Elephant’s Leg


5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY
Yuck!

Yuck!

Thailand justifiably has a reputation for producing some of the world’s best food, and as with any national cuisine, the best Thai food can be found in the country itself. Thais who travel will often bemoan the inferior quality of Thai food overseas, while foreigners who have visited here will never look at another country’s green curry in quite the same way again. Hell, I once had the misfortune of ordering a plate of pad Thai in Manchester and finding they substituted tamarind sauce for tomato ketchup!

Yet exactly the same logic can be applied in Thailand – if you’re looking for good foreign food, you might be best off going to the country in question. Just because the local food in Thailand can be mind-blowing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the kitchens of the Land of Smiles can perform similar culinary feats with dishes from abroad.

People who grow up with a certain type of food know it best. Add in the scarcity of certain ingredients in certain countries, plus how relatively new some foreign food is to Thailand, and stir in some peculiar local twists, tastes and takes on foreign dishes, and you have…

5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY

5. INDIAN CURRY This is the least serious offender on the list, as I have not often had an especially bad Indian curry in Thailand, but at the same time I have very rarely had a standout one. More often than not, I come away underwhelmed. Imagine the more unremarkable of Indian dishes cooked up for Western diners, and then remove any noticeable spice level. I have even had vindaloo here which has barely registered on the palate. I don’t understand why this is so – Indians like spicy food, and Thais like spicy food even more, so how come Indian food in Thailand tends to be about as exciting as a bowl of porridge?

Worst examples Indian restaurants on and around Khao San Road; Indian menus in Western theme pubs; most places on Sukhumvit Road.

Best examples The Himali Cha Cha chain; Namuskaar on Sukhumvit Soi 8; and there is generally a greater likelihood of getting good Indian food in southern Thailand.

Softer texture and better taste than many Thai steaks

Softer texture and better taste than many Thai steaks

4. STEAK This shouldn’t be too difficult, right? In theory, all you need is a good cut of meat and a chef who is not inept. While there are various takes on the steak, so long as you have someone who knows how to cook it, the quality of the meal is in the cut of the meat. And this is where so many Thai places get it wrong.

Dear Thailand, the word “steak” is not defined as “any flat piece of meat”.  Unfortunately, outside of posh hotels and Western pubs, if you order steak you are more likely to get either a strip of leather, or something shot through with gristle, or something processed and rearranged in a steak shape.

Worst examples Most basic Thai restaurants which have a “steak” menu (especially if they cost less than 100 baht); the Jeffer chain.

Best examples Trajai on Soi Sribamphen; Ken Steak House on Narathiwat Soi 24; Oishi Teppanyaki on the fifth floor of the MBK Center.

3. SANDWICHES Again, this should be easy, but two factors conspire to ruin what should be a humble but rewarding stomach-filler. First is how baked goods are a relatively new concept in Thailand. There is no local tradition of baking and breadmaking, and there has not been the colonial influence that led to neighbours such as Laos and Vietnam cultivating strong bakery traditions. Consequently, most Thai bread is poor quality, tasteless and dry. Second is the Thai sweet tooth, in which perfectly solid savoury ingredients such as mayonnaise, cheese, garlic, and even fish and pork are sweetened to the point where they become almost inedible to the Western tongue. A typical Thai sandwich features white bread bleached to the colour of paper, with the texture of papier mache, filled with some form of horrifically processed “meat”, and drenched in mayo so sweet it’s almost custard.

Worst examples 7-Eleven; Black Canyon Coffee (which does at least do good coffee and Thai food); foodcarts selling steamed sandwiches (yes, I said steamed sandwiches).

Best examples El Osito in Mahatun Plaza on Ploenchit Road; Chu in Exchange Tower at Asoke intersection.

... and has nightmares about Thailand!

… and has nightmares about Thailand!

