Friday, November 20, 2009

Food is Food: The Factory Gourmet

Any dish with as much rice as you want: 20 baht (0.60 USD)
Bottle of soft-drink: 9 baht (0.27 USD)

A lot of my work involves traveling to clients, and we’re often out of the office or even in a different province altogether. The past two weeks I’ve been out in Ayudhya, the old capital of Thailand. In addition to its history, there are several massive Industrial Parks, in which industry is encouraged to congregate in exchange for tax breaks and other benefits.

The past two weeks here have been gastronomically dull, as the cafeteria attached to the client’s factory was only one store. The price of food there was very low though, costing only 20 baht (0.60 USD) for side dishes with as much rice as you like. It is common in factories in Thailand to provide their workers with as much rice as they’d like for lunch as a form of benefit.

I would normally order fried rice or stir-fried noodles, all for 20 baht. Although they had a daily set of two side dishes to choose from, they were often spicy and so I didn’t want to risk it. In addition, the level of hygiene within the cafeteria itself was questionable, and I figured a freshly cooked meal was better than food they had prepared before in the day.

In addition to the food itself, drinks such as a bottle of Coke or Sprite would set you back another 9 baht (0.27 USD). Although it’s extremely cheap, the wages of the average factory worker would only average 8,000 baht (241 USD) a month, and once food, transport and accommodation is factored in, very little is left.

Despite being that cheap, the taste was nothing to die for. The oil they used was reused from their frying earlier on in the day, and they would use the darkened oil unless you asked them to use something newer. Flies flew around and vegetables were simply rinsed rather than washed, while meat was left outside in a Tupperware box. The important thing was that when it was cheap, when it was the only store on the factory and when you were hungry, food was food, no matter how bland it tasted. Nevertheless, I'm certainly looking forward to heading back to Bangkok for some really good food.


  1. Is that saucy food in the picture supposed to be eaten Chinese-style, that is, taken into a smaller bowl of rice before consumption? It seems as if that dish would benefit from a generous portion of rice to soak up all that red sauce floating around!

    As for the food being unsanitary, I think it's specious to think that the food is, in fact, dirty when everyone eats it and no one gets sick. I always keep that in mind, this wisdom of the crowds and stomachs, when eating Honky food that foreigners would otherwise deem "dirty." Although it appears that the locals won't, would you pay significantly more for "clean" food?

  2. The food seen in the picture is som-tam, a Thai delicacy in which raw papaya and fish sauce, a special paste, tomatoes and dried shrimp are all smashed together in a pestle along with fresh chilli. It can be eaten direct, or if sharing, then into a separate bowl. You can have sticky rice with it, while the water is often left as it is quite spicy and people at most, soak it with small balls of sticky rice.

    As for the hygiene, I just made sure that the food was well cooked before eating it. Unlike HK, food hygiene standards are lax and there isn't a real effort by any government department to actually make sure sellers are clean - you can open up a stall without government approval and all is fine, and most people do that. Dirty food is truly a situation you have to be careful of because of the lack of standards, and the variety of things you can catch out there.

    With regards specifically to the article, if the food were cleaner I would have gladly paid more, as 20 baht food cannot be found anywhere any more except in subsidised places and factories, and most lunches without that will cost you 30-100 baht anyway, depending on what you have.

  3. I was in fact in Chiang Mai this past week and was able to score some 30 baht fried rice; on the more beaten path, however, where tourists likely stream by, food costs at least 55 baht.

    That the Thai people eat kale delighted me since I, too, enjoy that vegetable. However, when I had that and other vegetables at the hotel buffet, I found them to be a bit salty, saltier, in fact, than Hong Kong vegetables.

  4. Unfortunately, Thai kale isn't as good as the one you get back in HK. Here the stems are smaller and not as crunchy. I prefer to bring back some whenever I head back to Hong Kong, along with wonton, cha siu and a whole range of other food :p

    Thai food tends to have more extreme tastes than other ones. It's very sweet, very sour, very spicy, or a combination of all :p

  5. I find the Thai food to be, generally, more to my taste than Hong Kong food, which is very oily, I believe. I think wherefore those Thai beauties are so slim is their diet, which I find to be laden with vegetables; it seems as though processed food hasn't yet penetrated fully the Thai market.

  6. Well, the issue with Thai food is that the flavours are often very extreme - extremely sweet and extremely salty are both health hazards, which is no wonder why diabetes is so prevalent here in Thailand unfortunately. I like HK food becausethe portions are so much moire generous while I feel the quality is higher, but then again, I like everything which tastes good ^^