiang Mai back to Bangkok.
As one guy remarked when I was in Thailand, “Coming here has to be the most expensive way ever to get good Thai food.” But here we were, eating Thailand. Restaurant food, upscale restaurant food, street food, hotel buffet food, food in the tiniest village, open-air food, food cooked in someone’s home, roadside food, food stall food, food from a food truck, food from the market—eating Thailand one bite at a time.
Ground fish with coconut milk and spices poached in banana leaves, whole fish grilled over an open fire, exquisite and subtle flavors, searing hot chilies, white rice, red rice, steamed rice, always rice, chicken every way, myriads of vegetables and mountains of fruit, dumplings, rice paddy rat, amazingly soft soft-boiled eggs, quail eggs, soups, stews, curries—eating Thailand one item at a time.
Green tea, black tea, Thai tea, Thai coffee, artistic latte, cold, cold beer washing down chilies to continue eating Thailand.
The origin of food is better known in Thailand than in the America I call home. Live chickens, still gasping fish, wriggling shrimp are hauled by hand through town to the market. Farmers with dirt under their fingernails bring fruits and vegetables in wicker baskets. There is little mystery about how the food got to market, where it came from, or what it will become. Outdoor restaurants and food stalls parked on the sidewalks prepare orders in front of the customers who watch the process and assembly. The live fish becomes your cooked dinner before your eyes.
Some dishes are so prettily crafted as to be works of art. Other, more casual places, heap it on a plate and set it down in front of you. Roadside, you use your fingers and eat out of the scrap of paper on which your food was handed to you. It’s all good. Sometimes it’s great.
From the market to the meal, here’s what eating Thailand looks like.
Text and Photos © Gray On The Road and © Gary Gray