Sugar & Spice meets Sour & Salt

The food in Thailand is good not just because the food itself has flavor already. Yes, that is true. But what is the key to many of the Thai dishes is the sauce.

This is part I of a series of posts that will help you know the secrets to eating Thai food. Of course, you can come to Thailand and never know about these details – you’ll get along fine. However, if you want to know the details, the nuances, and get into the real way of eating Thai food like a Thai – put down your knives, pick up your fork and spoon, and get ready to dig in.


Essential Thai Condiments

Condiments are not just the same ones we know – like ketchup and relish, sauerkraut or kimche. Not any one sauce is alike, and they should be carefully paired with the proper dish.

A table may have five sauces, but one must use discretion when adding – and the key is:

always taste first before you flavor.

Take for example the dish “Kao kaa muu” (rice leg pork). It is a plate of rice, served with stewed pork leg in a dark soy sauce broth. In order to get the best bite possible, you must make sure it is complete with the appropriate pieces. In addition to the rice and pork leg, you will need a little
1. Pickled cabbage.
2. Fresh garlic clove (preferably the smaller cloves).
3. Chili – yes, one whole chili (these are larger birds eye chilies, less smooth and more like a witch’s crooked nose).
4. Chili vinegar- this is a vinegar based sauce, with red chilies mashed up and added in.

Here we will share with you a few of the most popular dishes.

Popular Dishes and Method to Flavor Them

1. Kao man gai – boiled chicken and oiled rice. Key ingredients for the condiments include: finely diced ginger, diced chilies, and bean curd paste sauce with vinegar and chilies. If you get a portion of fried chicken, then the sweet chili sauce matches best.


2. Kao muu deng muu groop – the base of this dish is rice and generally it is dry with the red pork and pork belly if you don’t ad ether sauce. Therefore, be sure to drizzle the gravy sauce (light brown) and add dark sweet soy sauce with chilis. Each of the grains of rice should not be white anymore, and it will get slightly darker with the soy sauce. The table should have a cup with green onion stems – chill them in ice water first for a crispier experience.


3. Bami muu gieow – this dish either comes with soup or without. With soup it is important to taste the soup itself to see how salty it is. We’d recommend the dry, then add more soup as you like. This dish calls for vinegar with sliced green chilies (the chilies are not necessary but vinegar is), dried chili flakes, sugar and fish sauce. Add dashes of each and taste, after mixing thoroughly. Adding some of the black soy sauce is suitable as well.

 

For more how to – see our YouTube video showing the techniques of mixing noddles with sauces.

Ayutthaya

Interactive Google Map

Ayutthaya, a famous UNESCO World Heritage site and former Siamese capital, is very accessible for a day or weekend trip out of Bangkok. It is rich with Thailand’s history and easy to navigate around on a bicycle or their famously stylish tuk tuks. Here are a few ideas:

 

GO

For the more adventurous: Take the 15-baht (third-class) train from Hua Lamphong train station. If you are really adventurous, opt to sit in the non-A/C section of the train. Check the State Railway of Thailand’s timetable for more details (and a bit higher prices for higher train classes). Average travel time is about two hours.

 

For those who want to play it safe: Take a local minivan transport service from Mo Chit Bus Terminal for about 60 – 70 baht per person. The trip duration is approximately two hours.

There are also river cruise boats available from Bangkok.

 

SEE

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

An expansive property of Siamese architecture that includes a temple, a reclining Buddha, lake and park. There are many perspectives to take photos from here, and feeding opportunities for the fish and turtles swimming in the lakes. For more details of the temple’s history, click here.

Wat Mahathat

This temple is famous for the Buddha head embedded in a Banyan tree, and the mystery as to how it got there.

Wat Chai Wattanaram

One of Ayutthaya’s most well-known temples, made up of various Buddha images, halls and towers, representing old-style architecture.

Chao Sam Phraya Museum

An interesting museum if you wish to gain more knowledge about Ayutthaya’s history in the form of artifacts which have been excavated in the restoration process.

