Travel Diary: Eating at the Night Market in Thailand

Since life in Halifax is forcing me to visit sunnier, warmer times in my mind, I’m going to write again about my recent experiences in Thailand. It was just in January that we made the trip to Southeast Asia, but man, it seems like a lifetime ago already. Their dry season boasts hot, sunny and humid days with a temperature around 30 degrees. The weather was practically flawless for the two weeks we were there. Take me back!

I found some wine!

I found some wine!

Some of our favourite places to eat were outdoor night markets that offered a mix of souvenirs, clothing, cocktail bars and food stalls, always with live entertainment. Especially during our time on Koh Samui the open-air bars with live music on Chaweng Walking Street would call to us on most evenings. Sitting in cheap white plastic chairs, sipping gin and tonics, listening to a live band cover Western hits, and ordering grilled satay or noodles from nearby food stalls was how we’d pass many relaxing night-time hours. Just thinking about it makes me smile. The host at our favourite bar, Save Water Drink Cocktails, knew our names by the end of the week.

Delicious noodles in Phuket.

Delicious noodles in Phuket.

The deal was you’d walk around to check out what each food stall offered or had fresh that evening. Most offered traditional Thai food, along with some kind of specialty. There was the fresh seafood stall with huge live prawns on ice and charcoal rotisseries for fish, the banana pancake stall, the noodle soup lady, and a few options for barbecue or grilled food. Often you’d see steaming hot, heaping piles of noodles, that would last the night. Our favourite was simply a dish of these noodles, they were sautéed in oil and soy sauce with bright pieces of cabbage, carrots, or peppers.

Ribs, chicken and salad.

Ribs, chicken and salad.

At the barbecue stalls you had the option of choosing pre-grilled satays that the cook would throw back on the grill for a few minutes, or choosing a raw protein and waiting for it to be prepared. For side dishes there was an array of deep-fried favourites, dumplings, noodles, or any kind of Thai dish. The fish ball soup was definitely one of the best we tried, and once I splurged on delicious fresh squid with grilled corn, but most nights, we craved noodles and the barbecued pork ribs or good ol’ chicken satay with sweet chile sauce. Perfect with those gin and tonics, or in Geir’s case, many cold Chang beers. After ordering from a stall, you could make your way to the open-air bar or seating area, and when your food was ready they’d find you in the crowd and drop it off at your table on styrofoam plates. Always with a smile.

We stumbled across street food everywhere in Thailand, of course, from tiny stands lining the most popular beaches to the crunchy bug snacks in Bangkok. Here’s a look…

Travel Diary: Thai Cooking Class

During our first week of the trip, which was spent in Phuket, we attended a cooking class at the next town over, Kata Beach.  I had signed us up nice and early with it being high season, and the class having stellar reviews on Trip Advisor. Much to our surprise, when the driver showed up we were the only two attending class that day. Nice. Our instructor, Mimi, and driver transported us from our resort to The Kitchen, a Thai restaurant and cooking class venue, with one stop at a market along the way.

Many types of prawns.

Many types of prawns.

It was the type of day in Phuket that edged on unbearably hot, for a canuck like me… well over 30 degrees and disgustingly humid (and this was dry season). Mimi took us to a large nearby open-air market (thankfully with shade), to give us an example of how fresh produce and meat are sourced for the plethora of Thai restaurants in that area. We sauntered around while she gave us explanations on mostly vegetables, and meat, and we asked some questions. We could have easily walked around for an hour, just looking, but we were eager to get to the class, where the ingredients had already been purchased and prepped for us. We were treated to as much bottled water as we wanted, and after we arrived, had a few minutes to rest in the wind of a two large fans; I started to cool off.

Mimi.

Mimi.

Our setup was a humble folding table with a plastic tablecloth, single gas burners, plastic cutting boards and the necessary knives, utensils and pots and pans. We were learning four Thai dishes, which we picked in advance on the website: vegetable spring rolls, gang keaw waan tai (green chicken curry), traditional pad thai with prawns and tom yum goong (pictured at the very top). So, very recognizable Thai dishes that we thought would be fun to cook while in Thailand! The methods were a little less complicated than we were hoping for (especially for Geir), as in, we used some short cuts like pre-made green curry paste. But overall it was a great experience and Mimi was super fun and friendly.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

All of the dishes turned out flavourful and tasty, with the curry and the pad thai having a very healthy amount of heat! We found the recipes used a surprising amount of sugar, and that a lot of Thai dishes include either white or brown sugar to balance out the spicy chiles. We got to take a copy of the recipes home. Check out the photo gallery for the market tour and cooking class, and below that — a recipe for green curry chicken!

Below is the green curry chicken recipe we were sent home with, which is very fast and easy to make. The measurements are a bit different, and the yield is not listed, but I’d guess two servings. You can’t get the type of small eggplant that we used here, usually, so substitute for any vegetable you enjoy in your curries. Carrots, green beans and potatoes all work nicely (cook the potatoes a bit in advance).

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Gaang Keaw Waan Gai (Chicken in Green Curry), from The Kitchen, Kata Beach

180 grams Sliced chicken breast

10 grams Crispy eggplant

10 grams Small eggplant

1 tbsp Green curry paste (I like Mae Ploy)

10 grams Thai (sweet) basil leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

2 pieces Sliced red chiles (or to taste)

2 cups Coconut milk

2 pieces Kaffir lime leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

1 tbsp Fish sauce

2 tbsp Palm sugar

1. Add the vegetable oil in the pan then heat to medium heat. Add the green curry paste and heat until it brings out a good aroma.

