All we did for four days straight was eat. Every “meal” turned into an extended three hour period of wandering around to seek out whatever caught our senses, whether it was the sizzles and spatters coming from woks as they stir fried shallots and chili, the sweet charcoal smoke coming from barbequed pork, or the collage of greens as piles of fresh herbs as they lay ready for cooking.
In Bangkok, food is their culture, and we found ourselves being sucked straight into it from day one. The biggest difference seemed to be that good food here was abundant, accessible and affordable for anyone, anywhere, anytime. Good eating was not a luxury reserved for the financial elite; it was the common man’s daily bread. Over the course of those four days, we ate in a restaurant once and were disappointed with the mediocre food – the real food was found on the streets where plastic stools, folding tables, curbs and the odd tree became the décor. Seemingly every street was lined with small food carts, each specializing in one or two dishes, often times run by the same person or family for decades.
In the mornings you could find strong coffee, Thai iced teas, chili seasoned fruit salads; in the afternoons the tom yam soup carts, spicy papaya salads and sweet thai pancakes would appear; and by dark it broke into a fever pitch of every imaginable food, sometimes shutting down entire streets, except for the rare moped willing to weave through the crowds. We learned that Thai food is all about balance – complimenting soft with crunchy, sweet with sour, salty with bitter in every dish. Ingredients were often bought twice a day at the local market to ensure they were never more than a few hours old – which made for some of the healthiest, freshest and safest food we’ve eaten. We even inadvertently ate a raw pork salad (thinking it was something else) and still didn’t get sick!
Although Bangkok is known for many other things, both good and bad, it was the food here that stood out among everything else and I think immortalized this city in our minds. Not just the quantity and quality of the food, or our love of Thai food before we arrived, but the way they’ve managed to turn it into a thriving culture and into a part of life for everyone: poor or rich, good or bad, young or old; good food is the one thing the Thai people have decided not to compromise on – and that made us, and our stomachs, really happy.