Dining Out Kad Muang Mai

Gina Hahn

We 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. Consulate.

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.

Cross 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.