Food

What we ate

1:38 PM

The freshness of my Thailand trip memories is sadly fading away, and I need to write about our food experience there before Christmas sucks me in (already made cookies if that says something)

I wished we stayed longer to be able to experience the food better to be frank, one week was simply not enough, especially since on most days we pretty much ate breakfast at the hotel and then ate dinner. First thing a traveller from India needs to absolutely know before going to Thailand is that Thai cuisine is primarily non-veg, which can be a huge problem if you are vegetarian as fish sauce is a condiment used in almost every dish to give them that tangy salty flavour…including dishes that would be vegetable based (not that I saw many of these on the menu, or even really cared about). Another thing that Indian travellers need to know even if they are non-veg is that Thai love seafood and you will find it on the menu everywhere, along with beef and pork. Chicken does exist, and the Indonesian Chicken Satay is a very popular starter you will find just about anywhere in Phuket or Bangkok, and all Thai curries on the menus let you choose what meat you want in, at least in the touristic places. To an Indian willing to be carnivore there will be some familiarities in the texture and to some extent the taste as Thai food can be spicy, though many dishes are more aromatic than red hot chilli hot. Coconut milk is used to make most gravies, and the food is always eaten with some rice.
Now since I’m a happy carnivore, I don’t really mind any meat, and I love seafood…that my dear is my little regret, we didn’t stay long enough for me to try one of these fresh seafood restaurants in Phuket for dinner, as we just had too little time and way too many options…and a 4 years old that needed the familiar and comforting in the food department (I blogged about it, kids usually don’t give a hoot about the gastronomic value of a holiday). In Phuket a lot of restaurants will put a fine display of fresh prawns, lobsters and fish on ice at the entrance of their restaurant to lure you in, and if DH wasn’t repelled by the idea of eating fish, I’m sure we would have gone to one of these places even under the crunch of time.
Another thing that is very nice to know to the foreign traveller, is that you don’t need to know what tom yum, pad thai and other Thai dishes are, all the menus we went through all had pictures of all the dishes, in some places, even a special picture book handed to you along with the text menu, and when you order something, what you see is what you get, a thing I thought was limited to touristic Phuket, but noticed in Bangkok as well in restaurants that are not frequented by tourists, even in malls food court you are sure to find a replica of a dish in the form of a picture, display plate, or even Japanese style wax sculpture of the dish, which in all cases makes it very easy to order even if you don’t speak Thai, can’t pronounce a name or just have no idea what something means. To speak frankly, some of that could be applied in some restaurants in India. I remember my first few restaurants outing in the country being confusing as there is no way of knowing what a Murgh Badami looks like versus a Murgh Makhani…and if you are new to India even know that Murgh means chicken, granted some menus give you a description of the dish, but not all, and I have many friends who visited India and found themselves puzzled in front of a restaurant menu. Equally, pictures could be present on continental menus back home as well, as expecting anybody to know what a “Steak tartare” is or that “Escargots” are actually snails (as the slimy garden pest snail…yes indeed) is a bit pompous…of my soap box I go!
In Phuket we ate our breakfast at the hotel as it was included in the price, and they offered a lot of fresh fruits, eggs, bacon (ohhhhhh heaven!), ham and your usual cereals and bread, butter and jam…with the bread being homemade. We usually ate a big breakfast that was filling enough to only have us want a snack at the beach later in the day, and then we headed to one of the many restaurants in Karon all serving a mix of grilled continental food, Chinese and Thai. DH fell in love with red curry Chicken, I just couldn’t miss eating prawns, which I did a lot, along with Pad Thai noodles I actually ordered for Ishita while sticking to a prawn cocktail salad (knowing I would be eating about 90% of her noodles). Ate enough Satay chicken to make me want to cook some at home (need time to hunt for recipes to try). And one night with Ishita being a supreme cranky pot and us being quite tired by our elephant safari/jungle hike/canoe trip we headed to the first restaurant we saw which served primarily some Italian food…which turned out to be the real good stuff like the one I would find in an Italian family owned place in Geneva. I enjoyed a real spaghetti alla carbonara there.
