Chiang Mai, Thailand; Day 21

We are over a month in Thailand and it’s been 3 weeks since we left the extravagant breakfast buffet in Phuket and came to Chiang Mai. So we thought we’d share a little about the cooking and eating we’ve been doing.

Back during normal life in San Clemente, we cooked at home for a lot of meals and on average ate out maybe 3-5 times per week – a combination of takeout and dining in (pre-Covid that is, but we kept up the same pace during Covid – it was just all take out.) Conventional wisdom said, and we believed, that you could usually eat healthier and much cheaper if you cooked at home – everything from your morning coffee to sushi. Of course that ignores your own labor to shop, prepare and clean up.

While we traveled the US we cooked whenever we could and benefited from our generous hosts’ cooking more times than we deserved.

When we traveled to Central America and stayed in places with kitchens, we invested in a frying pan, paring knife and coffee maker and even carried our seasonings across the border from Costa Rica to Panama. Although we ate out more often than at home, in Central America it still was cheaper to cook in.

We assumed it would be the same when we got to Thailand. Our research told us Southeast Asia should be one of the cheapest places to shop and eat so when we got to Chiang Mai and our house with a kitchen, we prepared to do our big shopping run and find inexpensive ingredients to cook inexpensive meals at home.

First we took inventory of the kitchen to see if we needed any essentials. Frying pans – check. Knifes – check. Rice cooker, microwave, air fryer – check. Water purifier- thank goodness. Coffee making capability – nope. Oven – nope?!?  Guess we forgot to read that part closely in the rental description.

Once we thought about it we realized Thai food doesn’t involve baking so no need for an oven. Oh well – we figured we’d make it work with the air fryer and two burner stove you have to ignite by hand.

Asian food doesn’t differentiate dishes between morning and the rest of the day – spicy noodles are as good at 8am as later, but these 5 Adventurers still prefer a typical western breakfast.

During our grocery run we got eggs, bread, milk even oatmeal and boxed cereal. General Mills and Kellogg’s much have different distribution because a box of CornFlakes is $2.25 while the same size box of Cheerios is $9. We got cornflakes for sure. Breakfast meat like typical sausage isn’t really a thing – the sausage here is like British breakfast sausages- basically what Americans call hot dogs. Not much flavor so we typically pass and get our protein from eggs (which come 10 to a pack instead of 12 – metric system?)

We also got the standard supply of lunch meat, cheese, condiments, peanut butter and jelly for lunch. Dinner supplies were chicken, pork, rice, pasta and seasonings and oils etc to make it interesting. Plus vegetables and fruit to either eat fresh or cook. 

As we settled in, we figured out how to cook without an oven – not that hard. We also put together a coffee solution. While there are cool coffee shops everywhere in around us, we still like to have a cup at home while the kids are still starting their day.

We couldn’t find a coffeemaker or even a French press so we went DIY artisanal. We’re doing pour over coffee (very fancy) using regular filters and a funnel we found at the grocery store. We started out using a beer glass but later found a glass pitcher for $1.50 which lets us brew two cups at a time.

Besides the coffee maker and no oven, the other unusual things is there are no table knives. We thought it was weird we didn’t have any in our house (folks, spoons and chopsticks) but it turns out we can’t find any to buy either. Not a one. We managed to buy a small fish knife and use it for spreading butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, you name it.

Apparently, the people of Thailand historically didn’t have knives near the table because they are a weapon, but practically speaking Thai food is cut in pieces before cooking/serving so you don’t need a knife.

We starting by eating one meal out a day while we explored the city. We eat western food sometimes, the kids still prefer it, but the Thai places we’ve found that cater to locals have fantastic food that’s super cheap.

Our family of 5 can eat for $8 a meal where the same food at our favorite San Clemente Thai place was $90. It’s hard to cook for less than that so as we eat through our groceries at home we’re going to restaurants or getting delivery more and more.

While the price and taste are fantastic, ordering is still a challenge. Often we’re not sure what we’re getting and Google translate only goes so far. Yesterday there was a printed order ticket in Thai. No pictures, no English. So we take a photo, import it to Google translate, highlight the text with our finger and see what they have. #1 is crispy skin roasted chicken (sounds good), #10 was sweet liver ‘startled’. We passed on that in part because we try not to spend an hour translating the menu then looking up on the internet what startled sweet liver is. We did look it up later and it turns out it’s sautéed.

Sometimes we can order by number…which we try to do in Thai. From this place we had Sip-Jet and Seeh – #17 and #4.

Or sometimes, like ป้าแดง ขนมเส้นในซอย – a place around the corner from us – they have pictures, including a cartoon pig, chicken or shrimp so you can pick your protein.

The restaurant name translates to Aunt Daeng, Snacks in the Alley and we’re pretty sure she cooked for us. It doesn’t look fancy and the day we were there they had a pork slab hanging to salt cure in the sun. The food is terrific and only $1-2 for each dish. Yum! Maybe we’ll eat there a couple times tomorrow.

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