What can you find at a Thai food market?
The answer is everything – all the fruit and vegetables needed for cooking, along with fish and meats.
A typical Thai day starts with one or other family members visiting the closest market and taking a look at what’s good. And it’s the same for restaurants too – someone will be sent along to select the best and the freshest of produce.
Thanks to Thailand being so rich in foodstuffs, there’s never a time when the stalls aren’t piled high. Most of the produce will be locally grown and some will have been brought in from neighboring areas. It’s the same on Samui, too. The island’s interior is filled with fields, smallholdings, orchards and farms that provide much of what you’ll see at your local market.
You may be astounded by what you see at the market. Some of the hopelessly exotic fruits that are hideously expensive back at home are right here and amazingly cheap. Meanwhile there will be other produce that you may well have never set eyes on. How to cook with it? You may need someone who is Thai to show you what to buy and what to do with it back in your kitchen.
It’s always a good idea to take part in a cooking class – typically you’ll learn how to make three courses from scratch at any of the classes. And as often as not, there’s the chance to go round the market beforehand with your teacher.
But back to the markets. No matter where you live on Samui, you’ll find that there’s a market near you. Every large community has one. Go as early as you can, unless, of course, it’s a night market. If you’re an early bird, you can go at 5 am, when you’re assured of finding the best produce of the day. Leave it until 10 am and the market will already be closing up.
Markets are a good source of fresh coconut milk. You can guarantee that every market has someone who grinds up coconut to get the flakes and also the milk. Both are sold and for much less than they would cost in the supermarket. The same goes for the fresh herbs that are also on sale. They are far cheaper here than elsewhere. No need to skimp on them either; you can buy a big clump of Thai basil, coriander and parsley for next to nothing.
Once you have all your goodies, it’s still not quite time to leave the market. Favorite stalls also include the drinks stall where you can sit down with cha yen, or cold tea, a Thai staple. If you’re more modern you may wish to try one or other of the fluorescent drinks on sale. Whatever you opt for, you’ll be in for a dose of sugar. Coffee lovers will enjoy kaffee boraan, traditional coffee which is strained through muslin and served with condensed milk. With your drink you can sample patongko, a kind of deep-fried dough stick that you will no doubt find at a stall nearby.
Shopping at Thai markets is always good fun and you will save plenty of money this way, as well as get your five-a-day. It’s hard not to be tempted by all that fruit. If you’re living on Samui, it may well become a part of your new life to start the day by going to a market. A visit will provide you with everything you need to make the next Thai meal – everything is on hand with an enormous variety to choose from.