Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Street food and food courts

Last week the Thailand Street Food Festival took place outside Central World. For me a good opportunity to get in touch with one of the most famous cuisine in the world: The Thai street food. Of course, I tried it before, some grilled chicken, some noodles, even sweets. But I am still not really familiar with all the different dishes.

The Street Food Festival was a great help. Organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), around 50 different food stalls were offering delicious dishes. Biggest advantage for me: English signs, and even the sellers were speaking enough English to explain what they offer.

Thai street food has a lot of variety, and I won't be able to mention all in this post. Fortunately the TAT published a handy book with the best street food vendors in Bangkok and a glossary giving you a brought overview. You learn that Bamee Heng are Egg noodles with dry toppings (although dry just means its not in a soup), that the Thai name for the renown Green Curry is Kaeng Keaw Wan, and that Kanom means snack, but Kanom Bueang Yuan for example is a Vietnamese crepe filled with minced meat, in Vietnam know as Ban Xeo.

Kuaytiew is the main Thai dish, it means rice noodles. Kuaytiew Look Chin Pla means it comes with fish balls, while Kuaytiew Kua Kai are stir fried flat rice noodles with chicken. The book isn't for sale, but I am sure it will be distributed at further food events.

One reason why I need the introduction into Thai street food (beside my general interest in the food of the country I live in) was top get along in food courts. Nearly every shopping mall has a local food court, much cheaper than the fancy Pizza Company or even MK restaurants. But for me it was always difficult to even understand what they are selling.

Yesterday I went to the food court at Imperial World Samut Prakan. I go there for shopping (Big C) and banking, and decided to give the food place in the basement a try. And surprise: Nearly all stalls there have a sign in English. I got minced pork with basil leaves and rice for 30 baht. I am quite motivated to try more of the Thai dishes, and discovered a nice looking shop in my street, selling street food in the morning.

That is still something I need to figure out: Opening hours. Many shops just open in the morning, until everything is sold out. So for lunch, I need to go to other stalls, and they may not be open in the evening. I think it just takes time to know who is selling what and when (and sometimes where).

Although I never had much problems with street food, you should have a look at the environment of the shops. To many flies are an indicator it may not be clean, very few customers as well. If you buy in the morning, buy early, even the hottest Thai curry isn't getting better after 4 hours in the open sun (and fumed by passing trucks).

Also, while being delicious, Thai street food isn't always the most healthy diet. It is a bit like McDonalds. If you go for a burger and salad is fine, if you order the XXL meals it's not. Beside the MSG issue (no, you are not dying once you ingested some), coconut oil and palm oil aren't the best oils. In general, Thai street food is too fat and has too much calorie for a balanced diet. And since it is prepared once and the kept warm, do not expect too many vitamins to survive (but you can compensate with some fruits from the stall right next).