Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 18: A Morning With The Locals

About a block away from the Central Plaza mall in Udonthani is a sub soi (pictured above) that leads into a market similar to thousands of others throughout the kingdom. It may have a name, it may not; there's certainly no apparent signage and if you didn't look down the narrow soi you may well miss it entirely. Beginning around dawn - an hour some may know as "Oh-dark-thirty" - trucks, tuk-tuks and a variety of wheeled transport begin bringing in the day's produce, meats and assorted foodstuffs for the regulars who live within striking distance of the place.

A woman sets up shop in her market stall in Udonthani

If you've any history in Udonthani you probably still think of the Central Plaza mall as the Charoensri complex, as I tend to, but it's the big mall within an easy walk of the train station and the large night market I shared about two days ago.

Green onions, cabbage, basil, long beans and the likes - about as fresh as it gets

There's an obvious air of familiarity in these local markets; not only among the people who staff the stalls but between many of them and the people who shop there. It's really somewhat of a neighborhood gathering, where conversations and gossip are shared about weather, farming, TV shows, and, of course, local and national news.

The bargaining over prices isn't as colorful or dramatic as you'd see and hear at, say, Jatujak market in Bangkok - but again, people tend to know each other here.

Note the gauze and scotch tape bandage on this butcher's left hand. Ouch.

Suphot, my friend and I had plans for an outing that day, but I knew I had a few hours before my friend would arrive at my hotel and I also figured Pot was still asleep so I showered, dressed and walked the few blocks from the hotel towards the mall to see if I could get some pictures at the market and maybe find a shop selling coffee where I could sit and people watch.

Fresh mushrooms, daikon, long beans and chilis

The market was more or less already set up and buzzing by the time I arrived about 07:00; people were carrying bags with their purchases out as I was walking in along the umbrella- and awning-lined entrance soi, but the familiar sights and smells were as comforting as the Isaan music that was rising from several boom boxes; joining together as their sounds bounced off the high metal and canvas roof above.

It's times like these that I somewhat regret not investing enough time to learn (and retain) more of the Thai language, but there's the entertainment factor of being the visiting farang in a distinctly native place, too. While there are times in life where being pointed out by a group as an outsider can be a sweaty situation, this isn't one of them; I enjoy seeing people pointing me out to each other and being the novelty as the Big Pink Guy. It often provides an opening to say good day, compliment a mother on her cute baby, share a smile and take a picture - all things I find rewarding, myself.

In addition to the poultry, pork and beef for sale there's always fish and shell fish on display, too. Having some professional knowledge of food handling and preparation it always makes me wonder just how the locals manage to deal with the the bacteria (and worse) that comes from, say, fresh shrimp getting "hot," as it's known in the trade, but it's all in the genes and what their bodies/systems are used to, I know.

Fresh crab, more or less properly iced

Shrimp at what would be $6US/Kg, or about $2.75/Lb - VERY cheap.

Some of you may remember the temple offerings in Lopburi, and the pig heads that "smiled" up from their plates beneath the sticks of incense - here are some ready to dish up and take to the temple, if you'd care to.

... and chicken, ready for the grill or cooking pot...

I spent so much time wandering, taking pictures and "visiting" with people that I never did get coffee that morning, but I did get back to the hotel in time to get a little later breakfast and prepare for the day's planned trip to Phu Phrabat historical park.

That's going to be next up in part 19.


krobbie said...

Isn't it interesting that a trip to a western supermarket can leave you unfulfilled but a trip to these markets in Thailand can be an absolute highlight, even if you buy nothing.

On my next trip I have an apartment with full kitchen and even an over oven extractor and plan to cook for my guy. This means I will be able to go to the market and choose some vegetables and rice.

The trouble is I don't think there is an open market as you describe but there are enough street vendors for fresh vegetables along Charoenkrung Rd near Sapan Thaksin BTS, so I should be all right.

Good post Bao-Bao.

khunbaobao said...

I'd ask around about a local open air market. I haven't run into one in that area myself, but there's one near Victory Monument I found by accident and I'm guessing they're plentiful throughout Bangkok. Maybe ask the housekeeping or other staff where you stay?

krobbie said...

Now there's a bright spark.

Of course we should ask the housekeeping staff. As they are usually living pretty frugally from necessity, that would be the best place to glean information of this type.

Well done Bao-Bao.