Those who have travelled with me know that I’m slightly obsessed with food, and my preferences while on the road are to eat it where locals do: street stalls, night markets, hawker stalls and early morning shopping runs. That’s not just because of the food itself, but also because of the wonderful chaos those places bring; they are a chance to watch and learn, and see how people in other places treat their food.
I wanted to share some of my favourite foods from my years in Southeast Asia, starting with the country I’ve seen the most of in my travels: Thailand.
1) Pad Pongali. This is one of my most treasured dishes, and while it looks less appetizing than some of the options below, it tastes superb. Made with a meat of your choice, celery root, onions and green or red peppers, it is seasoned with a dry yellow curry that stays in your food memory long after you’ve finished eating.
2) Tom Yum. This sweet, sour and spicy Thai soup is full of incredible tastes. Each bite kicks back after the zing of coconut milk disappears, with the lingering flavours being the strong lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal that make it so special.
3) Pad Naem. A very difficult dish to find in Thailand, I’ve only managed to locate this one at a night stall in Chiang Mai. Made with sour northern Thai sausage, vegetables and spices and sautéed with vermicelli noodles and served over rice, it’s an explosion of flavour with every bite.
4) Som tam. Made from unripened papayas pounded in a mortar and pestle with a laundry list of ingredients, som tam salads are a must-try for anyone visiting Thailand. Be sure to specify how spicy you like your food; you’ll find peanuts, tomato, fish sauce and more, but also more than a few hot chili peppers to accompany them!
5) Your friendly street meat vendor. With more than just chicken skewers on the street, Thailand’s street meat isn’t to be avoided. Chicken feed, pork skewers, mystery meatballs of the pork, chicken or fish variety and even the occasionally water buffalo jerky, there is tons to try, with a 5 cent bag of sticky rice to accompany your protein. Fun experimentation lies ahead!