Even more common than the wats, flowers, sound of motorcycles, pictures of the king, and possibly even the sunshine, are the street carts. Jostling for space between crowded sidewalks, overflowing markets, and busy streets, the vendors’ sizzling meat, noodle soups, savory grilled vegetables, and fancifully carved fruit skewers tempt locals and travelers alike. Pichai explained that the Thai prefer to have several small snacks throughout the day, and in this heat, I can’t blame them for not wanting a heavy meal. Pichai also told us that it just makes more sense to purchase food from the cart rather than cook at home because it is so cheap and so delicious. Thais are fond of fresh herbs, and a lot of work goes into grinding the herbs, so it would be hard to cook properly at home without taking shortcuts like buying premade sauces. I’m personally a little skeptical about how long those seasoned, crispy chicken legs have been sitting in the sun, but I’m sure I’ll break down soon to try one. (Post note: We’ve since tried the delicious crispy chicken, and the trick is to purchase from a vendor with lots of customers.)
We’ve tried fresh squeezed juices (such as pomegranate and citrus orange), egg rolls, an extremely bitter green fruit which I mistook for a peeled cucumber, macaroon cookies, little cakes with a variety of sweet and savory fillings, and the best deep-fried potato chips EVER. The vendor sprinkled a sweet, salty BBQish seasoning over the chips after pulling them out of the fryer. We ate them hot and greasy off the stick, occasionally burning our fingers. Another favorite was the curry puffs; basically just like it sounds-you bite into a hot flaky pastry, and instead of sweet, you find the aromatic flavors of coriander and cumin, along with some vegetables. We’ll have to do a entire post on cooking and curries, maybe after we take a cooking class!
Everything from the cart vendors is cheap. The chicken kabobs we’ve gotten were about seventeen cents. A cup of super ripe strawberries sprinkled in a sugar/salt mix is twenty baht, or fifty cents. The drinks are usually as much as the food. Most drink carts in the city charge about a dollar per drink, and down to fifty cents for the same drink a few minutes away from the city center.
The drink carts are marked clearly by their dozens of multicolored powders in clear containers, syrups, and young coconuts displayed in the front of the case below the powders. There was one cart that had at least a dozen types of flavored milks, although most carts mix those flavors with seltzer water to make an iced soda rather than milk. Some of the unusual types of milk were Oreo flavored milk, blue milk, and “cheese milk”, which had chunks of cheese floating with the ice! My favorite drinks so far are the green tea lattes and Thai iced tea with milk, which is exactly the same in the United States, except it’s made fresh as a hot tea, mixed with sweetened condensed milk, then poured over ice. More condensed milk is then added on top. (Since I’m pretty obsessed with the stuff, I’ve made it a study to see how it’s made.) Most restaurants back home buy it premade from a jug before mixing with the condensed milk. The premade stuff is good too, but it tastes less like tea, and is sweeter and brighter in color. I have to admit I never tried the green tea lattes back home, but Jen Kuhlman was such a fan of them here I had to try it. We were at the Bhubing Palace gardens the first time I tried one, and they were so good I ordered two in one day!!! It tastes like a flower smells, and the milk is foamed cold then spooned over the tea, like a healthy type of whip cream. Delicious!
We braved it last night and got some curries from a cart. There was a long line forming behind us as we waited for the cart to open for business, so that gave us some comfort that this cart didn’t have a reputation for making people ill. Everyone told us the food would be spicy here, but the curries were the first spicy dish we’ve come across, and they weren’t too intolerably spicy when eaten with rice. Broc got some “mixed meat sausages” that I wasn’t brave enough to try. We also got what we thought was a large noodle, until it puffed up in the fryer, and the lady asked us if we wanted “milk” or “green” sauce inside. I assumed the green was green tea flavor, since that seems to be popular here. The “milk” we got turned out to be a sweet creamy glaze, and the noodle or pastry was actually more like a donut. It was really good, and the whole dinner was less than $3!
On our bike ride with Nooh, we asked him about dishes that are from the Lanna, or northern Thai, area. He took us to a hole in the wall place that served the best Khao Soi, which is a mild coconut milk curry soup with chicken or beef, and both fresh noodles and crispy noodles on top. It’s always served with a side of picked mustard greens, shallots, lime, and chili paste.
Just writing this has made me hungry, so I’ll have to continue with another cooking or food episode later!