 

Ayutthaya Floating Market

Although a bit touristy, this market is a lovely place to taste-test a variety of Thai treats, buy souvenirs to take back home, or just marvel at all things that are different and unique.

 

STAY

Other than their centralized locations, these sister-guesthouses are recommended mainly for the warm hospitality and service-oriented owners and staff. Their charming, comfortable, and comfortable design will make you feel right at home, especially knowing that you are in good hands. The guesthouse will provide you with all of the essentials, including comfy, clean rooms, snacks and drinks, an area to hang out and socialize, some good conversations, and bike rentals. The staff will set everything up for you, from tuk tuks to dinner reservations and travel plans.

Tamarind Guesthouse

Goodmorning by Tamarind

 

 

EAT

Malakor Cafe and Restaurant

This restaurant’s wooden Thai traditional style gives it an authentic feel. It is very close to Goodmorning by Tamarind, and very accommodating for large parties. Their menu offers a variety of home-style Thai meals. Try their Thai tea and pineapple fried rice!

 

Baan Khun Phra

Also a guesthouse on Naresuan Road, this is a lovely, riverside restaurant with a beautiful view and many wonders to marvel at as you eat authentic Thai dishes, such as fish-sauce fried fish or tom yum soup. The fried rice and appetizers are delectable.

 

Wat Yai Noodles

Perfect for lunch — classic Thai noodles and other traditional Thai dishes — before you enter Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (It’s conveniently located in front of Wat Yai).

 

Roti Sai Mai Stalls

If you’re in Ayutthaya, you must try the signature dessert, ‘roti sai mai’. These are colorful rotis accompanied by neon-colored sugary floss, which you place into the middle of the roti, roll it up, and take a big, sweet bite! You can find these everywhere in Ayutthaya and in bulk, too!

Best of BKK Eats

 Here is a list, along with some photos that may make your mouth water, of our top restaurant picks in Bangkok. Whether you are here for a day, a month or a year, these are restaurants you will want to check off the list with food that will set the bar high when it comes to your Thai cuisine expectations!

Thon Krueng

The food here is truly authentic and full of amazing flavors unique to this restaurant. What to order? See these pictures for reference and if you’re not sure how to say the names of the dishes in Thai, just point!

Mee grob (Crispy, stir-fried noodles)

Tom kha gai (Chicken coconut soup)

Fried mixed vegetable samosas

Hor mok (Steamed seafood curry)

Khanom jiin sao naam (Rice noodles with coconut milk, pineapple, ginger and fish balls)

Bua loy naam king (Sesame dumplings in ginger water)

RTN Club House

The Royal Thai Navy Club House is perfect for an afternoon riverside lunch, making one feel like a special guest of the Thai Royal Navy with its maritime décor. Their seafood selection is delectable! After lunch, stop by their next-door café for some Thai tea or coffee.

Menu must-try items: pineapple fried rice, crab somtam papaya salad, pork dumplings, shrimp toast, green curry with roti, and ‘hor mok talay’ (steamed curry seafood in coconut).

Somtam puu (Crab papaya salad)

Hor mok talay (Steamed curry seafood in coconut)

Giiaow tod (Fried dumplings)

Gaeng kiiaeow wan roti (Green curry with roti)

Khao pad sapparot (Pineapple fried rice)

Bpo bpia sawan (Shrimp cakes)

Muu det diiaow song krueng (BBQ marinated pork in sesame seeds)

Krua Aroy Aroy

Located adjacent to the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple, this restaurant is famous and has been around for a long time. Sip on the different colorful Thai herbal drinks for a refreshing treat. For lunch or dinner, have some fish or Kanom jiin (white noodles) with different sauce toppings. The Kanom jiin sao naam is a cool, refreshing and unique dish — Kanom jiin served in a cool coconut milk sauce with fresh pineapple slices and a little hint of chili peppers and dried shrimp. A must try!

