It’s still morning in Bangkok, but the air is thick with moist heat, and within minutes of leaving my air conditioned room, I can feel the sweat begin to gather on my brow. It’s a normal day in Bangkok, and I’m walking to one of my favourite outdoor market streets in the city, Silom soi 20.
I love exploring local outdoor food markets, it’s one of the best ways to experience the local culture.
I know when I’m close to the market, as the sidewalk becomes crowded with stainless steel carts selling everything from Rambutan to fresh juice to BBQ pork satay. There are more locals milling about and tuk tuks, motorcycles, and luxury cars try to slowly cut through the crowds.
My wander through the market is slow. I start on the right-hand side, wandering from stall to stall, stopping to smile and say ‘Sawasdee-Khaaa’ to the women I go to when I want to buy fresh greens or ingredients to make Tom Yum cocktails.
In the mornings the market is a cornucopia of foodie delights. Stalls selling small crêpe like desserts (Khanom Buang) with a meringue centre, fried omelettes made with spring onion and oyster sauce (Hoy Tod), fish stuffed with lemongrass then covered with coarse salt and grilled (Pla Pao).
I’ve learned to have small bills in my hand whenever I approach the man who sells Rambutans. On my first visit to him I had a 50 baht note in my hand, thinking I would get change. He saw the colour of the note and proceeded to fill a bag with Rambutans, over a kilo, and taking the 50THB note. Needless to say, he was a very happy Thai man, and I am taking a break from eating Rambutans for awhile.
When I sleep in and miss breakfast in the market, I’ll go for lunch, or sometimes a late dinner. There are fewer stalls open, and the crowds are much smaller. It’s a great time to grab a seat and order delicious Thai food. Pla Pao is always a yummy choice, and there are a few stalls that sell curries like Tom Yum Goong. And occasionally I’ll have some crispy pork with rice.
As I sit down for lunch I watch as a group of travellers participating in a Thai cooking class move through the market, small wicker baskets in hand. When they stop at the same stall I use for Thai herbs and vegetables I silently give myself a pat on the back, I clearly have good taste in local vendors.
There are days when I want to spend hours in the market, not wandering around, as the market itself is small, but to observe the locals. I love watching them interact, the older woman holding and playing with a Thai baby, whose father is working at the restaurant across the soi. The women sorting vegetables, or the husband and wife with the antique sewing machine and a stack of clothing – the husband is usually the one sewing.
This market gives a sense of what local life is like in Bangkok, and Thailand in general. Only Thais with good paying jobs shop at air conditioned big brand grocery stores, the rest shop at outdoor markets like this one. These type of markets represent the heart of the city, the people, and in a small way, the country. Every village, town, and city in Thailand has these type of open-air markets, and when if I am staying close by, I can guarantee you’ll find me wandering through them on a somewhat regular basis.