Filed under: Maria's Travels
eat + rock climb = happy
The street food in Thailand is incredible. Me and my partner, Bahia, spent eighty percent of the time eating from food carts. Almost every day there was a new food experience to be had. I have been working in kitchens for eighteen years. I have traveled through western Europe and Morocco, I have cooked in France, and I’ve worked in four regions in the U.S. As a result, I have been exposed to quite a bit of food. So you can imagine how exciting and inspiring it was to come across foods and preparations of dishes that I have never heard of before. My eyes, nose, ears, palate, and hands were constantly engaged.
First I must mention that experiencing the street food in Thailand is not for the squeamish. Leave your safety and sanitation guide at home. If you approach the experience with an open mind and not worry about the lack of plastic food service gloves, dirt, mangy cats, dirty dishes being washed in a plastic bin of still water, and large flying insects that bite, then you’re in for a real treat. But please don’t let this discourage you, because the food is truly amazing.
The green papaya salad is prepared to order in a deep wooden mortar and pestle with green papaya, garlic clove, fresh Thai chili, fish sauce, peanut, basil, mung bean, lime, dried shrimp, and tomato. The textures are all varied and the flavors are spicy, sweet and sour!
They have these Thai “roti” carts that make these delicious thin circular crispy pancakes filled with all sorts of items, such as cashews and condensed milk, banana and nutella, tuna and tomato, and more!
Some of the phad thai carts offer a selection of three different styles of noodles that you choose from and then they make it for you right on the spot on a large flat wok. They have sugar, red chili flakes, spicy vinegar, and chopped peanuts on the side that you put on yourself.
The BBQ carts have grilled meats and fish lightly coated with a sweet, smoky, mildly tangy sauce. Depending on the cart, you can get chicken, pigeon, octopus, squid, catfish, etc. There’s an additional spicy, bright sauce made with cilantro, Thai chilis, garlic, onion and fish sauce that are given for dipping.
There are fried chicken carts that give you fiery sweet garlic sauce and a side of steamed sticky rice.
For something refreshing and cool, there’s fruit shake carts that blend mango, pineapple, papaya, or whatever they have, to order with ice. They also have yogurt to add.
The mango sticky rice carts is where it’s at for dessert. The mangoes are so juicy, floral and sweet with the perfect firm-flesh texture. It was like having a mango for the very first time the way it should be, picked at the perfect time of ripeness, where if you look at it cross-eyed it’ll bruise and leach out its syrupy sugary nectar. Very much the way our peaches and strawberries do in Washington State during peak season.
There were so many tropical fruits I have never even heard of or tasted before. I didn’t get the English names of a lot them, but I have photos you can check out on the Tilth blog. They all had their unique personalities, shapes, sizes, skins, and husks, but all shared the characteristics of being sweet, floral, fleshy, intoxicatingly fragrant, and tasted like the warmth of the sun just exploded in your mouth.
Some areas have a bunch of food stalls clustered together. We went to a night food market in Krabi that had well over fifty food stalls! They had everything from boiled and chopped cow innards in a rich broth, fried doughnuts, banana with mung bean and sweet sticky rice all wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled, satay of everything, fried rice dishes galore, a variety of rice noodle dishes, green curry, panang curry, massaman curry, cast iron fried quail eggs, coconut pancakes and more!
There were little thin-skinned bananas with a vegetal quality that were slow grilled, which gave them a meaty quality. The heat transforms the skin into a leathery texture and it becomes an oven for the banana. When you bite into it, out comes this hot steam, a smoky, semi-sweet flavor and creamy texture – and it’s on a skewer.
The beauty of eating street food is it allows you to enjoy small flavorful portions as frequently as you want. You can just stumble around from destination to destination eating along the way. How cool is that?! And it’s usually cheap (about $.75 to $3.00 a plate). It’s always so amazing to journey through another country far from home and experience the wonderful flavors that make up their culture and gives you a sense of place outside of your own region.
The other main purpose of this trip was to indulge one of my other passions, which is rock climbing. The rock climbing in Southern Thailand has a world renowned reputation for being one of the best places to climb. It certainly lives up to it.
The cliffs line the beaches in Railey, Tonsai Bay, and Phi Phi Island. There are no cars or roads in these areas. You really feel like you are communing with nature in these paradise locations. We were climbing on limestone sea cliffs dripping with stalactites, shadowed by small caves, bulging with tufas, and beautiful black and red streaks following the length of the crags.
There were some critters to be aware of when climbing in the beach areas or the jungle. We saw plenty of snakes, water monitors (large lizard similar to the komodo dragon), monkeys, wasps, spiders, lizards, etc.
It was also interesting to have to time our climbing with not only the sun but the tide. We found ourselves enjoying a nice day out climbing only to find the tide coming in so quickly that we were waist-deep in water with our climbing packs over our head trying to make it back to land.
Overall, Southern Thailand is a fabulous place to visit! Hope you make it there sometime.