In Bangkok we stayed in a restaurant in which we opted not to have the breakfast included because we expected to be out as much as possible on our last two days, the first night a mere hour after we reached the hotel, tired and a bit confused I managed to locate a small mall near our place and told DH we could head there and find a restaurant there. It became clear that that tiny mall is frequented by locals almost exclusively, and for a brief moment I felt very confused and out of place, most restaurants in there were Japanese and Thai, and there was a KFC which at this point I didn’t feel like visiting, it’s when Ishita saw a picture of Noodles in front of a restaurant that we sealed the deal on what was a Japanese place doing an all you can eat menu deal involving sushi, and all kind of meat, veggies and noodles you cook in a broth that gets placed on your table on a built in induction plate. I ordered a crap load of sushi having missed them in the 10 years I spent in India. DH being less adventurous than me and not quite getting what the menu deal was opted for a Japanese chicken noodle bowl meal instead, Ishita being a kid was eating free of charge and she got a plate of udon noodle to cook in the broth along with some dim sum type dumplings and was happy with that. That night DH said he has never seen such a sparkle in my eye as when the sushi arrived on the table…I used to eat them once a week in Switzerland as it has become a popular lunch option, I ate sashimi once in a Japanese restaurant in Bangalore, and when returning to Switzerland ate Sushi only once again, so in 10 years since I left Geneva I ate raw fish dishes only twice! no wonder the glimmer in my eyes was so noticeable, as for DH…it was his first time coming face to face with sushi, he thought it was a kind of fish, he was surprised to know it was the name of a dish with many variant. He ended up surprising me that night wanting to try one, but while the idea of eating salmon, or prawns totally repelled him he took a chance with a salmon roe (as in salmon eggs) sushi roll complete with seaweed wrap! His verdict: bland, but not as fishy tasting as he was fearing. He didn’t want to try it with the soy sauce and wasabi paste to make it taste better, but he tried something out of his comfort zone, which food wise doesn’t happen too often. On the way back to the hotel that night we just stopped to buy individual serve milk cartons for Ishita to drink in the morning while getting ready for the day as our hotel plan was without breakfast, added a few biscuits, all purchased from the supermarket in that same mall, where my curiosity got triggered as I wanted to know what the middle class Bangkok dweller had access to. I noticed that pretty much like in Phuket fruits are a big staple, far more than vegetables which are mostly eggplants, cucumbers, leafy greens and beans and only used as part of a meat dish judging by what was in the restaurants serving Thai food. Vegetables like broccoli and bell peppers are actually costlier than in India clearly. I didn’t venture long enough in the meat section to check the prices, but the variety was good, and the rest of the store was full of condiments, crackers and instant noodles with prints in Thai or Chinese which I could not read, this made be feel like living there as an expat might be even more challenging than being one in India.
The next morning we used the pool at the hotel before heading out for breakfast and a full day of shopping, exploring Bangkok’s malls, we kept it simple heading for a coffee shop not different than any you would find in India, then at one point Ishi got cranky and spotted a Starbucks asking me for cake…leave to a 4 years old to spot the familiar, so we headed there, and we spent the evening at the Asiatique Night market, where we finished the day eating at an Italian restaurant…too tired to really venture in unchartered territory, which ended up being just that for DH since he is used to Indianized Italian whcih has replaced red meat by chicken even in pasta dishes, in the end he settled for a chicken breast dish, while Ishita wanted a Pizza, I ordered another of these things I just can’t find in India without paying a ridiculous price for it: Parma ham pizza, which when it got served to our table looked, smelled and ended up tasting like the authentic ones I got in many true blue Italian restaurants back home. What I found very interesting with the two Italian dishes I tried in Thailand was how true to the real thing they were in a country where I would assume it would be a stretch for the locals to like such cuisine that is relatively bland in comparison to Thai cuisine, granted I doubt country-side dwellers would try it, but to me it gave me an idea that those who live in cities and can afford it seem t not have a problem stepping out of their comfort zone trying new things the way Indians do. As 10 years in India taught me that Indians prefer the safe and comforting when it comes to food, and while continental cuisine is starting to be more common, it is still fairly modified to please a desi palate, ditto with Chinese food, which in many places is actually Indo-Chinese. Not saying there are no tweaking of exotic cuisine happening in Switzerland, but never to the point of having the spice palette of a cuisine change entirely the way it happens in many places over here. But then eating out is a very new concept in India, and might not be as new in Thailand, though I didn’t get to figure that out in our way too short stay there.

