Market on Wheels

Continuing with the topic of food in Thailand, let’s consider how people buy their produce.  Certainly, there are western-style supermarkets in Krungthep (Bangkok) and other major cities.  Each neighborhood also has its traditional fresh market where vendors line the sidewalks or stalls in a designated area.  But perhaps the most interesting way is to have the produce market come to you.


A common site are the independent vendors who drive produce trucks.  These modified pickups are packed with vegetables and fruit – many vendors specialize in just fruit – and drive around the small sois (alleys), selling their wares.  Usually the husband drives and the wife sits in the truck bed, conducting business just as if she were in a small shop – albeit a shop with very little room to move!

The trucks sometimes park at convenient locations near groups of shops or restaurants.  Other times, they just cruise slowly up and down the sois.  Quite often they are equipped with a loudspeaker and either the husband or the wife will make their pitch in the nonstop patter of a sideshow busker along the boardwalk.  “We have apples, fresh apples from China.  Get them for only five baht a piece – buy ten, get two free.  Fresh corn from Samut Phrakan, get it today…”

Even in our neighborhood, which is filled with the house compounds of old-money families and medium-rise condos, these truck-back vendors still seem to make a living.  Every morning, I hear the garbled pitch broadcast from the loudspeaker, at first in the distance and eventually nearing, passing, and then fading away.  One wonders how many more years those sounds will still be able to be heard here in the city.  Seeing that they’ve lasted this long, I would suspect they will be here for many years to come.


Street Vendors

Krungthep is a city that eats on its feet.  Thais have this snacking habit, unintentionally following the “five small meals a day” advice that so many weight-watchers hear.  Whether a mid-morning snack of khanom krok, little salty-sweet rice flour and coconut milk pancakes, an afternoon snack of freshly sliced tropical fruit, or a quick bowl of guaytiaw – rice noodles – to stave off hunger, there is always plenty to choose from along a Thai sidewalk.


This picture accurately captures a dilemma that is increasingly common here in Thailand.  Alongside the plethora of street vendors is an equally-abundant number of convenience stores.  The difference between the two is not price – neither the 7-11 snacks nor the ones from street vendors will bust your budget – but quality.

“Fast food” when it comes from street vendors is made from fresh ingredients, is very rarely more than a few minutes (or at most a few hours) old, has no preservatives, and generally is more nutrient-dense than calorie-dense.  “Fast food” when it comes from the convenience stores and Western fast food chains that are increasingly common is quite the opposite, offering few redeeming values other than a quick way to expand your waistline.

And, sadly, that expanding waistline is just what we’re seeing.  Childhood obesity is growing rapidly in Thailand and especially here in Krungthep you see more and more children who are wearing X-Large size school uniforms.

In the months to come, I’d like to write more about Thai street vendors and snacks.  They are often a bit self conscious when it comes to taking pictures, but I’ll look for some opportunities to share with you more about the foods we eat here.


Shilin Night Market – Taipei

The food adventures continued on Saturday night when, after a day wandering around the malls adjacent to Taipei 101, we rode the subway to the north end of Taipei to visit the Shilin Night Market.  This is the largest night market in Taipei.

Foods we enjoyed at the official food section of the market (as opposed to the endless rows of street vendors scattered throughout the rest of the market) included these dishes:

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What did we eat?  I’m afraid I didn’t take careful notes, especially while we were inside the food portion of the market.  But from the upper left, clockwise, we have fried noodles with a ground pork mixture, a fried “pancake” that seems to be mostly made from corn starch with pickled cucumbers on top, an omelet with shrimp and greens with a thick sweet sauce, and steamed rice with another ground pork mixture.

The food in the indoor portion of the market was, honestly, a bit bland and a lot oily.  Corn starch and oil were two of the main ingredients.  The food was certainly interesting but the blandness, combined with the overwhelming smell of stinky tofu (a fermented tofu the smell of which some compare to death boiled over) from adjacent stalls, drove us back outside where we continued our hunt for food from the street vendors.  Full story in the video.

Focusing my energies on video, I ended up not shooting pictures of the wide variety of interesting food available at the food court in Taipei 101’s shopping mall.  See Andy’s entry to enjoy those pictures.


Into the New Space

This weekend we moved into the studio.  Basically, everything in our second bedroom/office was hauled over there.  It has only been two days, but already the move is having some noticeable impact.

Above, almost everything has been moved out of the old office / future dining room.

The biggest change is that since the units are physically separated, with a concrete wall between them and two different front doors, we seem to be experiencing our own very distinct sense of separation now.  Beforehand, even if I was working on one room and Tawn was in another, there was still the sense of being in the same space, being able to call out and ask a question, knowing that the other person is inhabiting the same area.

Now, it is as if the other person isn’t around at all.  Sunday evening, a few hours after the move, Tawn came over to the “annex” (as we’re calling the studio) where I was working on the computer, looking kind of bored and lonely – a look that I’ve come to learn means, “I’m feeling disconnected from you.”

It takes time to get used to a new space and we’ll still be shuffling things around until we get settled into the new configuration, but I’m curious to see how this plays out.  I suspect that there may be some issues associated these being two separate units.  While we don’t have the funds to do a full remodel of the annex, I’m sure we could knock a door in the wall between the two units if necessary.

Interesting how the physical space we inhabit can have such an impact on us, isn’t it?


A few shots of the “remodel,” which took all of one day of the handyman working on a few things.  Above, the laminate on the bathroom vanity in the annex had started splintering and peeling away because of humidity.  We had it removed, sanded, and new laminate applied.  Eventually, the entire bathroom will undergo a remodel.  Heck, the entire unit will undergo a remodel one of these years.

Below, some previous owner thought it would be artsy to have an opening (with a pipe running through it) between the bathroom and the rest of the living space.  Another previous owner installed a large mirror in the bathroom to block the space, giving bathroom users some privacy.  We asked the handyman to add a frame and drywall to the space, so it now looks like a regular wall.


Before we moved into the new unit, I shot some video of the old unit, a virtual tour.  I’ll try to get that edited before I head to the US and share it with you.


Meanwhile, walking home from the ramen shop the other day, I passed this ice cream vendor.  There are lots of vendors who ride around on these tricycles, selling ice cream, beverages, brooms, and other things.  What are your guesses as to the flavor of ice cream he sells?  (Answer below.)


Our rainy season weather has turned interesting.  We’re getting slightly cooler weather and after an evening of rain, the skies are bright blue the following morning.  These big fluffy clouds, starting white but turning grey, move in as lunchtime arrives, building up until the rains start again in the late afternoon.


I find the clouds fascinating as they are very tall.  Watching them float through the sky, I’m reminded of some Miyazaki film.  Hard to believe they aren’t sentient beings!

Answer: coconut