When we moved to Bangkok a year ago and started apartment hunting, we realized that most places lacked a room that is usually considered essential – the kitchen. The first few apartments we saw had a tiny refrigerator and a small outside kitchen, and I use that word loosely, because the “kitchen” was merely a hot plate and sink. After seeing a handful of apartments like this and becoming totally confused, we did the only sensible thing: we sat down for a beer then went to see our expat friend for help.
We learned that many cheaper apartments in Bangkok don’t really have kitchens and the local people are fueled by street food. All through town vendors on sidewalks, in parking lots, or in ramshackle markets have big vats of curry, giant pans of stir fry, fresh salads, and grilled meat for sale. Most people get the food to go, but some eat at make-shift restaurants with folding chairs and cheap tables. The street food is always fresh, bursting with flavor and shockingly inexpensive.
Street food is so cheap, it is actually more affordable to eat out every meal than it is to eat at home. To give you an example, there is a lady near our house who charges 40 Baht – 1.13 USD! – for a plate of pad thai with shrimp. She makes the meals to order from fresh ingredients she bought from the market that day. I seriously have no idea how she makes any profit!
Our neighborhood is about 10 miles from downtown, far from the tourist areas. I have to be careful what I eat here because the curries the locals eat melt my face off. There is a woman down the street who sells curry in front of her house. She makes her curry broth from molten magna and spices it with bear spray yet it is somehow delicious, even though it commits unspeakable violence to my mouth.
On the flip-side, food in the tourist areas is dumbed-down for foreigners and is too bland for me now. To make matters worse, it is grossly overpriced. When we go downtown, I become that cranky, jaded expat that complains about the bland food, high prices and dirty backpackers wearing elephant pants.
Although our neighborhood is loaded with great street options, we end up eating at a tiny little restaurant called Little Savoy 3-5 times a week. Most of the dishes on their extensive menu cost between $1.75 to $3 and everything is delicious. We don’t speak much Thai and the ladies there don’t speak much English, but they are like family because we see them so often.
I almost never get tired of Thai food, but it is nice to eat western food at times. There are some excellent Italian places near my home, and great sushi and Japanese are found all over Bangkok. We have a very exotic supermarket in our neighborhood that sells bizarro foods such as cheese, salsa, wine and oatmeal. These imported treats come at a price though – a package of tortillas costs the same as a 12-piece sushi set, about $8.
I feel like I have been fairly adventurous with new foods. I’ve tried lava-hot curries, eaten from the dirtiest street stalls, sampled meatballs of unknown animal origin, and I’ve even tried crickets, which are crunchy and salty like a potato chip, in case you are wondering. But, there are some Thai foods that I can’t get behind; I have no interest in trying green tea flavored Kit-Kats, corn flavored yogurt or chicken flavored peanuts. And I adamantly refuse to put corn on my pizza.
All this talk of food is making me hungry, but looking inside our fridge I see only soy sauce, beer, leftover pizza and something mysterious that may contain the cure for cancer. It is the fridge of a college freshman. I’ll have to go to one of the many places in our neighborhood to score lunch. In Bangkok, I may not be able to afford a kitchen, but I eat like a king.
Have you ever lived in a foreign country? Are you jealous of my food options?