I’d like to quote Coca-Cola, circa 1992, “You can’t beat the real thing” when it comes to authentic Thai cuisine. To anyone who’s experienced the variety of smells, textures and tastes that Thailand has to offer, its hard going backwards.
I’ve grown up in a metropolitan city my whole life where the tastes of the world were literally at my doorstep. Growing up, we dined out a lot, not because my parents did not want to cook, but they wanted me to become accustomed to different cultures. A common cuisine with my family had always been Thai food – fairly economical, good portions and a diversity of flavours to satisfy all taste buds. To me, Thai food was the ultimate comfort food that brightened up even the darkest days and put me in my happy place.
Last year, I have the privilege of going over to Thailand to explore its Northern region. Going over there, I knew that I’d be a happy camper when it came to my dining choices – after all, I “grew up” on the cuisine. Fast forward through customs and checking into my hotel, I promptly went out on a search for lunch. Passing by street vendors (I’ll get back to this), I found a little restaurant that was buzzing with patrons, so I walked in and ordered my staple dish, Pad Thai.
As I patiently awaited my meal and consumed a few Chiang lagers, my eyes spanned the room and noticed that the dishes I was seeing looked very different from the ones back in Canada – more colorful and variety. At last, my Pad Thai arrived at my table for one and instantly, I noticed the colour was way off. I thought to myself that there had to be an error by the chef, but thought to myself “When in Rome”, and consumed my lunch. While eating, I sparked up a conversation with a few fellow travellers at the restaurant and started to discuss food. Much to my surprise, they too grew up eating Thai from where they were from and the biggest surprise to them was the short-cuts North American cooks took when making these dishes at home – with the pad thai, the introduction of ketchup into the recipes.
Armed with a new passion to try as many dishes in their original and authentic form on this journey, I took to the streets. Thailand has one of the largest street food cultures in the world, probably only second to Singapore and is extremely safe from a hygiene point of view.
Must have dishes from the street
- Som Tam – a salad that is commonly known as Papaya Salad – a mixture of papayas, garlic, shrimp (I opt out of this), peanuts, garlic, tomatoes and chili peppers to taste.
- Khao Soi (Northern dish) – blend of mild to hot curry, egg noodles, shallots, cabbage and stewed beef chunks traditionally topped with crispy noodles and a wedge of lime.
- Tom Kha Kai – kinda like an angry version of Tom Yum with the additions of chilies topped with minced mint leaves.
- Thai Pancakes/Roti – a heart stopping delight! Picture a pancake/roti stuffed with bananas, strawberries and mango then drizzled with warm sweetened condensed milk.
- Sup Kai Dao – a very simple dish of minced pork stirfry over white rice with chili and crispy (fried) basil and a fried egg on-top.
- Mangosteen – not really a dish but simply an amazing fruit that is in abundance in Thailand. Linked the various medical benefits, this fruit is actually not related to Mango’s at all.
If you are interested in learning more about the street food in Thailand, I welcome you to visit another blog by my friend Jodi Ettenberg.
Whenever you travel, remember to embrace the culture and the cuisine because your perspective is only half the story and “You can’t beat the real thing”.