Last night I had a dinner party and made tom khaa kai or chicken, coconut and ginger soup- one of my favorite Thai soups. Arranging and cooking a Thai meal here in the States takes a little more doing, especially as I do not live in a city with a large Asian population.
My sister and I spent nine months in Thailand several years ago and fell in love with the food! And I fell in love with the markets!
Getting to know the market life was one of the biggest challenges and one of the things I worked the hardest at. My sister was working at a local high school, teaching English, and I was there as a companion. I not only had lots of time to wander the markets but it was required as most of what we ate was fresh and had to be purchased on a daily basis.
Purchasing fruits and veggies was a lesson in language and patience. Being overcharged for being a ‘falang’, or foreigner, was not unusual. Rarely did this upset me as the price difference was never great but the more the girls and I interacted the more personally I would sometimes take it.
Buying the pre made meals was the best parts of the market. Not only did it mean that I didn’t have to make dinner but it was an entertaining guessing game. I would point to a curry and the girls would tell me it was made of something they didn’t think I would want to eat (I generally trusted them on that point) or was too spicy for me and we would struggle for a minute to decide if that meant that I really shouldn’t buy it or if I would just need extra rice that night. Returning the next night to tell them if I liked it or if they were right and it was too hot for me was always the girls favorite part and they would have a good laugh at my expense.
Asking a question in the markets of Thailand generally inspired a hushed conversation between the girls before they answered. Saving face is extremely important in Asian cultures and they were stuck trying to cover up for me and my poor pronunciation or confusion and then also covering up their own confusion and misunderstanding. A short conversation about the difference in curries could take half an hour if we were all on our best behavior. You learned to plan accordingly.
The market was a place where you could easily get over stimulated. The sights, sounds, colors, and smells combined to lead you deeper into a fascination with the culture. We left Thailand in 2007 but the markets have left a lasting impression and finding an Asian market in the United States still inspires a bit of that same joy and confusion.