On arrival in Thailand, I have to admit I always indulge in a few guilty pleasures. While I live by a fairly strict diet in Europe, one of these is food. In my observation, Farang (‘foreigners’) enjoy their Thai culinary experiences in such extreme ways that there is an opportunity to point out the happy middle ground, in-between. This post explains a first possible compromise when it comes to dining options: food courts and local chains.
When disembarking the plane, chances are that a meal is one of the first things on your mind. In Thailand, food is literally everywhere. It’s virtually impossible to go for a walk and not come across some sort of street food vendor. In the wide spectrum of malls, food takes up a larger portion of floor space than we are used to in the West. Rest assured, finding something to your liking is guaranteed.
Tourists and Expats tend to follow one of two extreme eating patterns. Either they stick to home grub with the odd over-priced pseudo-Thai meal from time to time, or they go completely native and live mainly off of street and market food. While street food is very delicious, I would advise to tread lightly. If you are visiting Thailand for just a few weeks it would be a pity if you’d have to spend some of that time nursing an indigestion. The over-priced and Western food choice, on the other hand, is wasteful and a missed opportunity.
Two potential answers lie in food courts and local chains. In the past, food courts were considered to be for the lower classes, locally. I remember a time when white faces were a rare sight at these venues, but this has changed dramatically over the past years. Food courts can be found at most malls and supermarkets. They feature a centrally located cashier, where one purchases credit that can be spent with the vendors. Credit used to be in the form of paper coupons, but has been largely switched over to a digital system with a card. Unspent credit can be claimed back after the meal. Do take notice that credit, in most cases, is only valid on the same day.
Food courts feature a wide variety of dishes, sometimes even foreign ones. Street food is widely offered and as conditions are far superior to the make-shift kitchens in the street, chances of intestinal issues are much smaller.
One small warning, though: food courts are still not a viable option for the entertainment of business relations and first dates. More about that in a future post.
In the Siam In-Between series, the Thai Middle Class will make an appearance on several occasions. As this portion of the population is growing, several local restaurant chains cater to them. They offer fair value and can be found in just about any mall.
My personal favourites are:
- MK: a hot pot (‘suki’) style restaurant where one orders sets of ingredients that are prepared in the soup bowl, embedded in the table. Personal tip: wash it down with their proprietary lemon juice. Aroy maak. (‘very delicious’)
- Fuji: Japanese chain, that also offers sushi. The extremely high turn-over of virtually every location guarantees freshness
- Hot pot buffet: similar to MK, but with a buffet style offering
- Yum Saap means delicious salad and offers Isaan style salad dishes. Do be careful, can be very spicy
Don’t get me wrong: I do not intend to discourage eating at independent and regional restaurants, but that is the subject for another future post.
Enjoy your meals.