You’ve probably had Thai food before, in one of the many Thai restaurants found in every town and city across the globe. While you might have loved it, it is probably nothing like the real food and drink in Thailand though! Your palate will be in for a taste explosion every single time you sit down to eat in this country, meaning that Thailand is the perfect place for foodies – especially foodies who like to eat on a budget!
Food in Thailand
When you eat in Thailand, you’ll rarely have the food to yourself. This is because eating in Thailand is incredibly social, and everyone will help themselves to a small portion of the different dishes on the table. The staple part of any meal though is without doubt rice, and Thais eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll mostly find jasmine rice being served, although in some areas sticky rice is more common.
If you don’t like rice, the other alternative is noodles, which are also eaten liberally throughout the country. Rice noodles are the most common, and they are the main constituent of perhaps Thailand’s most famous dish: pad thai. This dish is a mixture of noodles, fish sauce, herbs, spices, peppers and usually seafood (although chicken is also sometimes used). It can be found absolutely everywhere, but for a really cheap meal, buy from one of the street vendors.
On the subject of street vendors, there is no need to worry about the quality of their food. In some countries, such as India and various African countries, buying food from a roadside stall is a big no-no, but this is not the case in Thailand. Most stalls, especially in Bangkok, are very clean and use fresh ingredients.
What else is there to try in this country though? Well, the list really is too long to even attempt on this page! While in Thailand, you should absolutely try tom kha kai and red curry, plus the selection of soups (which aren’t soups in the traditional sense of the word), will fill your mouth with intense flavours, from spices through to mellow coconut. If you are a fan of spicy food, there are some dishes that will really blow your taste buds away too, such as the aforementioned red curry.
For the more adventurous, you’ll also be able to find a number of “delicacies” sold throughout the country, which generally come in the form of creepy-crawlies. Frying crickets, worms and beetles is a popular activity for street vendors, and they really aren’t as bad as they sound! The maeng da is the largest of these snacks, at about 3.5 inches, and only the bravest tourists attempt to eat this – are you brave enough?
Finally, vegetarian food can be found in the larger cities in Thailand, although not many Thai people are vegetarian themselves. Fish sauce is used in nearly all dishes, but it can be substituted with soy sauce if you ask when ordering. All restaurants will be very accommodating to this request, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Drinking in Thailand
Let’s face it: Thailand can be a pretty hedonistic place, therefore lots of drinking happens throughout the country, especially by travellers. Luckily for you, prices for alcohol are extremely low, especially if you are happy drinking local brews. For beer lovers, you’ll find well-known brands such as Tiger, Singha and Chang readily available, as well as slightly more expensive European lagers too.
Spirits are also very cheap, providing you are able to stomach the strong and often pretty unpalatable Thai versions. Just mix them with some Coke or lemonade though, in order to take the taste away. For rum lovers, most people choose mae khong, while more adventurous travellers can try the illegal – but not enforced – home-brewed lao theuan, which is distilled from rice and commonly drunk in more rural areas. Rice wine, which tastes much like sake, is also found throughout the country, and can be bought for pennies. Don’t drink too much though, as it is incredibly strong stuff!
Buying alcohol is easy and it can be found on virtually every street in major cities. There are restrictions on the times it can be sold (not between midnight-11am, and 2pm-5pm), although these are not always adhered to. The legal age to buy alcohol is 20 although, you guessed it, this is rarely adhered to either.
Everything is so cheap in Thailand that leaving a tip won’t dent your wallet at all. Unlike places like the USA and Canada, tipping is not expected, although it is nice to leave a little extra when you have received good service. It is generally accepted that coins gained in change when paying for a meal are sufficient as a tip. Workers in the restaurants and bars are paid very poorly, so will really appreciate a little extra money for their efforts.