2. Add the sliced chicken (note: let it get a good sear before moving on), and add the coconut milk a little at a time. Add crispy eggplant and small eggplant.

3. Add the kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil leaves and sliced red chiles at the end. (Note: it’s ready when it’s reduced a bit to a thicker consistency, and smells amazing.)

4. Serve with steamed rice.

Travel Diary: My birthday in Thailand

A few days ago I returned from an unbelievable, dreamy two-week trip to Thailand, where I celebrated my 30th birthday. We booked this adventure last August, giving ourselves lots of time to plan fun excursions (Thai cooking class, speedboat tour, etc) and make suitable birthday plans.

Here, I will chronicle my out-of-the-ordinary birthday in Phuket, Thailand (usually I’m snowed in somewhere in Halifax drinking copious amounts of wine and enjoying a cheese-heavy meal with loved ones), focusing mainly on the food.

Fresh mango on our terrace.

Fresh mango on our terrace.

The day began with freshly cut mango, which we had purchased from one of the nearby fresh fruit stores in Kata Beach. We were staying at the charming Metadee Resort, in a deluxe pool access room, so I enjoyed my cup of mango and yogurt on our terrace by the pool, then jumped in for a dip. The temperature by this time, in the early morning (the cooler part of the daytime), was about 27º or 28º C.

A big part of the day involved a spur-of-the-moment bus trip to Phuket Town from the area we were staying in, Kata Beach. After splurging on a European breakfast at The Viking Restaurant (owned by Danes), we hailed the bus. There seemed to be a few types of public buses in Phuket, the long blue bus being more touristy, making less stops, and going from each major town to the next (although they’ll stop any time you bang on the window), for only 35 Thai baht each, which is currently $1.35 CAD. With the hilly terrain, weak engine and semi-frequent stops of the open-air bus, it took us about an hour to travel to Phuket Town, which is actually only 10km away if you take a direct route. But, we got to see a lot of the island this way.

A little sweaty and a little tired, in Old Phuket Town.

A little sweaty and a little tired, in Old Phuket Town.

Once arriving in Phuket Town, which is the largest town on the island of Phuket (which is the busiest tourist destination in Thailand), we didn’t really know where we were going or what we were looking for. Phuket Town has a population of over 91,000 people and I have to say it was bigger than I had anticipated. I had heard tell of an “Old Town” section being charming and historic and whatnot. After walking aimlessly (in the wrong direction) for about 25 minutes, we stopped at Kaffe, an air-conditioned, hipster-looking coffee shop, where I refuelled with a creamy egg sandwich on beautiful bahn mi style bread and an iced coffee. We connected to the wifi and made some more solid plans. We got the direction to Old Phuket Town down, partly on our own and partly from advice of one of the many taxi drivers trying to sell us a tour. He told us the beautiful buildings that the tourists like to see were on two specific streets, so we headed in that direction on foot. (Ah, traveling.) This was all on a sweltering (to us) 32º C full-sun, 90% humidity kind of day, (that’s pretty much every day there) so we were drinking LOTS of water and reapplying sunscreen like crazy.

Once we made it to Old Phuket Town, it was indeed special, showcasing historic Sino-colonial mansions and preserved shophouses. This part of the town was “built on the riches reaped from Phuket’s tin boom of last century,” (phuket.com). The buildings are grandiose and ornate, colourful and charming. Many of them house cafes, restaurants and printing shops. We stopped at one particularly high-end looking cafe once we noticed some bottles of craft beer and cider in the cooler case out front (hard to find in  Thailand), for a beverage break. After strolling through the area we headed back to where to catch the bus back to Kata Beach. (How we got on the wrong bus, had to get off, walk back into town, find an air conditioned cab to make it back to Kata for our dinner reservation is another story — ah, traveling.)

Once returning to our resort, we of course had a well-deserved dip in the pool, showered and got ready for dinner. I had made a reservation a month prior at a picturesque and popular Thai restaurant called On the Rock, housed at the Marina Phuket Resort, directly on the water.

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The service at On the Rock was unmatched by anything else we experienced in Phuket, the price point, for Thailand, was high and it was clear they catered to many tourists. We started with some prosecco, to celebrate, then I picked out my very own fresh red snapper, which was on display with the other fresh seafood for the day as you enter the restaurant (this is customary here). For first course, I had my first tom sum, a spicy green papaya salad with green beans, almost the style of a slaw, with a very flavourful dressing of chiles and garlic, fish sauce, and some sweetness. This was delicious, and not to be my last on the trip. Geir had tom kha gai which is a mild coconut-based chicken soup with great flavours of kaffir lime leaves and ginger, a very common Thai soup.

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The red snapper was prepared nicely on the barbecue and was served with thinly sliced peppers, ginger and chiles on top. I enjoyed this super fresh fish with some classic steamed rice. Geir had a duck with mango sauce. They played happy birthday for me, and presented me with a fresh cut fruit plate with candles to blow out. The sun had set over the ocean during first course, and we went for a walk on the beach after dinner. My second birthday ever to be spent in a hot climate, with beach time (my 24th birthday was in Bondi Beach, Australia). On the walk home, we saw an elephant! The only elephant of the trip, as I’m not into exploitative animal-based tourism. I’m not sure whose elephant it was, or how they treated it. I didn’t give them any money but snapped a photo. This was a very small elephant.

A very different, but very fun 30th birthday. And the next day was birthday number two… as it was my birthday on Halifax time…