should really call this particular column “Dining In” because this week
we’re exploring the glories of Kad Muang Mai, that wonder of fresh fruits,
vegetables, meats and seafood that is just around the corner from the U.S.
I first discovered the market with a friend many years ago,
but she was one of those decisive shoppers who had come for tomatoes and nothing
more. By the time I began to look around at the mounds of fresh herbs and the
truckloads of pumpkin, certainly long before I discovered the deep fried bamboo
worms, she had finished bargaining for the soon-to-be spaghetti sauce and was
ready to go. So Kad Muang Mai was set aside until a few years ago when we moved
into its neighborhood. Following my doctor’s good advice to rediscover my love
of walking, I walked right into this wonderful market. And in defiance of
“modernization”, I hope it never changes.
Whether you’re preparing for a big party or a quiet dinner
at home, you will probably find just what you need here, and you will find it
very, very fresh. Take your camera with you for some wonderful photographic
records of Thai people shopping for their home or restaurant. Keep an eye out
for local chefs. Enter the market just by the fire department; we jokingly
called this “the banana district”. “Yes, We Have No Bananas” could have
been written here. There are tiny bananas from the south, medium sized bananas
and large bananas. There are green bananas and yellow bananas. And for those who
are baking banana bread, there are overripe bananas. But don’t get bogged in
bananas, just wonder on down the road and enjoy the sounds, smells and –
ultimately – the tastes of Kad Muang Mai.
You will soon come across the folks who are peeling and
preparing fresh vegetables for stir-fry. Broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas,
carrots have all been cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces. Add a few more of
your favorites, wash them well, and stir up your best fresh vegetable dip. And
be sure that you chop a few of the fresh herbs nearby into that dip – basil,
mint, cilantro, thyme and others are to be found in abundance.
the street and enjoy big bunches of fresh celery, curly Italian parsley,
enormous red and yellow bell peppers, tiny sweet yellow tomatoes, and white
asparagus. Now round the corner to the right. You are going to be amazed at how
many cabbage laden trucks can drive down this soi without squashing a single
foot, although on a recent day Gina did find it necessary to insist that a young
fellow in a big truck “yute!” before he forced her into a vat of frying
bananas. Continue on down this soi, and you will soon be in the area of onions
of all sizes, peeled or not, and beautiful baskets of red and green spicy
peppers. Don’t miss the bags of fresh-squeezed limejuice, perfect for
refreshing lime juice as the hot weather approaches.
Now let’s take a u-turn and check out the fresh seafood
just across from the peeled onions. You will find fresh shrimp in many sizes,
oysters and varying types of crab, clams, and squid, and all are maintained
under constantly replenished ice. You can even get the crabmeat already picked
in a bag or shrimp already peeled and cooked.
Wander up into the market, and you will encounter freshly
butchered chicken and pork. You will also encounter parts and pieces that you
may never have seen in your local supermarket. If the big bag on the counter
appears to be jumping, it probably is. Frog legs are delicious. Here is also
where you have pigs’ feet split expertly to extract the gelatin. Walk outside
to the side street and inhale the aromas of the many culinary pastes.
Go in the opposite direction of the pepper section for more
people watching. The trucks slow down later in the morning, but baskets and
motorcycles come and go all day bringing vegetables, seafood, meat, and ice.
Don’t forget you’re in Thailand – edible worms and bugs are fried up right
on the sidewalk for your snacking pleasure. See you there.