Dining in Paradise
Today is the Queens birthday in Thailand which is synonymous with Mother’s day. The only difference being that in Thailand it is a National holiday. This provides a well needed rest and a chance to prepare another correspondence to our friends in the rest of the world.
One of the treasures of being in the far east and especially in Thailand is the opportunity to experience many new sensations; two of the foremost being the senses of smell and taste. Whether enjoying a night out at a Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, or of course Thai restaurant, we continue to be confronted with aromas, sights, and tastes which are new. Surprisingly, one of my favorites is the company cafeteria.
Working in many different locations, I have had the chance to experience many a company canteen. However, most of these left one with a yearning to go elsewhere to eat at every opportunity. This is not the case at Philips Semiconductors in Bangkok. I don’t know if this is typical for Thai companies.
Philips in Bangkok employs just under 4000 persons which work in three shifts. The factory is operational 24 hours a day 6 ½ days a week. To accommodate this mass, Philips has a large company canteen which is also open 24 hours a day. I try to limit my visits to once a day between noon and one o’clock.
The canteen has basically the form of a street market. There are two rows of stalls, one inside and one outside. Each of the stall is, I think, independently operated under some controls from Philips. In addition to the stalls there is also a very small grocery and video store. The grocery reminds me somewhat of the old corner grocer I remember vaguely from my childhood only smaller.
One may eat either inside or out, each having its own pros and cons; outside is the heat, although there is an awning over the eating area. This provides a quiet and somewhat peaceful environment. While, on the other hand, the inside cafeteria is cooler being air-conditioned. However inside, you are surrounded by four blaring television sets. Fortunately, all of the TV’s are on the same Thai channel.
The process of getting your food is typical in Thailand. You first go to the coupon counter where you exchange ‘real’ money for food coupons. Usually I will change around 100 Baht ($2.50), which will last me a little more that two days. Then you go shopping!
I usually start at the fried noodle stand where I order ‘ma mie’ (15baht), which is a drier form of the curly noodle soup with which you might be familiar. You may choose to have some dumplings, squid, shrimp or other morsel added for flavor. While this is being prepared, I either go outside to grab some barbecued pork (20baht) or choose some sort of vegetable curry from a sort of deli counter (5 baht). If I have chosen a vegetable I will also get a plate of rice (free) to go along. After finding a space at a table, which is sometime difficult, I set down my plates and continue shopping. I may grab a soft drink (7 baht), milk (20 baht) or coconut milk. Then it’s back to pick up my ‘ma mie’ and utensils. I will usually add some spice to the noodles such as crushed red pepper (hot), and peppers in vinegar (sour). Almost all Thai meals are accompanied with four additional tastes, sugar (sweet), crushed peppers (hot), vinegar (sour) and fish sauce (salty). There are also two types of utensils to choose from, either chop sticks or a fork and spoon. I usually opt for the chop sticks, while most Thai use a spoon and fork. The fork is used to scoop food onto the spoon which is always held in the right hand. The choice of hand is important as traditionally the left had is used to perform certain less sanitary functions.
After we have finished I usually have either a scoop of ice cream (6 baht) or half of a freshly peeled pineapple (5 baht). These are consumed during the short walk back to the office. This almost always totals around 40-60 baht or $1.25. However, there are numerous variations possible with literally more than a hundred dishes to choose from. Also recommended are: pad Thai noodles (15baht), fried rice (13 baht), bean sprouts with fried soy bean curd(6 baht),. Vegetarian noodles(13 baht), fried bananas(1 baht ea.), papaya, spicy noodle salad, BBQ chicken (15 baht), BBQ fish(15 baht), spicy green beans(6 baht), fried egg, fish ball soup, chopped fried chicken over rice(15 baht), duck over rice, various Thai sweets and much, much more. In fact there isn’t a week that goes by without me observing something new on one of my colleague’s plates.