Thai Foodie Heaven
For 12 months my husband tried to get me to do a food tour in Thailand. Despite my love of travel, and even with the possibility of combining our love of food and travel together, it still wasn’t something that was overly compelling for me. Why ? Because I would almost have preferred to chew off my own foot before I went on a tour. Tours conjure up terrifying thoughts for me, for a whole range of reasons.
But, he had found a tour that was an absolute cracker. A food tour that, in my opinion, swiftly cast all my pre-conceived ideas about tours out the window. This tour was the Spirit House Tag-along Food Tour to Thailand, run every year, often twice a year, by Acland Brierty from the well known and respected Spirit House at Yandina, on the beautiful Sunshine Coast.
Here’s how this food tour effectively collapsed all of my “ideas” of what a tour would be like.
Firstly, there were only eight people. Each tour is limited to provide for the ultimate experience. It reduces the opportunity for issues that would be more readily experienced with large groups. It also provides for and actually increases the opportunity for great engagement between the touring foodies, and the tour leaders, providing great one on one time also.
The structure of the tour is a balanced blend of independence and organisation. This actually starts right from the get-go in terms of getting to Bangkok. We are told of the tour start date and it was up to us as to how we got there, allowing us to use frequent flyer points or pay for flights with our preferred airline. We decided to arrive early, to get settled and do some sightseeing in Bangkok. We were also able to choose our hotel in Bangkok, so we stayed at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel. This was where the tour was starting from, and on top of being a good hotel, it made it easier to stay in the same location.
And finally, because it is unmistakably a food tour, only people with a strong interest in food would bother spending the money on such a trip that is dominated heavily by eating or talking about it.
So, in amongst the hordes of Thai people going about their daily business in the heart (and heat) of Bangkok, our first day of the food tour kicked off. Meeting up with Acland and Dan (a Spirit House chef who was also joining us ) we met all of our fellow foodies that would become our companions for the next four days.
An eclectic mix of older, younger, men, women, from locations across Australia, we came together with one thing in common – a love of food. We were here to listen, learn and absorb as much as we could and we were ready to hit the streets.
We’ve always prided ourselves on travelling like the locals do and today was no different. The public rail system in Thailand is clean, fast, inexpensive and above all, efficient. The river boats are good fun and offer a wonderful opportunity to explore the waterways and experience the city from another perspective.
The tour offers just the right amount of cultural activities as well. Just when you think you’ve seen a few Buddhas, along comes Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) housing one of the largest Buddhas I’ve ever seen. This temple has strict rules on wearing appropriate attire, so no bare arms/shoulders and legs.
Can we eat now ?
It’s always good to get a bit of a cultural experience under your belt, but we were itching to get into the food part . The Thais live to eat and they were making me want to do the same. Enter, Old Royal Bangkok (Rattanakosin). Wandering, lingering, smelling, touching…..our senses were alight with the many interesting items being sold by the street vendors.
For our first trip to Bangkok, eating from street vendors was something we needed to think about, but with Acland guiding our every move, we were always assured of eating from the best. A little bite from a street vendor, another morsel from a traditional shop-house where the food was cooked on coals, by the time we got to our lunch destination, we felt like we’d already eaten more than enough. But, this was a clear sign of “start as you plan to finish” as we ate and ate and ate some more over the next couple of days.
As we gathered around the long table at a local restaurant, I started to feel like our pet labradors back home, who salivate at the mere sight of food. This was a special restaurant, frequented by celebrities and locals alike.
Plate after plate of food was placed in front of us, followed by an in-depth explanation of what it was and where it originated. This is important as all food in Thailand is regional and heavily influenced by the population, produce, and proximity to other countries.
We could barely contain our manners though, such was the desire to jump on in. Catfish salad (really?) was delicious. It took me a while to eat this one as I had grown up in a place where we fished often and catfish were considered pests. Certainly never eaten and definitely never enjoyed. But, with an open mind, the catfish salad suddenly placed me in a world far away from the creeks of North Queensland.
Pork larb, chicken, green mango salad and the ubiquitous sticky rice , there really was just no end to it. To cap it off, dessert of mango and sweet sticky rice was bought from another store and we ate onsite at the restaurant.
Of course, all of this was washed down with some local Singha beer, complete with ice cubes ! It’s not cool to do that in Australia, but perfectly acceptable here.
The presence of chilli was immediately noticeable – you can have it hot, hotter or death defying. By the end of the trip my palette had certainly raised itself a notch in terms of ability to handle the burn.