Street Food in Thailand...A Smorgasbord For All The SensesWritten by Carolyn Nantais
Like other Southeast Asian countries, food stalls are everywhere in streets, markets and festivals of Thailand, providing an endless smorgasbord of aromas, color and flavors - food in Thailand is a feast for all of senses. Picture a barbecue hotdog stand outside a North American sports stadium. Now, instead of hotdogs and buns sizzling on a grill, food cart is laden with fresh bananas, which are slathered in batter and deep-fried to golden in a giant wok, then scooped into a paper bag like a super size order of extra thick homecut french fries. That was my first breakfast in Thailand while I watched hundreds of beautifully costumed elephants play soccer and tug-of-war in an annual Elephant Round-up in Surin, in far northeast of country!
The next 'hotdog stand' does have a grill, placed over a large bin of charcoal, with flattened chicken quarters sizzling on sticks that you eat like a Popsicle; next door to that is yet another steel cart heaped with fresh, ripe pineapple, mango and papaya, and sporting a huge mortar and pestle for transforming greener papayas into a crunchy, sweet-sour-spicy salad with morsels of shrimp or squid, chiles, garlic and sugar.
What makes Thai food so delicious and distinctive among other Southeast Asian food is this unique blending of fresh herbs, spices and other ingredients that combine for a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salt and heat that leaves your mouth feeling clean and your tastebuds popping in afterglow.
Fresh fruit, salads and even soups and noodles are ladled into plastic bags with a skewer, fork, spoon or straw for eating on go or perched on a folding chair at a nearby metal card table in market.
Thai buses and trains become moving picnic grounds, with everyone chatting, eating and sharing fare hawked through vehicles' windows at roadside stops and terminals: Gai Yang, flattened barbecue chicken on a stick, skewered meat and fish balls and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves.
Carnivals and markets feature huge woks at knee-height, bubbling with deep-fried critters of all sorts, many unidentifiable. Are they grasshoppers? crickets? spiders? baby birds? small frogs? -- my mouth and eyes were constantly wide open in wonder and amazement!
I spent an inordinate amount of time in fresh produce and night food markets -- exuberantly fascinated and often visibly discombobulated, to great amusement of vendors and shoppers.
After traversing every aisle of food carts and woks on my mission to find freshest, most interesting and tasty-looking dishes, I was often met with earnestly shaking heads or "No, you don't want that - that's Thai food!" by English speaking cooks or bystanders when I pointed and gestured and tried to ask for a meal I knew I truly wanted. On my first such adventure, I did not know that custom was for cook to show ladle with amount of garlic and chili for you to indicate how much you wanted: thinking she was simply asking if I wanted those Thai ingredients, I nodded vigorously at heaped display, and in it all went! Yes, it was Thai food, and I enjoyed every sizzling touch to my lips under watchful, laughing eyes of vendors and bystanders who had gathered.
I spent as much time learning about, admiring and experiencing food as I did with major tourist attractions, often spending hours strolling through streets and markets taking in sights and smells and sounds: quiet clucking rising up from a heap of vibrantly coloured roosters or hens tied together at feet - a Thai rooster's plumage is extraordinarily beautiful; plastic tubs and buckets just full enough of murky grey water to keep fish, frogs or turtles alive until a sale was clinched; mounds and mounds of green and red, and purple and orange; pleasant stench of durian and jackfruit - pleasant because I was just so thrilled and in awe of it all!
Traveling on a Budget? Try These Money-Saving Vacation IdeasWritten by Jerry Windley-Daoust
If your spirit of adventure is larger than your travel budget, these money-saving tips might just put your next vacation within reach.
1. Swap homes with other vacationers If you prefer to mingle with locals rather than other tourists, look into a home exchange vacation. One couple spent their eight-week honeymoon touring Europe without ever staying in a hotel; instead, they stayed in private homes while their European hosts stayed in their New York City apartment. Sound risky? Maybe—but tens of thousands of people have exchanged homes since 1950s. For an annual membership fee (usually around $50), home exchange clubs help members arrange exchanges, as well as offering tips to make exchange go smoothly. According to ExchangeHomes.com, a home exchange can cut travel costs by as much as half. More importantly, though, a home exchange vacation makes it possible for you to live like locals, and perhaps make some life-long friends.
2. Rely on hospitality of others In a slight twist on home exchange idea, look into joining a hospitality club that will hook you up with people willing to host you on your next vacation. The largest hospitality club has more than 23,000 members in 148 countries. Membership is usually free, although members are asked to provide hospitality to others (on a voluntary basis) in return sometime in future. In addition to saving money, staying with others is a great way to meet locals who can give an insider’s perspective on your destination.
3. Stay in a monastery or convent Monasteries and convents have a long tradition of providing hospitality to travelers. Aside from being a lot more interesting (and affordable) than local Holiday Inn, a monastery can be a great place to explore your spiritual landscape. Many monasteries and convents ask for a donation of $40 to $80 per night; others only ask for a free-will offering. In addition to simple accommodations, monasteries and convents often offer their guests simple meals as well as opportunities to participate in daily prayer and work. Reservations may be required in advance. You can research this vacation idea by looking up individual monasteries or convents online. Or get a guidebook such as “Europe's Monastery and Convent Guesthouses: A Pilgrim's Travel Guide” or “Sanctuaries: The Complete United States: A Guide to Lodgings in Monasteries, Abbeys, and Retreats.”
4. Win a free vacation Nothing in life is free, old adage goes, but vacations many companies are giving away as part of promotional sweepstakes and contests come close. True, odds of winning a free vacation are remote, but if you’ve ever played lottery, you may as well spend a few minutes searching web for “vacation contest” and related terms. The only cost of entering will probably be time it takes to fill out online entry forms. (Be forewarned, though, that providing your e-mail address virtually guarantees unsolicited e-mail in future.)