Eating in Thailand
I decided to title this post eating in Thailand rather than food in Thailand because the act of eating has been quite an experience. There is no lack of tasty food in Ton Sai. I was kind of afraid of the food before we left because all the really authentic Thai food I had eaten in the States was covered in fish sauce and pretty unbearable. I joked with my friends before I left that I would sit starving amid delicious smelling but fishy tasting food. Thankfully the worst food we have had on our trip thus far was on our flight over… and the bag of stick biscuits from 7-11 with their fishy aftertaste and unclear labeling.
So far, neither of us have even mentioned being sick of the food here or started craving western food. The only time I have considered getting a hamburger was when it was the same price as the phad thai, but even then I still ordered the phad thai. We haven’t had bread or cheese since we left. And our regular breakfast of sticky rice and fruit is welcomed every morning amid thoughts of “why didn’t we eat this at home?”
Just about every resort on Ton Sai has a restaurant usually boasting some sort of lunch or dinner special. Many resorts include an all you can eat breakfast, but we have yet to indulge. One of our friends went on his last day and said he gorged himself on omelets, pancakes and waffles so that he wouldn’t need to eat again for the rest of the day. We often order a plate of food and find our eyes bugging out of our heads as the enormous portions are placed in front of us, usually for around $2. No matter what we do during the day we never seem to have trouble finishing the whole plate. We usually sit around talking for an hour or so with friends while we digest enough to hop on the slack line.
Of the many restaurant options in Ton Sai we have found three that we frequent. Our decision usually revolves around price so it was easy to narrow down our options. There are two competing food stalls on the main road near the beach that are collectively referred to as “chicken mama,” so called because their regular offering is a really amazing BBQ chicken dish served with spicy sweet sauce and rice for about $2. We decide which stall to order from based on what we’re craving.
Our other favorite place is Sow’s Kitchen. It seems to be run by the Long Tail boatmen and serves up mysterious daily specials with rice for about $1. It took us about 10 days before someone told us it existed, though we had heard lore of the place before we arrived. We stopped by one day for lunch and took a gander in the case of specials. One dish was completely empty, the next was some sort of beef dish with green beans, one had some sort of fish, and the last appeared to be whole fish heads. We opted for the beef dish and it was one of the best meals we have had on Ton Sai. They dished it up with a big plate of rice and put a fair amount of beefy goodness on half of the rice. Then they said “hot, hot” which we took to mean spicy. With spicy food it’s best not to wash it down with water since that spreads the oils throughout the mouth. Eating a spoonful of plain rice however helps absorb some of the oils and suppress the burning.
We had such a nice meal at Sow’s we decided to go there for lunch again the following day. We looked in the cases to see much the same view as the previous day; one tray empty, one with a good looking meat dish, another seafood tray, and fried fish. We went for what we thought was a meat dish, but we soon discovered it was something completely different. We started munching on what appeared to be meat but soon realized it was a sweet fruit. Upon closer inspection we saw a shellfish like mass scattered throughout with a couple dangling tentacles. We couldn’t discern what the fruit was or what the shellfish was. Briana and Peter devoured their plate and I kind of picked at the fruit, segregated the tentacled shellfish and ate the rice. We were trying to figure out what this stuff was when I came up with a theory. Walking down a path to the beach one day I saw a man gathering fruit that had fallen from a tree. I couldn’t tell what kind of fruit it was, but it kind of looked like a mini yellow apple with a completely different smell. When we ordered our food we saw one of the workers sitting over a basket of the same fruit and that unmistakable smell. As for the shellfish we were walking around the point between Railay and Ton Sai at a super low tide and noticed some locals with little hammers cracking open the barnacles that were growing on the rocks. Once I remembered this sight I figured that must be our mystery tentacled mass of shellfish. I like the idea of a meal from hunted and gathered local ingredients more than I like actually liked eating said meal.
We were climbing with some friends when we started talking about food. It was about lunch time and we had been climbing all morning. So naturally we start to think about what we want for lunch. One couple we met from Colorado, Mark and Kate (their blog is www.colocalders.com), were preparing for a cooking class they had in the afternoon … meaning they were supposed to come hungry. Another couple we met, Andrew and Penny (also on their honeymoon), had taken a class in Thailand the last time they were here. Since Penny was vegetarian they prepared all the dishes with meat and without. They really enjoyed learning how to cook Thai food and happily stuffed themselves on 8 delectable dishes.
We started to wonder why everything tasted so good and why it was possible for us to finish our plate without ever feeling full. Then I realized that a lot of it had MSG in it. All the Asian food in the US proudly states that everything they serve is free of MSG. Alas in Asia we have seen no such signs. I had never really considered what MSG was or why it would be bad. It was just always assumed that it was best not consumed. I did a little research and this is what I found.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer (no wonder everything tastes so good!). Research conducted for the FDA has said MSG is safe “eaten at customary levels”, but some people with intolerances will develop “MSG symptom complex” which results in a worsening of asthmatic symptoms. At first glance this seems to suggest that as long as you don’t have asthma you shouldn’t need to worry about consuming it.
When you delve beyond Wikipedia you find there is a lot of contentious information out there making claims that are difficult to trust. One claim is that MSG causes obesity. For every article I found that asserted there was a connection between MSG consumption and obesity there was another proffering the opposite opinion. Here are a couple of links, both from 2008, looking at the same research and arriving at opposite and contradictory conclusions. Take it with a grain of salt… or MSG, perhaps. Article asserting MSG causes obesity. Article asserting no connection between MSG and Obesity.
The only conclusion I can come to from my experience is that Thai food is still tasty even after 3 meals a day for 3 weeks.