Samui Wining & Dining
Street Food

The good, the bad and the ugly!

 

Page-06When I first came to Thailand, I lived in Hat Yai, and I can remember asking a colleague, “Is it safe to eat the street food?” She looked at me quizzically and replied, “Of course you can, what exactly do you plan on eating?”

      It’s perfectly understandable to be hesitant. Our stomachs are used to strict hygiene regulations - pristine floors, chairs and tables (in most places). So the idea of accepting food from someone who has converted their ancient motorbike into some sort of mobile noodle frying station, feels odd. But the truth is, you can’t really say you’ve eaten Thai food until you’ve sampled pad Thai from that old woman and her converted motorbike; coughed and spluttered after trying that spicy green papaya salad from the old man on the corner next to the local Family Mart; marvelled at the sweetest pineapple in the world from the young kid who sets up each morning on the corner of your road, or bit into the crispiest, juiciest fried chicken from the lady who sets up her table in a little corrugated iron shed in a field by the side of the road.

      There is nothing to be afraid of. If you see Thai people eating the food, it’s going to be okay. While they are known for being able to handle spicier

food than most Westerners I can promise you that they have the same digestive system. Although you wouldn’t always think so.

     This article is called ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’ so let’s jump right in and talk about the ugly.

     If you were to ask most Westerners in Thailand what was the weirdest thing they had eaten, they would probably answer either deep fried scorpions or deep fried grasshoppers. Yup, we’re talking ugly with a capital ‘U’. Would you do it? Would you actually bite into a blackened, crispy, crackly shell of a scorpion that had lost its life in order to be boiled in oil and served on a stick? Or would you crunch on a ‘barbecued to a crisp’ grasshopper? Before you turn up your nose in disgust, I have tried one (the grasshopper) and really, they just taste of barbecue sauce and are super crispy. It’s the insects that have, well, mushy stuff inside, that disturb me a little. You can easily buy a little bag of deep-fried insects for around 10 baht at most markets on Samui. It does make for a great photo.

      You might be surprised to find meat sold out in the open in Thailand. Pig’s feet and heads will sit casually on a wooden rack waiting to be part of a friendly negotiated deal, wriggling eels and warty toads too. Some fruit might be classed as ugly although the hairy rambutan is odd rather than ugly.

       It’s difficult to find examples of food to go under the ‘Bad’ heading. Most street food is delicious (sometimes ugly like we said) but always delicious. Saying that, some basic checks will ensure you aren’t running for the nearest toilet, armed with a weeks’ worth of Imodium. Eating seafood that’s been out in the sun for hours is probably not a great idea. It might be that the Thai digestive system has had years to adjust to this, but our spoilt Western ones might object … violently. If the food is dried and has flies sitting happily enjoying their lunch buffet, I’d avoid that dish too.

      When eating street food from a new vendor, I’m always inclined to go for the dishes that have ‘watery’ gravy because there’s nothing solid that the flies can settle on. A lot of vendors have make-shift fans to keep the flies away, but rather be safe than sorry. A quick scan of the people and their working area will tell you soon enough if the food is okay. Just use your common sense. You want to spend money on yourself not on improving the value of pharmaceutical company stock.

         Saving the best for last - the ‘Good’. Thai street food is so good. The smells of barbecuing chicken or pork; fried garlic and vegetables getting ready for stir-fried dishes; or the citrusy tang of limes and lemongrass; the savoury smells of noodle soup and the mouth-watering smell of deep-fried chicken, are all unmistakable walking down any street in Thailand.

         It always fascinates me how the vendors convert what is seemingly a motorbike into a small kitchen on wheels. Some will have a gas canister for their wok and stir-fries, and some will even have a small barbecue (complete with hot coals) hanging off the side. A makeshift counter top will contain various tubs filled with spices, ready cut veg, herbs and other delights. A pestle and mortar might be within easy reach, and from a shelf somewhere underneath the counter, the vendor will magically produce various take away plates or bowls to serve you heaps of deliciousness. Walking street markets are absolute bliss to sample as much Thai food as you can. Delights such as chicken and vegetable chunks barbecued on sticks; corn; curry and rice; pies; rice puddings; barbecued ribs; deep fried potato rings; garlic bread chunks; fruit smoothies; kebabs; green papaya or mango salad; grilled fish; grilled prawns; stir-fried noodles; the list is never ending.

         So don’t be afraid to try something new, you never know, you might just find your new favourite food.

         

Colleen Setchell


 


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