Two and a half weeks into our trip through Thailand, and we’ve had some pretty amazing food. We’ve had the usual steaming plate of pad thai, mouth-scourching green papaya salad, heavenly massaman curry overflowing with sweet potatoes and a hint of cinnamon…
But none of our previous culinary adventures could prepare us for the deliciousness and sheer weirdness that we would experience in the tiny coastal city of Trang.
We had never heard of Trang until a few days ago, when we opened up our guidebook and found that it was a convenient jumping off point for the beautiful islands of the Thai west coast. Little did we know that Trang was a culinary powerhouse of the region, being on odd mix of Thai, Malaysian, and Chinese cultures.
Both of the nights that we were in Trang were spent roaming the nearby night market which was conveniently located right outside of our hotel (the Station Inn). Because Trang is renowned for having some of the freshest (and safest– as in digestive health) street food in Thailand, we felt free to indulge in any and all treats we could muster the courage to take down. Most food items were $0.25- $1, meaning we got to try a lot of stuff…. And because no one spoke any English (and our Thai is as limited as it gets), the only thing we could do was to jump in head first and start eating.
These little beauties turned out to simply be delicious deep fried chicken skewers covered in sweet chili sauce:
The fun thing about the night market is that it’s sort of like gambling. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. This next snack was a big lose– we thought it tasted like fried chicken, but it was definitely not meat– some kind of chewy/nubbin-y chicken part, perhaps:
These colorful “fish” molds looked intimidating until we found out they were just coconut jello!
One woman was making this fantastic little snack by smearing dough onto a smoking hot griddle and then filling the resulting “tortillas” with hand-spun colored sugar. We didn’t know what these were until a nice middle-aged Thai man wearing a “United State Navy Grandma” hand-me-down shirt shared some of his “tortillas” with us while hanging out at a bar later that evening:
…waffles and wantons filled with quail eggs and served with sweet chili sauce (DELICIOUS!!):
Anyone know what this fruit below is, in English? The man working this cart saw me looking at them and gave me one to try for free– slightly sweet, mild flavor… he called it something like “sala” in Thai:
For me, the best thing about this type of eating is that each thing you open or bite into is a totally surprise. It’s like opening presents on Christmas. Sort of like how WAY too excited I am in this following picture, opening my charred banana leaf wrapped present to reveal who-knows-what inside:
It turned out to be some kind of toasted/smoky coconut treat. Amazing.
(That salad looks so innocent, but this was so spicy that my eyes and nose had completely unloaded onto the front of my shirt by the time I was at the bottom of this bowl…But it was so delicious I could not stop eating it. Reminder to ask for 1 chili–not 2, as I did– next time…)
And for dessert…. These women were making these fantastic crispy fried dough snacks that they would make by spreading paper-thin dough onto a hot griddle, breaking it up into pieces, and smothering it with toasted (black sesame?) seeds and sweetened condensed milk, which Scott loved and now orders in every city he can:
I ordered what I thought was a normal ice cream sundae— little did I know that they would take a solid block of hard ice cream and put it through an electric grater to make dip-n-dot-esque fluffy banana ice cream!! Truly, no food emerged into a passerby’s hand until it had been given a Thai-flair.
Not only does Trang have an amazing night market; we also found out that it is one of the few places in Thailand that you can get authentic, delicious dim sum– a Chinese-derived meal consisting of small snacks, traditionally eaten for breakfast. So the next day, we set out on a new culinary adventure to track down the local dim sum joint… a woman from Ko Hai had written the name of the restaurant in Thai for us so that we could try to find it.. we showed it to the first tuk tuk driver we could find, apparently over-paid way too much on the tuk tuk, and soon found ourselves in a restaurant surrounded by happy Thai and Chinese locals enjoying Saturday brunch. We were definitely far off of the tourist path, but everyone was smiling at us and very helpful. We grabbed a table and walked up to the counter, where dozens upon dozens of bamboo baskets filled with uncooked goodies were pilling up for our perusal:
When you find ones that look good, you simply start piling your baskets on top of one another and hand them to the person behind the counter, who places your entire stack over a hole with boiling water underneath, and the whole stack gets steamed and delivered to your table.
One of our dishes consisted of mu yaang, a local Southern Thai specialty of sweet roasted pork, similar to pork belly (but better). We also had to try the usual spring rolls and shrimp shumai– all delicious.
We also got to try our very first chicken feet! (Need I say it really just “tastes like chicken”? More skin and less meat, than we’re usually used to, though). (Note: I did not change clothes mid-meal— this place was so good that we went there two mornings in a row…)
After leaving dim sum, we continued the culinary tour by perusing the fresh market– dried chilies, dried fish, dried mushrooms, every deadly weapon known to man (to harvest the vegetables, of course…)
We also took a break from solid food and enjoyed some lovely “kopii”, Southern Thai coffee, with the morning paper in a local cafe…
Finally, to round out our amazing culinary tour of Trang— we were wandering back to our hotel one day, and we came across this adorable baby elephant:
What does this have to do with food, you ask? Well, we got to feed him some sugarcane, of course! Overall, our time in Trang was amazing– extremely helpful, friendly people, insane food, and a great off-the beaten path experience just waiting to be devoured…..