Food has always been an element of human existence that brings individuals together, it sustains life, it can bring forth great conversation, and for the Thais it is an intimate experience, from market to table.
On our tour through the fruit and vegetable market, I was enthralled by the countless stalls with heaps of fresh fruit and vegetables, the tanks nearly overflowing with unsuspecting fish soon to meet their fate, and the aroma of fresh fried treats waiting to be eaten for those in a hurry. The experience was so pure and so tempting (I wanted to buy just about everything…except fried chicken heads, I haven’t quite gotten on board with that yet…ahh the sensitive western pallet…it is still within me) As I walked through the stall I wondered how there could be so many vendors selling the same things day in and day out and not have most of their products spoil before they were even considered for purchase.
Luckily our guide stepped in before I even had to ask a question. He told us that historically people did not have a way to keep food fresh in Thailand’s relentlessly hot and humid climate. (Which makes sense, I mean I left a granola bar unattended for 45 minutes and the thing was unpalatably soggy…though I was able to choke it down with some peanut butter) That being said, the only way to enjoy fresh Thai cuisine in your house every day was to prepare the meal right before consumption. This meant going to the market 2 or 3 times a day to buy just enough for whatever was for lunch or dinner. And although the majority of Thai households have refrigerators now, this is a tradition that seems to stand for many.
To me this is truly a beautiful concept. You’re supporting your local “businesses”, spending significantly less than you would in a grocery store for great quality, and getting a fresh cooked meals every day instead of the dreaded leftovers in western society. In my eyes, this makes food a very intimate thing, to go through the careful process of choosing a recipe, selecting your fresh ingredients for that day, cooking the recipe, and then sitting down to enjoy it family style is so wholesome and beautiful in my mind. (although I am sure there are many ‘white collar’ families that may not have this luxury) From my previous trip to Thailand, I learned that eating ‘family style’ is almost exclusively what people do here. They all sit down to a meal to share and talk about their days, in fact, I’ve seen many large circular tables equipped with lazy susans just to serve to this eating style in Thai homes. (Something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the US and I’ve been in my fair share of suburban households)
I compare this to food preparation in the US and I am severely underwhelmed by our current process as it is far less romantic. You go to Costco (can I get a hooray for screamin’ deals and bulk peanut butter?!?!) buy basically what you need for the month, make a big recipe to last the week, maybe order some pizza or Chinese takeout to break up the monotony of yet another night of Mom’s reheated hotdish, and repeat the process again next month.
Am I saying one process in the grand scheme of things is better than the other? No, they both have their downfalls and they both have their inherent ‘perks’. What I’m saying is, given the choice, I would much prefer going to a fresh market at least once a day to prepare a new and exciting dish to eat rather than meal prep (no offense Mom, your hotdishes are superb in their own realm). In my opinion, the Thai culture surrounding food is one that I hope to implement to a certain degree in my own life. Although my current western accommodations don’t allow for daily market trips, I hope to make an effort to buy from farmer’s markets and to be more mindful about food preparation and eventual consumption hopefully with the other members of my household.