Next time we head there I want to try the street food, Thailand being apparently famous for it, and I will definitely have to try one of these seafood buffet.

8 comments

  1. amanda @attachedmoms1:48 PM

    We had a thai au pair for a few months and she missed the street food of bangkok. She definitely went through some culture shock moving t the US (among other things) the food was major. She ate spicy pork for breakfast (imagine the smell of fish sauce and pork crackle at 630 am) and rice like crazy (we had brown rice but brought her out to buy sticky white rice... unfortunately octopus was out as it wasnt very easy to find I the desert of Phoenix! )... "home" food is so important

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  2. Home food is massively important, you can be a total foodie like I am and still need that connection with the taste of of home. I think this is a thing all expats have to deal with, I have experienced it and haven't heard a single expat in any country that hasn't had to deal with the culture shock of food. And it doesn't necessary have to be drastically different cultures, I knew a lady who moved from the US to Switzerland who had the same shock as westerners moving to India, the food tasted different, the products she liked back home were not available, or tasted different, the food culture is different...the proof that there is no such thing as one big fat "the West" concept in whcih we all fall and were we are all the same :)

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  3. If you're a real 'foodie' you must stay at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.
    They have The most famous French restaurant in Asia 'Le Normandie', the best seafood restaurant I've ever eaten at 'Lord Jim's', as well as a Chinese restaurant, traditional Thai & authentic Italian.
    I believe the French restaurant is Michelin starred.
    There is also a bakery where you can get REAL croissants, macarons, baguettes etc.
    I think there are 9 restaurants in total.
    Thai cooking classes are also available, there's a shopping center & as I remember 3 swimming pools. (Definitely go spend some time lying on the longues by the pools, waiters come by like every 20 minutes with 'goodies' like satay, a mini cocktail, fresh fruit, oysters, hors d'ouvres, etc - for free)
    The hotel sits on the Chao Phraya River so all rooms have a view.
    You ride an antique rice barge across the river to some of the restaurants, the gym & spa.
    The spa is quite beautiful, built around a lotus pond- unfortunately the spa service stinks.
    The Oriental is also very 'kid friendly'.
    The only hotel I've been to that could compare would be Raffles in Singapore.

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  4. Now I will definitely have to go back and check that one. We stayed at the Anantara Riverside Spa and resort, but we didn't spend much time at the hotel itself since we were in Bangkok for just two days...or actually a day and a half. Our hotel was also right on the river side and our room had a view, there were two boat shuttles from the hotel, one to the pier connected to the nearest metro station, and the other to Asiatique. Each shuttles had a boat every 30 minutes.

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  5. Bessie3:57 PM

    While 90 percent of the expats living in India would describe the food as" Spicy, Oily, or too liquidy" for their tastes I'd say Indian food comes a little between the west and the east. East Asian cuisine is not something anyone can live with. We all know japanese food isn't all about sushi, sashimi and tempura rather its mostly rice or noodles with various kinds soup. Same thing in Korea.Their gravies are so spicyy. Can you believe they eat rice for breakfast?? No kind of bread there. there are some bread shops and bakeries to suit one's tastes but living there is a nightmare. they don't even use chilli powder. But raw chilli paste. Tons of it, in just a single dish!!! Not a single dish is cooked without adding soy sauce and believe me their soy sauce smells. Its too pungent. Sea food is awesome but again the shrimps and fish pieces are swimming in a spicy gravy or soup. I've come to love Indian cuisine and will gladly take the Butter chicken, naans, roti's, paneer, dals etc any day. :)

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  6. I handle spices well enough, but I am not sure I would only want to eat spicy all the time. In fact as much as I like Indian food, I just can't have it everyday because it then becomes boring taste wise, and texture wise. South Indian don't eat that much bread either and breakfast often means idli or dosa whcih are partially rice based, I can't call idli breakfast, or even poha, which is another popular rice product based breakfast. At least not on a daily basis, breakfast means fresh fruits, sliced toasted bread or muesli (the real Swiss one).

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  7. Annabel11:12 AM

    I feel Indians are VERY picky eaters especially when it comes to meat. Seafood is disgusting, beef cant be eaten and lamb is eaten by very few people. I am sick of seeing the menu chicken 65, chicken masala, chicken kabab, butter chickenn. I have seen only Chicken sausages so far .Sigh. Chinese, korean and japanese are the people i find who will find almost anything . They even dont leave the feet of chicken LOL. Infact koreans eat octopus live. But i feel so irritated when people in my family dont even bother to taste shrimp. Why is it so difficult to even taste and see is beyond me. :( The reason why so many authentic Thai, Chinese and Japanese restaurants in India are running out of business is due this attitude only.

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  8. I can understand the beef not being eated by Hindus, and pork not being eaten by Muslims, some Hindus think of pork the same way Muslims do however. What surprised me even more than the diet restrictions is the fact that a many Indians will also be very reluctant to try new local Indian cuisines as well, and stick to eating the food the way it is prepared into their community, city, family. And it is not like local Indian fares contain forbidden food, just is cooked in a different way. DH is a picky eater, he used to find trying new food very challenging, years of travelling for his job cured that to some extent, he even recently admitted that maybe now would be the time for him to start getting used to eating seafood and pork, because he has no religious belief that stop him, he just isn't used to the taste.

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