Khanom jiin naam ya 

Khao Soi Gai (Northern Thailand noodle dish)

Khanom jiin sao naam (Rice noodles with coconut milk, pineapple, ginger and fish balls)

Blue Elephant

Blue Elephant is a famous restaurant and cooking school where you will find old-style traditional food, as well as modern spins on traditional food, served in fancy platters and dishes. The ambiance here is elegant and the décor is as intricate as their culinary presentations. For a variety of tastes, try the set menus crafted by the head chef.

See Fah

See Fah has authentic and good quality Thai food! The ‘khao na gai (chicken over rice) and ‘khao niiaeow durian (sticky rice and durian) are highly recommended. But order the durian sticky rice as soon as you get there because it tends to be a hot seller and runs out quickly!

Wattana Panich

When a restaurant is family-owned and has been open for 50 years, you know you can trust the taste of a long-standing recipe. The braised beef or goat stew are delicious, and I definitely recommend the ‘khao na gai’ (chicken over rice) or ‘rad ma’ (gravy noodles). All are full and hearty meals that will leave you feeling fully satisfied and a committed customer!

Khao na gai (Chicken over rice)

Khao kha muu (Pork leg over rice)

Oliiang (Thai iced coffee)

5 Life Lessons Learned from a Foreigner in Thailand

Learning Thai has opened up doorways of insight into Thai culture and a deeper understanding of what lies in the minds of Thai people. It has also revealed some important life lessons:

Life Lesson 1: Focus on the Mind

 

As a Westerner, I am used to hearing about the brain, but rarely about this deeper concept known as the mind. It’s common to hear Thai people referring to their จิตใจ (‘jit jai’), or heart. This word is a combination of ‘mind’ (jit) and ‘heart’ (jai).

You may hear Thai people saying that their ‘jit jai’ is ‘sabai’, or feeling at ease, content, not busy in the mind. When you ask them how they are feeling, they speak straight from the mind. They give importance to the mind, which is their leading force in life.

If your mind is happy, your life is happy.

If you change your mind, you change everything

 

 

Life Lesson 2: Give

Thai people are some of the most giving and hospitable people. Regardless of how much they have, they know how to give with a full heart and a big smile.

One example that stands out clearly in my mind was a trip south to Chumphon. In a matter of a few days, I experienced 3 situations that left me feeling the warmth of southern Thai hospitality…

1. On a visit to a temple, I happened upon a festival and a group of Thai aunties fed me a piece of cake from a larger cake that was for all of the temple visitors, as they taught me about the significance of the festival. They made sure everyone there received a piece.

2. One morning, sitting and having a traditional Thai breakfast, a group of older men came along – men that gather at this spot daily for morning (Thai traditional) coffee talks – and struck up a conversation, asking how foreigners feel when Thai people refer to them as ‘falang’. With their best efforts at English, they shared their perspectives, and when everyone was full and finished with breakfast, they insisted on paying our bill!

3. The next morning, eating breakfast, the head chef and Aunty owner  of a local curry shop happily gave a bundle of bananas from her farm.

 

Life Lesson 3:  Be Grateful

 

Aligned with the idea of giving is gratitude.

One pattern I have noticed after living here for some years is the respect and gratitude that Thai people show towards their parents. They regard their parents in the highest respect, as the givers of life and opportunities. You may find many children working and learning side-by-side with their parents, learning real life skills from a young age. In interviewing the children or adults at various restaurants, I find that it is not uncommon for people’s purpose in opening up a restaurant, or working, to help and give back to their parents. To return many of the favors their parents have done for them throughout their lives, whether by giving money, happiness, or comfort back to their parents. When chatting with one of the owners at Raan Mai – Baan Café for example, she enthusiastically shared about her driven intention to help and support her father. Without having any knowledge about wood or coffee, her dream eventually came to successful fruition as a result of her gratitude.

Thai people recognize that those who have done favors for them — their mothers, fathers, teachers, or anyone who has done something good for them, or made them come to an important realization, or helped them develop or change — should be people worthy of their gratitude.

