Life Goes On in Chiang Rai

Today is Sunday, August 9, 2015. Yes, I know it's taken me a while to post this but that's the way it goes.

It's getting longer and longer between my posts so don't think you missed something unless you didn't see the one about getting caught in the rain while driving my motorcycle. Also in my last post, I promised to write about changes in my diet. The change is actually doe to two factors. The most obvious is that I am living in Thailand, a country with its own food and food traditions. Sure, I can find hamburgers and spaghetti and other western food if I search them out but why the hell would I? If you are a lover of Thai food, like I am, then eating Thai food is what you would want to do, right? Absolutely!

But the food Thais eat every day is not what we get at Thai restaurants in the US. Much of the US Thai food is focused on the protein component, usually meat of some kind. That focus is much less common here. As a matter of fact, the words for eating in the Thai language translate to "eat rice" in English and most Thai meals center on either rice or rice noodles. There is a lot less meat, seafood, tofu, etc. in most dishes than we are used to in the US.

I can get the US, or more broadly, Western style of Thai food if I eat where tourists eat and I do that from time to time. Here in Chiang Rai, that means the Night Bazaar and the shopping mall restaurants, though most of the actual sit-down restaurants at the big Central Plaza shopping mall are Japanese. There aren't any Thai restaurants except in the lowest level where there are three or four that are more like mini restaurants where the food is prepared in the middle of a square with counter seating around it. These can probably seat fewer than 20 people and they seem to have no menu or only something in Thai with no English. Since I don't know what they have or how to order, I haven't tried them.

When I was in Bangkok, I had a similar problem finding Thai restaurants in shopping malls except in the food courts so it isn't just here in Chiang Rai.

I went to the Night Bazaar a couple of weeks ago. It has two large eating areas. The one I visited was a single restaurant with a large outdoor seating area, part of it open and part covered. It's the rainy season so I sat in the covered area. I got a beef in oyster sauce. It was very gingery and not bad but a little disappointing. I probably won't get it again. I ate at the same place about the week before and had pork with spicy basil and that was much better and a lot spicier.

The other eating area at the Night Bazaar is kind of like a food court and it's only a short walk from the first. There is a big covered seating area in the middle and a row of food booths on either side serving everything from stir-fried bugs (yes, you read that correctly) to a variety of soups (with no bugs), deep fried vegetables, and probably some other things I am not remembering. At one end is a stage with a handful of acts that cycle. If you have been there more than once or if you hang out for a couple of hours, you have seen more than once. There is also a stage where I had dinner and the performers go back and forth between the two stages. At the other end of both locations are the shops selling a range of things, largely aimed at tourists, both foreign and domestic. Lots of printed tee-shirts, leather goods, trinkets made by the hill tribes (or so they say), hill tribe music on CDs, decorations for the home, lots of stuff.

There are also food carts in other parts of the Bazaar plus several small to medium sized restaurants on the streets around it so there is no shortage of things to eat.

But outside of cooking at home there are other places folks here eat. One of them is at food courts in the shopping malls. There is a reasonably decent selection and the food is inexpensive. A complete, if small, meal for around $2, including a beverage. I like the food courts. The malls also have actual restaurants with a predominance of Japanese food. Don't ask me why but Thais love Japanese food, sushi in particular. I've had it (I spent a couple months in Japan), I'm not grossed out by raw fish and other sushi but it is not high on my list of things to eat. There are surprisingly few Thai restaurants in the shopping malls, excluding the food courts, of course which are almost all Thai food of one kind or another.

Another common place the people here eat are at tiny restaurants, sometimes with only one table and everybody sits there. These are mostly neighborhood places so people are eating with what appears just their friends and neighbors. Often people get food there and take it home to eat.

There are also smaller local restaurants and I mentioned a couple of them in my last blog. While I would not be at all comfortable going to one of the tiny neighborhood places (I don't even know if I would be welcome), these local restaurants are more to my liking.

One more kind of place that may be the most common of all, outside home cooking, are the street vendors. There are mobile carts that sometimes only come out around meal times and sometimes are there all the time or at least until a couple of hours after sunset. These carts offer an incredible variety, everything from fresh fruit cut into pieces and provided in plastic bags with a bamboo skewer to eat it with to fried insects and other bugs (no, thank you). You can also get soups, omelets, salads, ice cream and all manner of desserts, stir fried foods, and things I don't have any idea what they are.

With all these choices where do I eat? I cook some and I eat at a couple of local restaurants plus I go either downtown or to one of the shopping malls and the food courts. Breakfasts most often consist of either oatmeal to which I add ground black sesame seeds and dried longan (a local fruit), fried potatoes and onions, or eggs. Sometimes I just skip breakfast altogether. I always have my breakfasts here at home either sitting out on the veranda or sitting in front of the computer. Lately, I have been inside more than outside because of the mosquitos that appeared after the rains really got under way. Most of the time I add a plate of fresh fruit to my breakfasts. I try to have a variety every day and here's what I have had: bananas (three varieties that you have probably never seen), watermelon, a melon that is like a cross between honeydew and cantaloupe, dragon-fruit, papayas, mangos, pineapple (again, varieties you have never seen), rambutan (Google it), and a couple I don't know the names of.

Lunch, if I have it at home, usually consists of a bowl of ramen noodles. The last ones I bought turned out to be really spicy. Next time, I will go back to the milder comfort food variety. Sometimes I add a plate of fresh fruit if I didn't have any for breakfast. Sometimes I have lunch out if I have shopping to do.

Dinners are either out or I will cook. I often have stir-fried veggies and I add tofu if I have any. I have started using the rice cooker and have been mixing brown rice with a black rice to give a really nice and chewy rice. I made a fried rice only once and tried to duplicate something I had at a local restaurant. It was okay but a bit too salty. I also have made a couple of big pots of black beans that I have over rice. It's really yummy. I haven't bought any meat so I add that umami flavor using a combination of fish sauce and oyster sauce. And, of course, lots of onions and garlic. The garlic I buy is really inexpensive, even from the supermarket. But from the local fresh market, it's less than 25 cents a pound.

Well, I think this has gone on long enough so I will bid you farewell for now.

Previous Blog Return to the list. Next Blog