Written by mdw on January 14th, 2011

stray dogs in ThailandThais are predominantly Buddhist. There are tiny minorities of Christians and Muslims and 3 or 4 Jews. Buddhism is part of the Thai culture.

So naturally Thais do not kill as much as people in most parts of the world. Sure, killing animals to eat happens as much here as anywhere. But unnecessary killing is unusual. This sounds great, but leads to problems that perplex Westerners.

Stray dogs is the issue that comes immediately to mind. Step out of a car on some streets and you’ll see a few stray dogs eyeing you right away, Thais have become accustomed to this, but it’s just plain scary for farang. Obviously an aggressive effort to significantly reduce the populations of stray dogs and cats is culturally unappealing, even if they become a blatant hazard.

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Plearn Wan

Written by mdw on January 10th, 2011

Plearn Wan

kanom wanPlearn Wan is a shopping area masquerading as a theme park in Hua Hin. Mostly there are people taking zillions of photos, because the retro decor has plenty of old-time picture taking venues at every turn. The place was setup with that in mind.

But the other main activity is eating. Or should I say snacking? Most of the food there has names starting with "kanom" although there are a few restaurants serving actual meals. We ate kang kiew wan, namprik pla tu and more. All passable, but nothing really noteworthy.

naprik storeThis place is perfect for young Thai facebookers who want to post pictures with their friends. I think Plearn Wan was the inspiration for Palio being built. Palio is a bit bigger but is similarly filled with picture taking young Thais posing in all the places provided by the theme creators.

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Culinary Crusades

Written by mdw on January 7th, 2011

Ronald McDonaldFirst there was KFC and McDonalds. They were the early missionaries, harbingers of the upcoming culinary invasion. Starbucks was not far behind and now Burger King, Beard Pappas and many others have established themselves in Bangkok.

Other forms of cultural imperialism are understandable; iphone fever in Bangkok is really no different than in the US. Google just offers the nicest search, maps and more. The technology assimilation of the entire world makes sense in a way the “fast food” invasion never will.

America looks down upon the purveyors of “junk food” such as McDonalds. Yet in Thailand they compete with the mid-range dining establishments. They tailor their menu as appropriate, they build nice looking stores and generally do all the things they refuse to do in America, where they compete for the lowest common denominator dining dollars.

And still, I totally understand the obsession with Krispy Kreme. Same thing happened in the US when they first expanded, people just don’t remember. They quickly came to dominate their market because their donuts were just better and you could see them being made fresh.

But it is amazing to see entrepreneurial types reselling doughnuts on Thanon Sukhumvit, and those incredibly long wait lines at Siam Paragon are hard to fathom. Surely there will be more to come, like Bangkok Bagels or IHOP Bangkok. America’s junk cuisine onslaught will not be stopped until the average earth dweller is 10 kilos overweight.

Farang pricing

Written by mdw on January 6th, 2011

Everyone knows farang pay more for everything in Thailand. Here’s the basic formula:

lowest price X 2 = stated price
10% discount if farang tries to bargain
10% discount if farang bargains in Thai language
10% discount for high bargaining skill
10% discount if first sale of the day, or is just plain lucky

If all the above happen the farang can actually get within 10% of the price a good Thai bargainer could get. Bottom line: 20% off stated price is easy, 40% off is hard.

This of course, applies to street vendors and services which involve mostly labor costs. Other places/products typically offer less possibility of saving money, as they tend to have less markup built into them.

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Squid mania

Written by mdw on January 3rd, 2011

Why is squid so popular?

grilled squid (where's my beer?)Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with squid. I’m neither a squid lover or a squid hater, but I just don’t get why this creature is such a huge hit in Thailand!

Most westerners encounter squid in Italian cuisine, cut in strips and served as calamari. Squid ink is popular in some pasta dishes and risotto as well. But Italians don’t love squid the way Thais do.

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Plastic bags

Written by mdw on December 29th, 2010

trashWhy do people use so many plastic bags?

Every street vendor has a huge number of plastic bags with them. If I purchase something, and my large bag is full with smaller bags already, I can ask the vendor for a large bag so I can carry only a single, overstuffed bag.

