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Thai Food

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Thai food is renowned for its fiery but fragrant dishes spiced with lemon grass, basil and chilli, and you can eat well and cheaply even in the smallest provincial towns. Hygiene is a consideration when eating anywhere in Thailand, but there's no need to be too cautious: wean your stomach gently by avoiding excessive amounts of chillies and too much fresh fruit in the first few days and by always drinking either bottled or boiled water. You can be pretty sure that any noodle stall or curry shop that's permanently packed with customers is a safe bet. Broad price categories are given in restaurant listings throughout this section: "inexpensive" means you can get a main course for under B50, "moderate" means B50-100, and "expensive" over B100.

Throughout the country most inexpensive Thai restaurants specialize in one general food type or preparation method - a "noodle shop", for example, will do fried noodles and noodle soups, plus a basic fried rice, but nothing else; a restaurant displaying whole roast chickens and ducks will offer these sliced or with chillies and sauces served over rice; and "curry shops" serve just that. As often as not, the best and most entertaining places to eat are the local night markets ( talaat yen), where thirty-odd "specialist" pushcart kitchens congregate from about 6pm to 6am on permanent patches in most towns, often close to the fruit and vegetable market or the bus station. Each stall is fronted by tables and stools and you can choose your food from wherever you like.

Thais eat noodles ( kway tiaw or ba mii) when Westerners would dig into a sandwich - for lunch, as a late-night snack or just to pass the time - and at B15-30 they're the cheapest hot meal you'll find anywhere. They come in assorted varieties (wide and flat, thin and transparent, made with eggs, soy-bean flour or rice flour) and get boiled up as soups ( kway tiaw nam), doused in sauces ( kway tiaw rat na), or stir-fried ( kway tiaw haeng or kway tiaw pat). The usual practice is to order the noodle dish with extra chicken, beef, pork or shrimps. The most popular noodle dish is kway tiaw pat thai, usually abbreviated to pat thai, a delicious combination of fried noodles, beansprouts, egg and tofu, sprinkled with ground peanuts and lime juice. Fried rice ( khao pat) is the other faithful standby. Although very few Thais are vegetarian , you can nearly always ask for a vegetable-only fried rice or noodle dish - though in rural spots this is often your only option unless you eat fish. All traveller-oriented restaurants are veggie-friendly.

Aside from fiery curries ( kaeng) and stir-fried chicken pork or fish, more upmarket restaurant menus often include spicy Thai soup ( tom yam), which is eaten with other dishes, not as a starter. Two favourites are tom kha khai, a creamy coconut chicken soup, and tom yam kung (a prawn soup without coconut milk). Food from the northeastern Isaan region is popular throughout the country, particularly sticky rice ( khao niaw), which is rolled up into balls and dipped into chilli sauces and other side dishes, such as the local dish som tam, a spicy green-papaya salad with garlic, raw chillies, green beans, tomatoes, peanuts and dried shrimps. Barbecued chicken on a stick ( kai yang) is the classic accompaniment. Raw minced pork is the basis of another popular Isaan and northern dish called larb, subtly flavoured with mint and served with vegetables.

Sweets ( khanom) don't really figure on most restaurant menus, but a few places offer bowls of luk taan cheum, a jellied concoction of lotus seeds floating in a syrup, and coconut custard ( sangkaya) cooked inside a small pumpkin. Cakes are sold on the street and tend to be heavy, sticky affairs made from glutinous rice and coconut cream pressed into squares and wrapped in banana leaves.

Thais don't drink water straight from the tap, and nor should you: plastic bottles of drinking water ( nam plao) are sold countrywide, even in the smallest villages. Night markets, guesthouses and restaurants do a good line in freshly squeezed fruit juices and shakes, as well as fresh coconut milk ( nam maprao) and freshly squeezed sugar-cane juice ( nam awy), which is sickeningly sweet.

Beer ( bia) is expensive at B60 for a 330ml bottle; the most famous beer is the slightly acrid locally brewed Singha, but Kloster and Chang, which are also brewed locally, are more palatable. At about B60 for a 375ml bottle, the local whisky is a lot better value and Thais think nothing of consuming a bottle a night. The most drinkable and widely available of these is the 35 percent proof Mekong. Sang Thip is an even stronger rum. Bars aren't an indigenous feature, as Thais rarely drink out without eating, but you'll find some in Bangkok and the resorts.

Edit by: DougW
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