Unbrave Eats: Day Market Food

April 6, 2010

Faithful readers of this blog (yes, that’s you) will remember that way, way back in February I wrote all about the wonderful eats available at the Shihlin Night Market in Taipei. Well, dear readers (yes, you, again), I have recently discovered that there are just as many fantastic eats available at the nearby Chiang Rai Day Market. So for you (uh huh, you) I spent two days last week eating up as many delicious day market treats as I could; that way I could present this fine study of all the fun eats there are to be had. Combined with my previous post on night market food, you can consider this a kind of anthropological cross-cultural study (yep, I do these things for science).

My first visit to the day market was last Wednesday during my cooking class. We started in the day market so the teacher could show me all the ingredients we would need to buy for the dishes we were going to make that day. Luckily before we got down to business (shopping for herbs I can’t remember the names of), we first got down to donuts (yeah!). While we discussed what dishes we were going to make, we munched on donuts over Thai iced coffee.


The teacher told me the donuts were made from potatoes… or maybe sweet potatoes… Honestly, I don’t remember much of that conversation because my brain had switched from Cooking-Class-Mode (“Must listen to teacher; need to learn how to cook Thai food or will end up starving in the jungle”) to Homer-Simpson-mode (“Mmmm, donuts”).

After our quick coffee and donut meeting, we started shopping. Well, the teacher started shopping; meanwhile, I was taking lots of pictures of dead animals…

and a few live animals….

…and wondering what my next snack would be (and hoping it wouldn’t be of the live animal variety).
Luckily, it didn’t take too long to get back to snacking, and our next snack turned out to be ice cream.

The ice cream was served in a coconut shell and topped with freshly shaved coconut, roasted peanuts, some mysterious orange stuff and some mysterious pink stuff (“Mmmm, mysterious stuff!”). The teacher informed me the mysterious pink stuff is called “Chinese noodles,” which isn’t what I think of when I think of Chinese noodles. I usually think of ramen noodles when I think of Chinese noodles as that is what they are often called in Japan. But I guess in Thailand “Chinese noodles” are pink and served on ice cream. Makes me wonder what “Chinese noodles” are like in China (I hope they involve ice cream! Or donuts!).

After polishing off our ice cream (mysterious stuff and all!), we headed to the teacher’s house to get cooking. A couple days later I was still dreaming of donuts (“Mmm, donuts!”) and not quite ready to crack out any of my new Thai recipes, so I decided to head back to the day market for a day of munching. When I got there I discovered the donut lady sold not only donuts but also fried bananas. Having gained quite an appreciation for fried bananas while living in Brazil, I decided I’d try out the Thai-style fried bananas. These bananas were coated in a coconut and sesame seed batter and fried crispy on the outside but remained chewy on the inside. They were very delicious especially washed down with a cup of Thai iced coffee. I think I’m going to need to try a few more batches of these guys in the future… you know, for science.

After wandering around the market for a bit taking some pictures (never can have enough photos of dead animals to show the folks back home!), I felt it was time for lunch. In the center of the day market there are a number of sit-down establishments, selling everything from noodle dishes to soups to grilled meats, kind of like a cafeteria. Unlike the snack stands or night market stalls, the food at these places is not usually on display as it’s served once you sit down. Unfortunately for me, this means you can’t just point at a pile of donuts or a stick of meat and grunt and consider your meal ordered. At these places, you actually have to sit down and order your meal like at a restaurant, which can be quite daunting if your knowledge of the Thai language is limited to “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Donut” (okay, so I don’t actually know the Thai word for donut, but it’s definitely on my list of vocabulary to learn… right along with “ice cream” and “Can you deep fry that for me?”).

Luckily, I have discovered a super easy method for ordering food at these places that requires absolutely no knowledge of the Thai language or cuisine. All you have to do is wander up and down the aisles looking suitably hungry and pathetic until someone steps forward and volunteers to feed you. Depending on how hungry and pathetic you look, this method could take anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes. It took me about three minutes — I obviously need to work on my look of pathetic (and here I thought I had it down pat!).

I was saved from my pathetic wandering by a man who jumped out from behind the counter of his cafe and and told me to sit down (I did). He asked me if I wanted big noodles or medium noodles (I opted for medium) and then he whipped up the ingredients while I sat there and slapped this bowl of soup in front of me (I ate). See, easy peasy!

Of course, I had no idea what was in that bowl of soup aside from the medium-sized noodles. But I ate it (for science!), and I have to say it was pretty tasty. Even after eating it all, I still wasn’t exactly sure what was in there (this is what we in the sciences call a “brain-stumper”).

Having polished off my lunch, it was now time for dessert. With thoughts of ice cream in my brain (“Mmmm, ice cream”), I made a bee line back to where the man with the ice cream cart had been a couple days ago. But he wasn’t there. Instead there was a guy selling what appeared to be deep-fried sausages. Let me tell you, I love a good deep-fried sausage as much as the next scientist, but I wasn’t quite feeling it for dessert. I tend to think of sausage as more of an appetizer or main course or maybe even a nice palate cleanser between your appetizer and main course. Sadly, I turned away from where the ice cream cart had once been in search of a new dessert option.

Luckily, I didn’t have to search too far and wide. Across from the man frying up sausage, there was a woman cooking these little pastries on a grill.

Using my stellar point and grunt method, I got an entire bag full of them. And, oh man, I think I have discovered my newest favorite food (if only I knew what to call them!). The outside of the pastry was golden, light and crispy like a crepe, and the inside was a sweet, coconut milk custard. Because they were fresh off the grill (as I have discovered all custard should be), they were warm and melted in my mouth. I managed to inhale the entire bag in under two minutes. (Again, done for science. It’s part of my ongoing experiment concerning the Inhalation Rate of Pastries).

Before leaving the market, I decided I’d get a drink to wash down my full day of day market eats. I stopped by a tea stand that was whipping up all kinds of different iced and blended teas. This beverage was probably the most difficult thing for me to order during my entire day of day market food. First of all, there were about a million different brightly colored containers of tea and drink mixes, each one with its name in Thai on the container. The only one that I could read was something called “Milky Time,” which honestly didn’t sound all that appetizing to me (now if it had been called “Donut Time,” I could have been persuaded).

Secondly, the spiky-haired, scowly-faced teenager who was working at the tea stand did not seem to understand my tried-and-true point-and-grunt ordering method. She also seemed highly unamused by me. (Kids, these days, honestly! With all their video games and Youtube, they can no longer recognize the good old fashioned entertainment value posed by clueless white girls pointing and grunting for their food in public! Sheez!). Luckily we were able to reach an understanding (after much more pointing by me and a whole heck of a lot of eye-rolling by her), and I ended up with a slushy sweet beverage that had some tapioca pearls in the bottom like bubble tea.

I’m not really sure what else was in there. I may have to go back and order another one just so I can figure out the ingredients… you know, for science. I just hope that girl isn’t working there when I go back; you know, kids these days, just aren’t that interested in science.

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