Living In Thailand Series : Thai Food
When I first arrived in Thailand, I was still in holiday mode in many ways, I was enjoying the large array of foreign restaurants here and tempted by many of the fast foods on offer around nightlife areas. Eventually, because of financial reasons and because I wanted to live here long term, I started eating 2-3 Thai meals. I had been learning Thai for years but wasn’t interesting in learning the names of Thai food, I regret that now. If I was starting over again I would type in Thai food on Google images and find many different types of food and study the names.
I didn’t tolerate spicy food before simply because I didn’t eat it, however, I decided to start eating it to increase my options, but later on, I learnt about many Thai people having stomach issues from spicy food because it gets addictive and you need more after a while. I have since cut back on spicy Thai food but I am always willing to eat it to prove a point or when it’s convenient because it’s prepared already.
The best meals to try and start with is fried rice and (insert meat), pad Thai and any of the noodles from the side of the road, they aren’t spicy, they are popular and easy to find. I do tend to eat “pad krapow moo” which is normally spicy from chillies with fried pork oyster or soy sauce and holy basil leaves, its a popular Thai breakfast. The Thais tend to have the same food for breakfast, but I got out of that habit because I don’t want fried foods in the morning.
The street food in Thailand is so cheap and convenient although its not as common as it was due to a certain convenience store company making sure laws are enforced. The hygiene is risky but your stomach does tend to get used to extra abuse but if you are not sure, always pick somewhere busy, the locals have a good sense for food and its fast-moving.
I always thought Thai food was healthy, but when I had heart problems, I needed to cut back on sodium and I switched to Thai food because I felt it was healthier than other food I was eating, but the problem was is there is fish sauce, MSG, sugar, salt and other hidden poisons in the food and often I told them to exclude it but it was already mixed in, I was surprised when my mate said they put a lot of sugar in the food, but that’s what sells.
When you really want “not spicy” you can say same as food for a baby, or if you want no sodium, you need to say because the doctor said so, or they spend 10 minutes telling you that the amount of sodium already in the food is completely fine, if you don’t know Thai enough and have health conditions, its good to have it written down, what confuses them, even more, is when I say I want the meal separate and not with rice. Thailand is a really good place to lose weight, eat out daily and have fresh food.
Cleaning the food with tap water? There is a big thing here about tap water being dangerous, I wouldn’t recommend you drink it but I have many times and many others do daily, I think it is far less of a problem than it used to be. I wouldn’t worry about restaurants washing your lettuce with tap water, its the least of your worries IMO. I hear a lot of rumours (from newbies) that people use tap water to make ice, but I have never seen any evidence of this, ice is very cheap and I see it being delivered everywhere daily. (make sure they are buying cubed ice from a proper ice-making company, not crushed ice) It does make me laugh sometimes, guys worried about tap water but we know where that mouth has been!
Hot VS Cold food. In Thailand they will serve you French fries cold and many other meals that we normally only eat hot, I think this is because we are from a cold country, so we want hot meals to warm us up, and here they find it normal to have warm/cold meals. I see many of my wife’s family leaving food in cupboards that we would put in the fridge immediately, I have never gone down that route, but I did go to the market many times and eat the cold buffet which went against every expectation my mouth had. It almost feels like I am going to poison myself eating cold food that has been lying around in a hot climate for a while.
Smelly Food – Som Tam Thai is rotten fish, we have cheese that is pretty much gone off milk and moldy cheese, we also have anchovies that is gone off fish. There is jack fruit and durian that is very smelly also, but the best way of dealing with all these foods instead of spending years of complaining or banning them from your house, is to just eat them all as soon as you have the opportunity, I didn’t like som tam but I understood the behaviour, it felt better to smell it again, durian took me many years but after eating it, I understand the smell and the differences, my association changed from sewage to a food. I am more than happy to tolerate the smells of any Thai food most of the time, just a little effort goes a long way.
Insects – I needed some dutch courage to try the fried insects, in fact, I only ate them as dares and generally ate them to disgust newbies, but the Thais appreciate you making an effort and most of them are just like BBQ crisps, its worth making an effort and getting this extra snack and source of protein as soon as you can, best to close your eyes if you are worried about the look of them. The sooner you can eat all of these little snacks and street food, the more likely you will survive.
To summarise, I highly recommend that you eat as much Thai food as you can to start with, there is plenty of dishes out there that people can enjoy, because the sooner you start to eat Thai food, the cheaper and easier your life will be, I have no issues eating cold buffets at service areas off the motorways! If you can eat enough Thai food everyday at the start, it should become a habit that you continue, going straight to street food is a good way of saving money. It’s worth looking into taking some anti-parasite medication/herbs occasionally, especially if you are eating raw seafood.