Thailand: Land of the Snack Attack
By Carol Penn-Romine
Thailand is a land of snackers.
Meals center around a plate of rice with a few bites of different meat, fish and vegetable dishes to support it (not the other way around--RICE is the focus here). Or noodle dishes, such as the beloved Pad Thai. Always with fresh fruit for dessert. This type of meal leaves room for treats, which is a good thing, because Thais love their treats! Snacking in Thailand is quite a different thing than it is in the West, though. While candy bars, potato chips and fast food--especially anything fried--tend to be staples on the snack menu in the States, Thailand has quite different tastes, most of which are vastly healthier than ours.
Fresh fruit is popular, and considering the wide variety of fruit that grows in this tropical locale--and the sheer volume of it--that's a good thing. I've never seen so much fresh fruit in my life!
It's easy when you're strolling down the street to find a cup of fresh strawberries or chunks of pineapple to snack on.
But with the sheer volume fruit Thailand produces, a lot of it has to be preserved. So dried fruit is a common snack, too. [One of the most popular fruits either fresh or dried is durian, but that section of the blog got so big it had to split off on its own. Look for it soon!]
These bananas are dehydrated and coated in honey--unbelievably sweet!
Coconut juice doesn't get any fresher than this!
Fresh fruit juices are often presented in plastic bags with a straw inserted--I suppose because this takes up less space in the trash. With millions regularly sipping juice this way, all those disposable cups would add up in a hurry.
Sweet, salty, spicy & buttery--this fresh corn was one of my favorite walking-around treats.
The fresh corn sold on the street reminded my friend Cecilia of elote, one of those great street foods in her hometown of Mexico City. There the corn is served on the cob, coated in a thin layer of mayo and dipped in grated cotija cheese and chile powder. That's my favorite street food in Mexico City, so I was glad to find it here, too.
The Thai version of "street corn" contains butter, salt, sugar and chile powder. This guy keeps the corn warm in a cooker on top of a propane tank. When you order some, he ladles it into a bowl and seasons it especially for you, mixing it well so that every kernel has all the flavor it should.
Sausages and meats are also popular choices for walking-around food. A single Thai sausage carries the flavor of an entire meal!
mmm, flossy pork (curiously, pork in Thai is "moo"). Not really what I'd call jerky, but it IS dried meat.
Occasionally you'll find more Western-styled snacks, but they're the exception rather than the rule.
These freshly baked little treats were made of potato. Reminded me a bit of Bugles, with the flavor of Pringles, but fresh. Very fresh--still warm from the oven.
Then there's toasted seaweed. It looks just like nori, which is rolled around sushi, but this is crunchy and easy to snack on, not chewy like nori. It has an aggressively healthy taste to it, almost off-puttingly so.
The only food I absolutely couldn't stand while I was in Thailand was a bag of hard candy with the curiously cheerful name of “Let's Party!” C'mon--how can you NOT try a candy with that name? I defy you! I picked it up in a 7-11 (yes, they have them there). They were individually-wrapped red candies. Cherry flavored? Strawberry? Raspberry, perhaps? or Red currant? They were none of the above. The best approximation of flavor I can provide is that they tasted like what I assume you'd get if you made cough drops out of lighter fluid. After about 20 seconds, the piece in my mouth--and the rest of the bag--went into the trash. An entire travel-sized bottle of Listerine couldn't put a dent in the aftertaste.
This is a pretty decent record, though. It would be unusual to say I've disliked only one thing I've eaten in any 10-day period here at home. So to travel for this length of time in Thailand and encounter only one food I didn't like is amazing.
So what's my favorite Thai snack? Fruit that's so fresh you'd swear it has added sugar is awfully good. So's the corn. And Thai sausages are one of my favorite foods, period.
There's still a particular fruit to consider...one of which I spoke earlier, one that will get its own entry soon...
Too laid back for the professional kitchen, LA-based Carol Penn-Romine earned a Le Cordon Bleu diploma so she could write about food. “When you grow up in the rural South where everything is deep fried, you have a lot to learn about the world of food,” she says. And the world of food is what she’s interested in. At the moment she is blogging "52 Cuisines in 52 Weeks," which is taking her around the world without leaving Los Angeles County. She is particularly interested in the social and cultural aspects of food and how its production, preparation and enjoyment bring people together. Carol is also a trained, credentialed tour director who conducts culinary tours in the United States and Europe through her company, Hungry Passport Culinary Adventures. You can read about those 52 cuisines--and more--at www.hungrypassport.blogspot.com.