Friday, August 21, 2009

Soi food - Thai food on the cheap

I've mentioned before how cheap it is to eat here in Thailand. There are your normal fast food joints like McD's, KFC and even a few BK's scattered here and there which are comparably priced to those in the states. You have your hotel restaurants which are well out of the reach of most people here, they cater more to tourists and businessmen. Mall restaurants, you know, your Japanese, Korean, Thai food places will cost you a little more than the fast food.

Along each soi though, there is a sort of "street culture" in that, vendors of food and drinks set up little carts with things for the local residents to eat. These are often built into a wheelbarrow or onto the side of a motorcycle. There are roll-away ice boxes used to sell sliced fruit, wagons with steamed cobs of corn a car battery for to power a small light to sell at night, and even guys who build a small box onto the front of their bicycle and sell deep fried insects, meat balls, or cakes and various other Thai traditional desserts.

You can find pretty much anything on the side of the soi. Our soi is great, because we live near two universities, so there are tons of students. And where there are students, there is usually cheap food. Our soi is no exception.

I can walk outside of my apartment with a hundred baht wearing boxers and grab a decent lunch for myself, or even easily stretch the hundred baht into a meal for both myself and Pae. I've blogged about this before, but I wanted to give a couple visuals this time. A typical lunchtime meal for me on a weekend would consist of food from both of these vendors who are always right outside of our apartment.

The first photo is the guy who sells barbecued pork. He has built a BBQ grill onto the front of a reverse tricycle bike. He grills pig ears, intestines, tails, boneless chops and countless other parts of the pig and sells them by the piece. I usually go with a piece of seasoned pork which he chops into small chunks and puts into a small plastic bag with a little wooden skewer that acts as a fork to jab the meat with and eat as I walk if I choose! One serving of this pork is plenty for me and costs no more than 25 baht, less than a dollar. Add sticky rice for 5 baht and the cost is still under a buck.Normally, not more than 200 meters from the "Pork Man" (this is really what we call him), there is the "Somtam Lady". Somtam sellers specialize in "Somtam" or Thai papaya salad. The basic ingredients for somtam are unripe papaya, solidified sugar, green beans, chili peppers, lime, fish sauce, tomatoes and any variation of dehydrated shrimp, pickled crab, fermented fish "stuff", cucumbers, tamarind paste, noodles and peanuts. These ingredients are thrown into a clay mortar and smashed together with a wooden pestle.With each variation comes a different type of somtam of course. I can eat any type as long as it doesn't have the pickled crab or fermented fish "stuff" called "braa-la" in it. I can eat it, I just prefer not to, especially when I have so many choices! I generally go with the Somtam Thai which is sweet and sour and spicy with peanuts. It's like eating peanut butter and jelly salad...It sounds strange, but when I'm sitting over a plate of it and the somtam lady has made it just right, it's like I'm pounding a spicy PBJ sandwich!

The somtam lady also grills talapia and catfish, chicken parts and chicken innards on her cart. The somtam is 25 baht - 30 baht depending on the variety of junk you get in it, and is the perfect compliment to the pork, or a grilled leg and thigh from the "Chicken Man", who interestingly has a similar setup, minus the somtam, welded to the side of his motorcycle! Most of the modified motorcycle or bicycle food carts are pretty cool and even come with their own beach umbrella, more for surviving the Thai sun than the rain.

So, meat, rice and papaya salad, pretty much a full lunch- 60 baht ($1.70) so far, and remember I'm freeballin with a hundy! 40 baht left from my hundred, I can hit 7-11 for a Big Gulp (22 baht), or a can of Pepsi Max (14 baht). If it's super hot, the "Tea Lady" a little further down the soi sells some awesome blended Thai tea, iced coffee, bag of coke (Coca Cola that is...I'll definitely cover this in another blog), or blended fruit smoothie for between 12 and 22 baht.

This 100 baht easily feeds one person and you have to walk no more than 200 meters away from your room! What we do is save money on drinks and have iced water at home for free, grab two servings of chicken man or pork man for 50 baht and two variations of somtam lady for 50 baht...TWO MEALS for under three dollars!

There are a lot of expats here who, for their first year or so, and in some cases forever, try to survive on western food from western restaurants, but it gets pricy and they totally miss out on the culture and on being a part of the opinion...why eat McDonald's burgers and fries five meals a week when there is such a variety of Thai food only steps away, and often, directly below your window!

1 comment:

Titan and I said...

Soi food value menu. Gotta love it. I understand eating for cheap. How many different ways can you cook ramen?

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