How to Improve Your Experience in a Fresh Market in Thailand
Thai food is all about fresh ingredients, as that will allow you to capture the best of what they have to offer. However, when you take a stroll around a fresh market in Thailand, it can be quite difficult to determine which bundle of herbs and spices is the one you’re looking for. Here are some tips on how to deal with that:
1. Know the Seasons
Despite the fact that Thailand seems to be hot and humid all the time, certain fruits and vegetables are available in different seasons. The best way to shop is to know when each product is in season so that you can buy the freshest ones at the lowest possible price. For example, if you buy mangoes when they’re off-season, they are more likely to be sour. So if you’re looking for a particular fruit or vegetable, make sure you buy them at the right time. You need to know when that is.
2. Learn the Difference
There are different types of herbs and spices in the market and most of them look the same to an untrained eye. Some of these products are more expensive than the others, so crafty merchants may try to sell you something at a higher price. Therefore, it’s important to know the difference between the products you’re looking for and the ones the vendors are trying to sell you. For example, if you’re buying durian, there are many different breeds such as kan yao, mhon tong, and more. You need to know what you want so that you can avoid spending much money on things you don’t actually need.
Sometimes, it’s not even the vendor’s fault. For instance, galangal is a type of root that looks very similar to ginger, except the skin of the former is slightly paler than the latter’s. You don’t want to walk into a stall and come out with half a kilogram of galangal instead of ginger, so you need to be sure you know how to spot the difference.
3. Use Your Nose
The aroma is the key to a great Thai dish, which is why you should be able to distinguish certain smells. When you walk around in the market, you will need to use your nose a lot to check how fresh something is, as that usually says a lot about the quality of a product.
If you see a spice stall with Thai peppercorns and you can’t smell it, that batch of peppercorns may not be in the best condition. The same is true with fruits as well. For instance, if you see a ripe mango, we recommend you ask the vendor if you can break off the stem and smell its sap. If the sap smells sweet, that means the flesh will be sweet as well.
4. Bring Your Own Shopping Bag
When you walk through an Asian market, you will end up with a lot of plastic bags. This is not an efficient way to shop, especially when you consider that you will have to throw all of them away once you get home. Therefore, we recommend that you bring your own re-usable shopping bag. You can put all of your stuff in there instead of in plastic bags. This will make it easier for you to get around the market while minimizing your carbon footprint in the process.
If you want an expert to show you round a fresh market, we can help. During our 4-hour class "Thai Cooking with a Twist" we include a tour around one of Bangkok's most famous fresh markets and will show you how to select ingredients.