2. SUSHI The Japanese take great pride in their food, and most notably in its presentation, its freshness, and in the use of simple but complementary and expertly chosen ingredients. Sushi is arguably the most iconic of Japanese foods and the Japanese people treat its creation and display as an art. High quality sushi rice meets prime cuts of fish, and/or vegetables that are no more than a few hours old, that are chilled to perfection and usually (but not always) raw. Depending on the sushi style, this may be wrapped in nori seaweed, and then dipped in quality soy sauce and freshly ground wasabi paste. When done right, it is sublime. And then we have the Thai version…

Thai sushi is at its most benign in chain buffets. It has all the hallmarks of what’s wrong with the Thai take – cooked and/or processed fillings and toppings, experimental ingredients that just don’t work, and, of course, that dreaded sweet mayonnaise. But at least it is relatively fresh, cool and well kept.

And then we have the odious stepchild that disgraces its father nation – foodcart sushi. Take all the above, drop the quality a good few notches, put it in a glass cart, and then sit it in the tropical sun in the afternoon. The result is the absolute antithesis of what makes good sushi – cheap rice, limp seaweed, tasteless fillings, over-sweet sauces, served warm, with packet wasabi (inevitably loaded with sugar). To taste sweetened scrambled egg sushi from a foodcart is to wonder why Japan hasn’t severed diplomatic ties with Thailand for desecrating a cultural icon.

Worst examples The Shabushi chain, any supermarket that doesn’t cater to Japanese expats, any and every cart selling “street sushi”.

Best examples Sushi Tsukiji on Soi Thaniya, Isetan supermarket in CentralWorld, the Zen chain.

No false advertising here!

No false advertising here!

1. PIZZA The humble pizza, beloved the world over, an icon of both Italy and Americana, has been utterly bastardised in Thailand. Some people will say the only real pizza is in Italy and scoff at the US version. More still will turn their noses up at the international chain offerings. But I’ll bite your hand off for a slice of Pizza Hut over a Thai-style atrocity any day. And no, I’m not talking about the local experimental toppings such as green curry or tom yam goong. If you find someone who knows how to make a decent pizza and treat the meal with respect, there’s no reason why those can’t work. No, what I’m talking about are the pizzas made for Thai tastes in western food, which brings us back to the local sweet tooth, lack of baked goods culture, and penchant for processed ingredients.

Imagine a cloying soft white bread base that dries out your tongue and sticks to the roof of your mouth, topped with horrors such as processed cheese, reformed seafood sticks and tasteless sausages, and then drizzled with that dreaded sweet mayo or sugary salad cream. On top of this, Thais will also slather their slices with ketchup. Thai pizza is so bad that Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel programme Bizarre Foods travelled to the Northeast of the country for his show (see video below – skip to 38:33 for the pizza segment, but the whole show is worth watching) and among the likes of dung beetles, raw beef in bile sauce, fried rat, rotten fish and other horrors, the only two things he found inedible were cow placenta, and a slice of PJ Pizza in an Udon Thani fair. He calls it a food “with the most amount of ingredients not found in nature”. Furthermore, the appalling standard of Thai pizza resonates so much with the country’s expats that English-language comedy website Not the Nation‘s second-most viewed story in history is a satirical news report on a legal challenge by Italy to get a Thai pizza chain to stop using the word “pizza” to describe its abominations.

Worst examples 7-Eleven (again); The Pizza Company; most independent pizzerias in Thailand outside tourist areas

Best examples The Scoozi chain; Pala Pizza Romana outside Sukhumvit MRT station; Lido on Soi Sribamphen.

Do agree or disagree? Do you have any recommendations for good places to eat the above foods, or other international cuisine? Or other places to avoid? Feel free to weigh in below.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

7 Eleven must qualify for the worst sandwiches on the planet award whilst I had a very good pizza at Hua Hin

Comment by Rhiannon Fennell

[…] may have read in a previous post how I think steak is one of the foreign foods that Thailand does very badly. Of course, such claims […]

Pingback by SIX OF THE BEST: BANGKOK RESTAURANTS | Elephant's Leg

You can get very good, delicate sandwiches in Service stations airports etc in Japan..but sushi from M&S in UK is disgusting ,!

Comment by Rhiannon




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