Monday, March 14, 2011

Wai-ing Michelin Men

My diet is almost entirely sustained by food sold on the streets. While we have grocery stores and convenience stores I rarely step inside their air-con interiors, but sometimes when bored I peruse the neon lit aisles for fun. In many ways the commercial landscape mirrors any you might find in a US city. True we have Tesco and Carrefour instead of Walmart, but you can find practically anything there all the same – hair products, tea brands, Skippy Peanut butter – as long as you know where to look and don’t mind paying extra. (I do, so I forgo these comforts of my former life on a regular basis). However most of those familiar brands and stores come with a Thai twist if you look closely. Starbucks sells Thai Ice Tea and McDonalds Thai Tea McFlurries along with Mango McFlurries.

Driving along the moat road of the Old City I often pass a garage selling Michelin tires. Outside they have propped up one of those life-size cardboard cutouts. He’s got the normal rippled dimensions of a man constructed out of tires, but his arms are not raised in a wave or stretched out in a muscular stride. Rather they come together at his chin in a Thai Wai (traditional bow).

A Thai 7-11 has all the usual trappings, but then you look closer and start realizing that you are not in Kansas anymore. Let's take as example Lays potato chips, which we have in abundance. We do have some of the common flavors: Cheese and Onion, Sour Cream and Onion, Salt and Sour, Barbeque, Extra Barbeque. Even Hot Chicken and Lemon is not too out of the ordinary. But Lays varieties do not stop there, indeed most of the shelf space is taken up by the following flavors: Sweet Basil, Spicy Seafood, Spicy Lobster, Nori Seaweed, Shrimp Tempura, Hot Chili Squid, and of course Pla Sam Rod (Fermented Fish). I have sampled almost all of these and can attest to the shocking realization of biting down on a crunchy, oily, familiar looking potato sliver expecting Extra Cheese and tasting Spicy Seafood instead. In such instances I’d rather forgo the semblance of the familiar altogether and head over to the nearest late night food stand for some grilled intestine– at least that way, I’ll be prepared for the taste.

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