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Are We in Thailand?

Michael Babcock, April 24th, 2011

Many of us travel to Thailand because we love Thai food. Some people travel for different reasons, particularly the beautiful beaches in Southern Thailand. On some streets, you wonder what country you are in.

Restaurant Signs

A stretch along Ao Nang Bay

One of the most beautiful regions of Thailand is the province of Krabi, particularly along the coast. It is filled with the beauty of lush greenery and limestone karsts. In the early years, Kasma would take her trips to stay at Ao Nang Bay. At the start there was only one place to stay on the entire bay; gradually, as people discovered the area, it became more and more built up until, now, it resembles some of the more crowded areas of Phuket.

(Click images to see larger version.)

This last year we visited Ao Nang again to catch a longtail boat out to do some snorkeling. I had to take a picture of the stretch of street pictured to the left. One right after another you see: 1) La Luna, an Italian restaurant with “Italian Management;” 2) Royal Tandoor Indian Food, serving “Indian food” & “Royal Thai Food,” and; 3) Beccofino – “Ristorante Italiano & Thai Cuisine.” If you click on the picture to the above left , you’ll see a larger version that reveals the signs more completely.

Food Sign

Thai food at Royal Tandoor

Actually, I learned something from the sign at Royal Tandoor Indian Food. They display a selection of their Royal Thai Food in the picture to the right. I had never known before that “Wiener Chicken” was a Thai dish. It’s in the lower left corner: click on the picture to see a larger version and also to see (to the right) “CHK-NUGGETS” (presumably “Chicken Nuggets”). Kasma has never prepared either of these dishes. I’d be a bit surprised if they appear very often on the menu at the Royal Palace. I have my doubts about the onion rings as well.

Of course, these restaurants reflect the economic law of supply and demand: if there weren’t enough people visiting the area who wanted to eat Italian food or Pizza and Indian food, they would not exist. Along Ao Nang most of the people you see are fahrang – Caucasian. I suspect that the vast majority are Europeans. Apparently, after awhile they long to eat the cuisine of their home rather than yet another Thai meal. A few doors down from these three restaurants is a Sushi Bar and Grill. For much of the street it’s hard to find a restaurant that serves only Thai food.

Sushi Hut Sign

Sushi restaurant in Ao Nang

And dishes such as Wiener Chicken and CHK-NUGGETS have sprung up to fulfill a need. Apparently someone orders them. I think part of it may be the Thai restaurant owners desire to please their customers: in fact, this friendly impulse can sometimes short-circuit a well-meaning fahrang’s attempt to get authentic Thai food. In many instances when a restaurant has served authentic, full-flavored Thai food, their fahrang customers were unable to eat it. So often, and probably more often in the tourist areas such as this one, they try to make food the way they think fahrangs want it. I think of it as dumbed-down Thai food.

Thai Restaurant Sign

Finally, a Thai restaurant!

This modified-for-fahrang-food is one reason that some people come back thinking street food is the best Thai food in Thailand: street vendors are less likely to dumb the food down. Kasma’s opinion, and I agree with her, is that the very best Thai food is generally found in restaurants, if you know where to go and how to order. One of our favorites is Ruen Mai, found on the road between Ao Nang Bay and the town of Krabi.

As we continued walking down the street, we finally came to a restaurant we might consider, one with the sign “E-san Seafood.” “E-san” is an alternate spelling of Isan (or Isaan, or Isahn), the region of Northeastern Thailand. Although NE Thailand is land-locked, it is bound by the Mekong river along much of its boundary, so “seafood” is still an integral part of the food there. Since Isan food is generally spicy and tasty, this place might be worth a try.

Of course, as we turned the corner what do we see but a pizza restaurant next to another Indian restaurant.

More Restaurants

Indian food? Pizza?

Written by Michael Babcock, April 2011

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2 Responses to “Are We in Thailand?”

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  2. Jeremy S says:

    I noticed this when I was visiting both Phuket and Pattaya. I found a lot of non-thai restaurants with food that was barely adequate. However, part of the fun for me in visiting Thailand from the States is trying food that we just don’t get over here often, namely, Scandinavian food. There’s a few very very good Swedish restaurants in Phuket, and while I spent a lot of time eating Thai food, I was overjoyed to have versions of food we just don’t get that often in the Bay area.

    I enjoyed the street food I ate on my last trip, but the best Thai food I had actually came from an unlikely place. At the bottom of the giant mall complex near Walking Street in Pattaya there’s a huge food court with many different types of dishes for sale. It was very inexpensive, and delicious. Most of the food I had on my last trip was delicious (The best was the food I made myself at the cooking school I went to in Pattaya) but the simple food made in this modern food court was actually excellent. Very fresh food, not dumbed down, as far as I could tell…absolutely excellent.

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