We were walking down a side street in Bangkok, when an older woman in front of a small restaurant caught our eye. She was waving us in, enticing us to come in for a bite. Next to her, on a pedestal, was a glass platter filled with cockles.
The woman prodded them a bit, causing the still-live cockles to blink and writhe. "She's trying to show you they're fresh," whispered our guide Chow. "Now, I will tell you that, while those cockles are probably fine to eat, the water they're harvested in is definitely not clean. But you can try them if you want."
We wavered, and then decided to plunge inside and order a plate.
Such was our time in Thailand. We decided to say yes to trying knew things, no matter how off-the-radar they might be for us. For the most part, this ended up great! (But we'll talk about those cockles again in a minute.)
Unlike when we were in China a couple years ago, there wasn't much we encountered in Thailand that seemed like a dare. No stinky tofu, no scorpions on sticks. (We did once see a table of people sharing a grub salad at a restaurant in Chiang Mai. We declined to order that one.)
Anyway, here are the most unusual things we ate while on our trip.
1. Savory Pineapple and Garlic Noodles. The day we spent with Chow, Bangkok street food expert extraordinaire, was filled with unusual food. The first truly unique dish we had was a traditional Thai dish that Chow says is now rarely seen on menus. It's a savory take on pineapple, with rice noodles, loads of garlic, fish sauce and condensed milk. We haven't yet found the name of the dish, but doesn't it look like something out of a 1958 issue of Gourmet?
2. Cockles. Okay, so. These cockles. They were served with a spicy chile dipping sauce. Zach managed to get several of them down, and he actually rather enjoyed them. Sort of like mussels but ... meatier. Clay could only stomach one. Off-puttingly, they were swimming in a thinnish dark-red liquid. "Hey, what's this blood-like liquid they're sitting in?" we wondered, before realizing, "Oh. It's blood."
3. Protest corn dogs. If you haven't heard, there's a bit of a political uprising happening in Thailand, where they're trying to get rid of their Prime Minister. It's been a months-long protest, and we were really worried about it leading up to the trip. Previous protests have shut down the airports, and we weren't sure what to expect. When we arrived in Bangkok, though, the protest was far away from us -- if we hadn't been reading the news, we wouldn't have even known it was happening. But when we spent a day with Chow, she asked if we'd like to go see the protest, and we jumped at the chance.
The day we were there, it didn't seem like so much a protest as a street fair/jazz concert. A band was performing, and hundreds of vendors were there to sell food and other wares to the protesters. People were napping -- it was all very pleasant. Chow struck up a conversation with a vendor selling these crazy looking Thai corn dogs and we ended up buying one. It was made with a very sweet batter, with some sort of sausage in the middle. It was fairly bizarre (though not terrible).
4. Toast. We mentioned this in our post about the Best Things We Ate, but we found ourselves at an all-toast restaurant in Bangkok.
Admittedly, toast itself is about as unusual as, well, sliced bread. But we thought the idea of an all-toast restaurant was just so fun and kooky! You could order it crisp-toasted or steamed (which made it more like a bread pudding), and you could choose from two dozen toppings, including things like jam, chocolate, fruit and coconut milk. We ordered one with caramel custard, and one topped with sweet corn.
It tasted like, you know, toast. With sweet corn on it. It was good! More importantly, don't you feel like the U.S. is missing out here? Don't you think an all-toast restaurant sounds like a great idea? [Edited to add: OMG, you guys, it turns out artisanal toast is already a thing. Or about to be a thing. Anyway, you heard it here first also.]
5. Stir-Fried Marigold Morning Glory. In Chiang Mai, we found Stir-Fried Marigolds Morning Glory widely available on restaurant menus. The dish (pictured above from a restaurant called SP Chicken), featured the stems of marigolds sliced a few inches long, then stir-fried with peppers and garlic. They were delicious, and reminded us of the stems of sweet potato greens. We can't say if the marigolds we ate are the same as marigolds we grow here (and we haven't been able to find out online). Do you happen to know?
[Update: Thanks to all the great comments below, we realized we meant "morning glory" instead of "marigold." Guess we just got our notes mixed up -- it was definitely "stir-fried morning glories" that we saw on menus everywhere. According to you commentors, this is also sometimes called "water spinach," but in fact it really has nothing to do with either morning glories or spinach. Fascinating!]
6. Banana Jam. We embarrassed ourselves, daily, at the hotel where we stayed in Chiang Mai, because each morning they served banana jam, and we ate it was our last meal on Earth. It was amazing -- very similar to other fruit jams, just with bananas subbed in.
We don't think banana jam is particularly Thai, per se, although they have such an abundance of bananas that they come up with lots of things to do with them.
No matter. We ate this jam on toast, on top of cereal, and by the spoonful all on its own. We were obsessed. Why aren't we all making jam out of bananas? We've got to try it at home this year.
7. Staff meal at a Cooking School. We took a cooking class in Chiang Mai that was really, really great. We'll tell you about that soon. But first, let's talk about the staff meal.
We had finished up our day of cooking, and were preparing to leave, when Zach noticed that the staff had all gathered around a table where they were chatting and eating. He went over and joined in the conversation, and they encouraged him to taste some of the dishes. They were eating things that we didn't see anywhere else, including a whole fish cooked in a spicy-sour broth and a "buffalo skin salad" that was unlike anything he'd ever had before. There was also a spicy raw-beef salad that was actually very tasty:
And that's it! The 7 Most Unusual Things We Ate in Thailand.
What about you? What's something crazy you've tried while traveling?