Part 1: The Blind Food Gamble.
Look at the menu pictured to the left. What would you order from it??
For week one in Chiang Mai, I resided in the heart of tourist world, and thus browsed menus and ordered food with ease. Now, however, I’m in the far North of town by the Thai massage school, and words I can read are few and far between.
And just like that, we enter the culinary world of point, mime, and pray!
Wandering around last night, I was still hungry, thanks to that damn foot pressure point in massage class. I was craving chocolate, but sick of Cornetto pre-packaged ice cream cones from Seven-Eleven.
Then I saw an open shop with forty colorful jars of… stuff! And a blender! And some pitchers of… stuff! And lots of Thai writing.
“Sawaddee Ka!” I said to the friendly woman behind the jars. “What is this?”
“You want coffee flavor? Chocolate? Mango?” she replied, cheerfully.
“Yes, chocolate! But — what is this?”
“You want chocolate, okay ka?” (Many Thai women have a super-cute habit of adding the feminizing “ka” after English words.)
“Um, sure. I suppose chocolate is chocolate, no matter what form it comes in.”
The woman smiled then proceeded to pour into the blender: condensed milk, some sort of lard, chocolate syrup from a pitcher, and unidentified ice. Bleeeeeeend! Then she pointed to the rainbow of jars and said, “You take four. Which?”
“Oooh, goodie!” I said. “You show me the best.”
With her carte blanche, the woman proceeded to gleepfully pile into the cup: corn flakes, red and yellow jelly balls, pretzels, and one faux Oreo cookie.
All this for only seventy-five cents, and a possible really bad future stomach ache! But chocolate is worth braving danger for.
Part 2: Blessed Food Ambassadors
I am madly in love with everyone at my massage school. They are so fun and good and kind and holy! Or maybe that Cat-Cow stretch we practiced today just released some dopamine from my spine and made me an effusive sop.
Regardless, the veterans who have been at ITM School for weeks now are champs at leading me and Olivia to quality lunch eateries. They graciously explain to us what to order and how.
It truly is a gift to lead a hungry, illiterate person by the hand towards good food! And it’s even more of a gift that all the meals around here are less than a dollar.
Part 3: “Go-To” Foods.
I have developed some go-to meal staples while traveling in Southeast Asia to try to keep the vitamins pulsing through my six-foot self.
For breakfast, my love is fresh fruit, yogurt, and muesli, which is available anywhere slightly touristy for between $1 and $3.
The fun part is that every shop makes it totally differently. The hippie garden restaurant dyes its dragonfruit purple (pictured, right) and uses flax seeds in the muesli. The wildly popular Italian-Mexican-Thai place by the East Gate has the option of goat’s milk yogurt, and inserts strawberries and grapes into the mix. And so on.
My staple for vitamin-filled lunch or dinner, or the answer for what to order when I’m undecided, is fried mixed vegetables with chicken, plus rice on the side. Okay, so the otherwise healthy veggies are likely drenched in oil, and the rice pile is Dr. Atkins’s nightmare, but I always feel quite mighty after eating it all. Moreover, it’s always available, no matter what tiny restaurant you find yourself in around here.
Part 4: The Best Dessert Ever: Mango Sticky Rice!
The current OBSESSION: mango with sticky rice. Mmm!! The vendors plop the juicy mango on the rice, pour on sweet condensed milk, then sprinkle on some unidentified crunchy awesomeness. HOLY HEAVEN, I love it!
I trolled around the dark alleys for three hours the other night trying to find a nearby vendor for this ambrosia, but alas, it appears they are all clustered by the Night Bazaar across town. I had to settle for some really delicious chunks of papaya and pineapple from one of the many 10 Baht (thirty cent) fresh fruit bag vendors on the streets. Grrr, healthy dessert. I love you and hate you all at the same time.
And thus concludes my Chiang Mai Food Scene Sonata in Four Parts. I am abuzz with joy from everything activated in my core by massage school, and by the delight of staying in one town long enough to start peeling back layers of places and people. Yum, and yum again, on so many different levels! Happy eating, wherever you may be on this fine globe.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!