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The Leaving Journal

Night Market in Pai, Thailand

THAILAND | Sunday, 24 January 2016 | Views [485]

Markets remain one of my favorite ways to experience a place. From the chaotic Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, to the hip Saturday market in Portland, Oregon, to the genteel weekend markets of Europe, the community that gathers around local food is always real and always imbued with positive energy - everyone loves to eat. That rings true in Thailand.

I think my experience of markets and street food in Thailand has been sweetened by the fact that it was an unattainable pleasure in India. At every corner, doughy, garlicky naan sizzled on a grill, pockets of fried vegetables bubbled in a vat of oil, mounds of curry and dahl sat invitingly sprinkled in parsley, but we chose not to take part. While we probably could have without incident, it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take after suffering from water contamination for several days.

So, Thailand - and its more sophisticated hygiene - brought with it a wealth of eating opportunities, all of which we have embraced with relish.

In Pai, the market that popped up nightly without fail was mostly comprised of older women with a single grill and cart. It was an unpredictable but never disappointing array of shacks selling grilled meat kebabs, plastic bags of sticky rice, noodle bowls, sushi by the roll spread out on red plastic trays like so many little gems, dumplings and gyoza, buttered corn on the cob, chicken schwarma, tea wafting tendrils of steam from bamboo tubes, crepes, pancakes, doughnuts, brownies homemade by a plump Thai woman with glasses and a bottomless smile (she called herself, very originally, “Mrs Brownie”). The tiny river town truly came alive at night around these ramshackle food stalls - most of the retail stores didn’t even have daytime hours and only set out their pastel displays in the evening for grazers to browse. The street is lined with a colorful spread of hand-knit hats, screen-printed tees and patterned bags, the ever-present hippie collage of rustic tones and handmade jewelry displayed on tree branches melded with bright anime toys: stickers and pens, stuffed elephants and notebooks, all wildly neon or sweetly floral with random English phrases (“You are my best friend of broccoly I love you too”)  and strange cartoons.

These street markets are an integral part of Thai daily life as well as tourism - locals can always be seen with carry-out bags on their way home from work and families are always a prevalent part of the festivities. I love the concept of people bringing their kitchens forth into a massive smorgasbord for a communal feeding. I started the new year as a vegetarian. I’m not anymore.

  

  
  

Tags: cuisine, food, markets, night market, noodles, pai, rivers, thailand

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