Eating has been so much more challenging here than I’d imagined! Everyone raves about Thai food and I love the Thai food I’ve had in the USA. So what gives? Everyone is a Buddhist here but vegetarians seem few and far between. To complicate matters are the language barrier and the many strange forms of meat to which we are not accustomed. Even though I do eat meat on occasion, it is not usually entrails or chicken feet or fish heads or pig snouts.
Then there is the fact that everything comes sheathed in multiple plastic bags. You can see some above, and here are more:
So even we could find something without meat, we were dismayed about the amount of single-use plastic that came with it. We decided early on to buy a set of stackable metal bowls, actually two sets:
So now we try to bring them to the market to avoid the plastic bags. Unfortunately, there is still the problem of communication. The easiest word to indicate vegetarianism sounds like “jay”, but it is a stricter form than we prefer. It is vegan, so no eggs, which have been our primary form of protein, and also excluds garlic and certain pungent herbs. Garlic! Sera mak- so sad. Here is the “jay” flag displayed at “jay” food vendors:
Speaking of which, apparently we just missed the “vegetarian festival”, which takes place in October and ended right around the day we arrived in Bangkok! Darn it! So we are left with our nearby street market and a large grocery store when we can find one. I’m a little disappointed that we bought boxed macaroni and cheese, bread, peanut butter ($5 a jar!! They grow peanuts here but mostly use them as a garnish), and apples. But the kids weren’t really eating the local food, and they were getting tired of rice and eggs, which is what we were often getting at the market. As for me, I am a little more adventurous and prefer to eat on the street. Here’s a dish I had one day with no meat, but likely fish sauce and pork in the broth.
Every food stall offers garnishes with the dishes. There are usually four in small bowls with spoons kept under a birdcage thing-sugar, dried ground hot pepper, sliced hot pepper in vinegar, and lime juice-and also fish sauce, soy sauce, and other sauces in bottles. These correspond to the big four flavors, which Thai cooks and diners try to balance: sour, salty, sweet, and hot.
I love wandering the market and trying things, but with the six of us that doesn’t always work. Happily, I made the acquaintance of a professional foodie!
With great good luck, and thanks to our wonderful landlady Nim, we met the food blogger and all-around excellent lady traveler, The Messy Vegetarian Cook herself- Kip! Cleverly and I spent a wonderful few hours with Kip at a “jay” food court and the enormous Chatuchak market nearby. Here are some amazing vegan dishes we had there, and a look at the food court. You buy coupons to purchase the food, and you can change them back to baht if you don’t spend all the coupons, so no stress. We got all this for about $4!
There were indoor and outdoor sections. Cleverly and I got this coconut ice cream in a coconut shell. The seller made it with many toppings (rice that was green for some reason, peanuts, meat from the coconut), and we got some coconut water to drink with it as well.
Back to day-to-day life. We know how to order khao pak khai (rice vegetable egg-not an actual dish but just 3 words for what we can eat) and that is what we usually do. Street vendors are everywhere and sometimes we try their dishes. We cook a little, and our street market has a couple of stands where we can get a few things (very fried) we believe are vegetarian- egg rolls, a fried seitan nugget, fried tofu, fried dumplings with some kind of greens inside.
The good news is that even more important than food is water, and we get easy drinking water! It’s great, we use these dispensers and it only costs 1 baht ($0.03)to fill a liter bottle. I was boiling our drinking water (tedious!) until we found one of these. They are all over the city, and other Thai cities we’ve been to as well.
So that is our experience so far with Thai food.
Addendum-Can’t help adding this photo to show how much fried food there is around here: