Destination: Thailand: Bangkok
Bangkok revolves around food. It’s impossible to count the food stalls that line the streets—seemingly all the streets—of this labyrinth of a city. You can smell what’s for dinner (or breakfast or lunch) no matter which street you walk along, as the scent of cooking herbs, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish mingle in the polluted air: overpowering and enticing at the same time. Opinions as to whether visitors should partake of the food-stall culture vary, ranging from “absolutely never” to “only with a Thai” to “If you know the right ones, you’ll have the best food experience of your trip.” (See Local Cuisine: Soi 38 and Chote Chitr.) In truth, you don’t have to be bold enough to order hoi tod (fried oysters with bean sprouts) while standing on a dusty road to feel that you’re part of the action. The food is all around you, and every venue, from the lowliest food stall to the loftiest restaurant, takes pride in how it’s prepared.
Thai cuisine is one of the most complex, delicate and spicy in the world, and the watered-down versions of phad Thai served in many Western capitals rarely do the real thing justice. Every meal is supposed to include the five fundamental tastes—hot, sour, sweet, salty, bitter—which is why you are expected to order of a slew of small dishes to be shared by your group of diners. Cuisine from the southern regions, like the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket, are known to be the most , because of the liberal use of chilies. Northeastern dishes rely more heavily on lime juice and lemongrass. Don’t ask for chopsticks unless you’re ordering a noodle dish; anything else is eaten with a fork and spoon.
In Bangkok’s hotel restaurants, however, most of which are very good, do not be afraid to ask for spicy. When serving Thai food, all the hotels have Western palates in mind, so nothing is ever too hot; and the complexity and delicacy of traditional dishes especially comes out with just a little heat. During a trip, you should not miss trying spicy green-papaya salad, tom yam goong (a sweet-sour fish soup), minced pork or chicken, satay (grilled meat on skewers) and curries.
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