Never have we had an easier—or tastier—time feeding ourselves on the road than in Thailand.
I thought if there was one thing that would wear me down during four and a half months of hotel living in Southeast Asia, it would be finding food. The endless quest for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in ever-changing environments can quickly lead to travel fatigue. We can’t eat like we’re on a perpetual vacation, both for our waistlines and our wallets.
Although we often dined well during our travels in Europe earlier this year, it was a constant cycle of ups and downs with as many misses as hits. For the one standout taqueria in Madrid, there were numerous mediocre meals with hardly a fresh vegetable in sight. In contrast, Thailand comes close to offering the ideal full-time travel meal plan—food that is delicious, affordable, semi-healthy, and easily available. A bonus: the quantity, quality, and variety of fruits and vegetables used in restaurant dishes.
The exceptionally fresh produce that made it onto our plates is grown in the region. I had no idea there are carrots other than the bright orange kind common in the U.S.; in Thailand, there are red and white varieties, too. Or that the light green wedges I was eating were eggplant. From fried rice and curries chock full of snap peas, baby corn, broccoli, and other vegetables to grilled chicken skewers served with spicy-sweet chili and tamarind sauce, vibrant colors and glorious flavors routinely characterized the food we ate. Lime slices for zesting. Bowls of cubed watermelon served as complimentary appetizers. Humble porridge transformed by mango and sweet bananas. The never ending parade for the taste buds included foods infused with cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, and three kinds of basil, none of which are the Italian variety common in the U.S.
Tasty Thailand transformed one of the grinds of full-time travel into a pleasure—something that hopefully will continue as we eat our way through the region.
Tips for Dining in Thailand
Have patience. Dishes are often prepared to order, like the divine Devil Rice at Angel’s Secrets in Chiang Mai. (Those are Angel’s scrumptious offerings in the photos at the top of the page.)
Ask if you want heat. Dishes are generally prepared on the milder side for tender Western palates. But after a couple of visits to La Petite Chiang Mai, one of our favorite restaurants, the owner/chef specially prepared a Penang curry to Brian’s taste, perfectly turning up the heat with four chilies.
Listen to your server. At Barrab in Chiang Rai, our waitress recommended the nightly special: yellow curry with stewed chicken. Weeks later I’m still thinking about this meal.
Get out of your comfort zone. The whole fish—head, eyes, tail, and bones—grilling outside Chiang Mai’s Lert Ros turned up at our table. The red tilapia paired perfectly with a side of hot green chili sauce.