Everyone knows that Thailand’s food scene rocks, and nowhere is it more vibrant than in Bangkok.
Alongside an ever-increasing array of international options, the very best of the country’s own cuisine is waiting on just about every street corner, brought here by way of urban migration from each of Thailand’s regions.
And it’s dirt cheap, too – that you can eat a delicious and nutritious meal for ฿30 never fails to impress visitors, and food remains far and away my number one draw for living here.
In fact, when I’m occasionally down in the dumps about some of the less endearing elements of expat life in Bangkok, I tell myself that the insanely good food is the only reason I’m still here.
Before moving to live in Bangkok in 2012, I was only too aware from previous trips to Thailand how easy the ubiquitous street food would make it to slip out of the habit of home cooking and instead simply eat every meal at the roadside.
In fact, I still remember returning to the UK after one three-month jaunt here, and marvelling as I made toast for breakfast and realised it was the most I had cooked for myself all summer. For a tourist that might be normal, but as a soon-to-be-resident it was something I was keen to avoid.
So when I relocated, I made myself a vow: that I would make a conscious effort to keep cooking as much as I did in the UK.
I’m afraid to say it’s a vow that I’ve more failed than succeeded at keeping.
The lack of a kitchen is often cited as a reason for the popularity of eating out in Bangkok, but I can’t even use that as an excuse.
My kitchen is a long way from being the world’s largest, but it has everything I need to cook at home on a regular basis – even a small table-top oven, usually missing from most rentals in this city (including mine until I added it in).
I still cook on occasion – and every so often I’ll have a burst of inspiration, when I realise I miss making things from scratch, and set out on a massive cookathon.
But like so many others in this city, it’s not unusual (in fact it’s the norm) for me to eat all three of my daily meals outside, at my local go-to street stalls.
Though I go through brief phases of reverting to toast or cereal at home, more often than not I’m just as likely to eat somtum for breakfast as I am a steaming plate of pad krapao for lunch and a spread of curry dishes for dinner.
When I do cook, what I cook has changed, too.
I’ve long been a keen foodie and cook – which of course makes the irresistible temptation not to make my own meals all the more painful. Back in the UK I would regularly eat homemade British dishes as well as those from overseas, including Thailand. Yet somehow, even when I do persuade myself to cook something from scratch in Bangkok, it almost exclusively ends up being Thai food that I make – as if I’m not already getting enough of that.
But why is Bangkok such a killjoy when it comes to home cooking in the first place?
Convenience might well be the main reason – hell, why would you not eat street food when it’s right outside your front door and tastes fantastic? – but cost surely plays a part, too.
We’ve seen before how various commodities and services in Bangkok can vary drastically in price, and it’s more than just an old wives’ tale that eating out here is often cheaper than cooking at home. Even if you’re cooking local food and sourcing your ingredients at nearby markets as I do, if you’re living alone or as a couple then you’ll struggle to get down to quite the same price point as a street vendor charges for common Thai dishes.
In the west, eating out seems more special, and cooking at home is the norm; and even for the less gastronomically inclined among us, that often means resorting to ready meals.
But move to Bangkok and things get flipped on their heads; eating out quickly becomes your new normal.
So I love and hate Bangkok’s street food scene for one and the same reason – because it’s just too amazing for its own good.
Even a foodie like me is discouraged from cooking and eating at home on a regular basis by the irresistible deliciousness that awaits me when I step out of my apartment and onto the street.
It’s both a blessing and a curse but, then again, there are worse far problems to have in life.
Do you cook at home in Bangkok, or are you quick to give in to the temptation of street eating?
Featured image is by drburtoni and used under a Creative Commons licence