Sunday, September 21, 2008

Market lunch vs. bus lunch

I always like to check out traditional markets, so on our last day in Thailand we identified one on the map and set out to find it. At first we weren't sure we'd come to the right place. It seemed to be just a little side street with some stalls. But as we worked our way in, we saw that it went on for blocks and blocks.

They had a little of everything, from brooms and mops:

To live poultry (and a sleepy poultry-seller):

To kids' clothes:

A child's outfit with a cartoon of US Army bears calling in bomb attacks. This doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

What interested us the most, of course, was the food. I hadn't had real street food since getting to Thailand, and I was hoping to find something as delicious as the legendary bus station green curry I'd had on my last trip.

We got off to a strong start with these fried rice-starch cakes (on the left) stuffed with a dark green vegetable similar to kale. They came with a salty-tart-sweet-hot dipping sauce. When you factor in the crispy-chewiness of the exterior, the soft blandness of the interior, and the bitter greens, you've got most of your major food characteristics covered. Somehow all of those qualities were held in balance. It was a food symphony.

The big bowls of stir-fries and curries were a little disappointing, though. Certainly not terrible, but lacking the complexity I was hoping for.

Plus they skimped on the sauce a bit; why make a big vat of curry sauce if you're not going to ladle it out with abandon?

Dessert came from the sticky-rice family again: sweetened blobs of gooey rice starch. They were making big piles of them, stacked in pairs with the tops together so they wouldn't slime all over each other. I find things like this a bit bland, but the sticky-chewy texture is surprising and funny, in a good way. It's a texture that will always remind me of Southeast Asia.

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