Western Perceptions & Thai Realities

This looks like a nice place.

I had an interesting conversation with a close friend that I haven’t seen for a while the other night. We were talking about meeting up for dinner later in the week and were trying to decide on a restaurant. My friend had brought up a few different restaurants that neither of us had been to and he ended each description with ” it looked like a nice place” I thought about that for a moment and just laughed…he didn’t get it.

Side street restaurant in PattayaIn America,  and I’m sure other western countries,  that same conversation takes place probably every minute of the day and I can’t help but think that these people could very well starve if they were ever in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, Thailand has many beautiful eating establishments that would fit the bill amazingly well for such westerners…but , oh, the places and meals they would miss.

I haven’t thought in terms of how a restaurant looks since my first trip to Thailand when I came to the conclusion that the closer a place looks to being condemned the more I wanted to eat there.

Yes, that is an AlienMy first experience with such a place was back in 2006 when a friend and I were hungry at 1 am and she told me about a wonderful place around the corner from where I was staying. The kitchen was a few tables hobbled together with some burners set up and all kinds of food laying everywhere. It only had 3 walls and those were in varying stages of decay and the chairs were the plastic kind that someone obviously threw out years ago but they found a new home here. The tables rocked and the chickens running beneath my feet were definitely the free range type that were destined for the table. The decor was a life sized Alien reproduction made from motorcycle parts.

Note: If there is any doubt as to whether you are in one of these restaurants or not ask yourself the following questions: Are the chairs plastic? Is there a picture of Thaksin next to the picture of the King and Queen? If you answered yes to one or both of these questions then there is a good likelihood you are in a real Thai restaurant.

I’ve become a connoisser of these side street bistros. From Bangkok to Nakhon Phanom they can be found off the beaten path in every city, sometimes they are even on the beaten path and the most reputable place in town. The kitchen usually looks like  a bomb went off in it several years before and there are usually a lot of cats roaming around. The more cats the better, because if the cats are there then you know a lot of people eat there and the cats know they will get some scraps. Four star restaurants…Bah…give me a 4 cat restaurant any day.

Kitchen Eating area

The meals I have had in these places have been some of the best I have eaten in Thailand. Made with loving care by experienced Thai chefs who care less about ambiance and more about quality ingredients and taste combinations. Ok, the reality is they probably can’t afford any place else to make food for you but honestly they never expected you to walk in anyway because this is a place Thai’s eat.

Thaksin picture on the wall Kitchen in Mukdahan restaurant The plastic chairs

I know some people that will never eat anything but western food while in Thailand and others that have to go to what they perceive as a real restaurant. As for me I’ll eat anywhere the food is good but if you are with me, and given half a chance, I’ll tell you about a wonderful little place with great food…then I’ll lie and tell you it looks like a nice place!

Mmm the food More Thai food The take out is good too

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Comment by Jeff GrayNo Gravatar
2009-08-03 23:39:46

The photo of the kitchen against a wall under a tarp is a classic! So true the more shambolic the better.

I found the restaurants that looked like something from home tended to have “tourist Thai food”, which is just so boring.

I haven’t heard the idea of a “4 cat restaurant”. That does sound like a good benchmark.

Comment by MalcolmNo Gravatar
2009-08-04 00:06:08

Talen, great post and ohhhhh so true, when we have vistors ,I always try to take them to a real , Thai 4-cat restaurant(I like that too ) where they can get real Thai food , My friend one time said “that place don’t look good , I ask “you talking about how you think the food will be or you talking about the looks of the building ” Many times they have been pleasantly suprise with the great taste and freshness and service in some of these little roadside joints.Like you I have stopped looking for a “GOOD” place to eat and eat where I can get great Thai food. Next time you are in the LOS come on down to Whang Pho , there are a couple places that if they were in a beautiful buildings ,would be 5 star but they are 4-cat, and the price is right too.And if you need a mouseer take one home with you . Malcolm
Malcolm´s last blog ..THE FRUIT THE THAI’S CALL NOI NA—SUGAR APPLE My ComLuv Profile

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-08-04 00:35:58

Sounds like you have some great eating joints there Malcolm. The best I have seen so far was a 14 cat place …but it was a Thai BBQ and I think they were trying to show off.

Comment by up2ualanNo Gravatar
2009-08-04 04:43:07

Another thing with Thai food, price is in no way an indicator of quality. I remember eating at a place in Hua Hin as you describe plastic chairs and so on, and it was very expensive for a little sidewalk place and the food was dire.
The next night I ate at a very classy place composite the Hilton where the food was great and it was cheaper than the plastic chair place.
Now you are thinking “special farang price” at the plastic chair place, no that was their normal rates same for everyone with a Thai/English menu and the same overpricing for Bangkok weekend tourists and farangs. that was the exception though usually price is not related to quality

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-08-04 08:13:37

Have to agree that price is never related to quality.

The one place you had may have had the plastic chairs to lure you in but having a menu in Thai/english…hell having a menu at all was a dead giveaway that it wasn’t a side street bistro.

I think the most I have spent in one of my favorite places was 180 baht and that was for 2 people!

Comment by CatherineNo Gravatar
2009-08-04 10:22:36

So true… so very true. And seems to me that anywhere in the world I go, if the Thai restaurant looks too spiffy, then the food is not as good.
Catherine´s last blog ..Learning Thai is More Than a Study of Words & Grammar – Part 2 My ComLuv Profile

Comment by johnNo Gravatar
2009-08-04 13:41:34

i like to eat on the street food cooked to order no buffet food except choransi grand hotel in udon thani yum yum
the thing about street food is you see the chef
is the place clean of course our he would have no custom
no warmed up food from the day before like my local fish and chip shop in the uk
my favourite place to eat is udon thani night market
near the big screen

Comment by MartynNo Gravatar
2009-08-05 00:23:55

I love the 4 cat restaurant quote, so true. I have had many a cat brush my leg when sat in such establishments and they still make me jump even now. If the food is good then the cats will be there you couldn’t have put it more truer. Wilai quite often selects one of these type of places to eat in and at first I was a little bit put off by the bombed out kitchens as you put it but nowadays I’m quite happy to eat order some chicken and rice or sweet and sour. You didn’t mention the beer, so so cheap in these type of places assuming they sell it, now we’re talking.
Martyn´s last blog ..Thailand Blogs – July 09 Review My ComLuv Profile

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-08-05 00:44:11

So true Martyn, When I took the family to a Thai BBQ in Nakhon Phanom the beer was cheaper than water I think.

The one picture above with the falling awning I didn’t even realize was a restaurant. Pookie pulled in and I was like” what the hell is this place and why are we here”…they had absolutely the best sweet and sour chicken that was more of a sweet, sour, and spicy.

Comment by CatherineNo Gravatar
2009-08-05 00:42:01

When I lived in Houston in the ’80s, there was a show focused on a chap going around reporting kitchens that did not pass inspection.

Rats, grease, food left out… we’d all turn green.

Thinking about it now, I just smile.

And that’s what living in Thailand is all about really. Smiling :-)
Catherine´s last blog ..Learning Thai is More Than a Study of Words & Grammar – Part 2 My ComLuv Profile

Comment by SiamRickNo Gravatar
2009-08-05 10:20:40

Here in Toronto, there are many Thai restaurants, but there’s hardly a one of them that can match Thailand roadside stands. And that’s no lie!

So, has anyone sat and collapsed one of those plastic chairs? ;-)

And from now on, no cats? No eat!

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