Contemplating about all of these people I have encountered really gave a hit to my heart… The question arose in my mind as to why it wasn’t a natural thought in my mind to give back to my parents for everything they have done for me, for my entire life… That is, until I came to Thailand.

 

Life Lesson 4:  Make your life happy

A common trend I have observed in speaking with Thai people, no matter what position they hold in this world, is this notion that having “enough” is well, enough. The main goal for many Thais seems to be the desire to be happy — to live a happy life with just enough, and to be happy doing the best they can with what they have. For them, it isn’t about how much they have, but how fulfilled they feel in their minds.

I once shared a conversation with a van driver who easily opened his heart to share his life’s story. He told me of his past and how he used to chase material things and money, thinking they would bring him happiness…which he found out later that it did not. He shared how happy he was with his present-day work, that he is happy to work with young children, who bring his life joy and a sense of fulfillment. This, he explained, is the real happiness for him. He told me that he doesn’t need much money or presents but that “making himself happy is the biggest gift he can give himself”. My perception did a complete 180 after hearing this man speak his truth. I realized that his social status or job did not matter one bit compared to the immense joy he had found in his life. This is the largest asset one can have in their lives.

Where the Western perspective emphasizes external sources of happiness, Thai people seem to have found the real deal intrinsically.

It is no wonder that Thailand is known as “the land of smiles”.

 

 

Life Lesson 5: Sabai Sabai

 

‘Sabai sabai’ is a phrase you will encounter often here in Thailand. It is the English equivalent to ‘chill chill’ or ‘take it easy’. In essence, this means ‘don’t take things so seriously’, relax about them, and don’t worry too much.

This phrase can be used to lighten up a situation or reassure people that they don’t need to be so serious and their minds not too busy with thinking. It is a good reminder to not take life so seriously and to be relaxed no matter what situation you meet. Everything will pass, and most things are never as big as we think they are.

Life is as serious as we make it out to be…But with a simple ‘sabai sabai’, it can feel a lot smoother and happier.

 

Thank you to the Thai people for being great teachers, and for giving me many good lessons along the way.

Thank you, Thailand, for inspiring me to be a better person and giving me the tools I need to live a fulfilling life.

Bangkok Market Madness

Silom Village Trade Center

Silom Village Trade Center is a fantastic place to get a style of ancient Thai design and traditions without the feel of being too touristy or crowded. There is a lot of history here going back to the establishment of Bangkok. A great landmark to visit as a tourist of if you’re an expat and have visitors come. They have a nice selection of Thai handicrafts, clothing, and stores with knick knacks that have been open for 30+ years. The food is also authentic. They have a variety of foods, including fried rice, noodles, chicken, etc. Try the kanom jiin (white noodles) with naam prik (red sweet sauce) or naam yaa (yellow, spicy sauce with luk chin, or meatballs) if you can handle spicy. Don’t forget to try the Thai traditional sweets. All are delicious and their ancient taste is difficult to recreate, including the banana (kanom gluay) and coconut colored jelly (woon gati). In terms of shopping for traditional Thai souvenirs, this is a great and easy alternative to Chatuchak or Asiatique or any other bustling market, especially if you’re not into big crowds or feeling claustrophobic! Note that they use a coupon system instead of money so buy your coupons first before purchasing any food.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

Chatuchak Weekend Market is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday (since it’s only open on the weekends). This market, the most complex and intricate marketplace, is the place where you can find everything and anything, from Thai souvenirs and fashionable clothing to furniture and pets! However, please be mindful of the locations of the shops you like because it can be a difficult maze to navigate. However, there is now an app to help guide the way of this shopping maze. If you get tired, stop for a massage, a Thai meal or refreshing coconut ice cream!

Asiatique

Asiatique is another great shopping stop along the river. You can read more details about this hip tourist joint in our blog post.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

If you are looking for an authentic floating market, you’ll have to make a two-hour trek outside of Bangkok to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Here, you can hop on a boat that will take you along the colorful waterside market stalls and boats.