We’re not talking super thin, biodegradeable bags here either. These are thick colored plastic bags – the kind that fill landfills and choke sea life. Everyone carries them. Big plastic bags, filled with smaller plastic bags!

And it’s not just limited to plastic bags. This is not China, yet there is a tangible disregard for the environment.

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Ordering way too much food

Written by mdw on December 28th, 2010

loads of delicious Thai foodWhy do Thais insist on ordering too much food, and then goading people into eating it?

There’s a universal pride in the cuisine in this culture, and deservedly so. And anyone who’s been to Thailand knows that celebrating the abundance of food and goodwill is inevitable.

But Thais really seem to overdo culinary celebration. My friends order too much food on the first round, wait until everyone has overeaten, then order more. Guests are routinely singled out for this uber-hospitality. And to be extra sure, snacks are procured on the street after the meal has concluded.

The food is great, mostly low fat and typically includes fruits and vegetables. That’s especially true if you eat the traditional fare, like veggies and namprik, or noodles on the street, or yum.

But big get-togethers, whether family or friends, calls for big food ordering. Nobody leaves hungry, or the cook should be fired!

And yet, even if you stay in Thailand for months, overeating the entire time, it’s easy to avoid putting on weight. Just stay away from western foods, like pizza and doughnuts.

So pack it in, and just say kob khun when offered yet another serving of som tam. You can walk it off and your waistline will remain the same.


Written by mdw on December 27th, 2010

"napkin" dispenserWhy are there so few napkins in Thailand? I mean real napkins, made for just that purpose.

Paper products don’t seem to be the issue, I see napkins on every table in many Siam Paragon restaurants. But Thais universally use toilet paper in all but a small number of fancy Bangkok restaurants instead of using napkins.

I don’t even see paper napkins for sale in stores, undoubtedly because nobody will buy them.

Is this some longstanding, antiquated law that just never got repealed?

Did the cloth napkin cartel lobby to have paper napkins banned?

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Written by mdw on December 26th, 2010

does this have something in common with pizza?Why don’t Thais understand pizza?

There’s plenty of appreciation for Italian cuisine, just ask any Thai. This is a culture of cuisine like no other, and they revere other cultures which are fiercely proud of their cuisines. Italian, French, Japanese and Chinese foods are all respected and held in high esteem by Thais.

And there are some good Italian restaurants in Bangkok, except perhaps in the shopping malls where generic food seems to reign supreme. Yet there is only one place I’ve seen that even serves good and authentic pizza.

Nobody in Thailand even knows what makes a pizza good. That goes for crust, sauce, cheese and toppings. 0 for 4. I even see a few places with brick ovens, but they somehow manage to cook the most awful pizzas possible.

People here seem to want thickish, doughy crusts, if only to hold lots of toppings. Not huge pizzas with butter crust like Chicago deep dish. More like Pizza Inn generic pies that fill you up without satisfying.

The sauce is a joke, as nobody seems to want tomato based sauce. Pizza hut uses tomato sauce, but might skip the herbs, as nobody is going to taste the sauce once the weird toppings are applied.

And weird toppings are required in Bangkok. Grilled squid goes with pretty much any food here, so of course it’ll make a fine topping for a pizza. In fact lots of seafood works as a pie topper. Veggies are cool too, as are traditional foods like green curry or som tam.

And since nobody here seems to like cheese, fresh bufalo mozzarella is out of the question. Even the fake mozzarella is not generally used. Besides, it wouldn’t go well with the toppings.

More alarmingly, Pizza Hut is making big inroads in Bangkok. Stores are popping up everywhere, and the stuff they’re serving up only vaguely resembles pizza. Ugh!

Kanom Crok ขนมครก

Written by mdw on December 17th, 2010

The making of kanom crok

Kanom Crok being cooked

Why on earth would anyone write about these sweet little snacks called kanom crok? You can find them in many places on the streets of Bangkok, all that’s required are those cast iron plates with round indentations.

They’re made by putting one of these plates over a fire, and filling the small sections with a sweet coconut mixture. Cook and eat.

Usually you can buy a dozen or so in a small box for around 15 baht. If not, try to bargain. You won’t regret it.

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