Thailand markets are a bit of experience. It’s a great place to chat or have a good laugh with locals and discover whole food. As a Westerner it’s hard to imagine what you will find in Asian market. You won’t be familiarised with most of the greens and vegetables, so this guide will not only help you to get a first look on what to expect, but also decide what to buy.
As we traveled through poorest areas of Thailand, we understood how hard people work that those vegetables would end up on your table. Some markets are rich with fruits and greens, but in more remote places don’t expect much from the markets.
We will introduce you to more common market looks in most of the popular tourist destinations, with some exceptions like only bananas or avocados markets.
Greens and Veggies
Let’s start with greens that make a majority in Thailand food market and will definitely will catch your eye! Many of those greens were unrecognisable for us at first, but after we tried many of them now we can advice you which ones don’t have a bitter taste.
Many vegetables in Thailand are bitter and even eggplants! They are round and small or maybe I should say tiny, and green. Yes, they natural colour is green here and hard to recognise them unless you know what to search for.
You’ll usually find them in curries or soups. Once when I had a Thai meal I had to pick them out from my curry, because I couldn’t stand their bitterness.
They have even smaller cherry eggplants in Thailand and those are way more bitter! I couldn’t believe that vegetables can be so bitter until I tried. You can also get it unexpectedly in curries!
And the bitterness queen is a vegetable knowns as Bitter Melon. It’s sill used in stir-fries and soups. I wish you not to try this.
Don’t be fooled by the look of this vegetable. It looks like cucumber, but it’s Tindora and people don’t eat it raw. It is usually boiled or stir-fried.
These are regular long beans. It was a little unusual for us while in our country beans are 4 times shorter, but it taste the same.
Although it doesn’t look like bean, but it’s called Wing Bean. It’s very crunchy and tastes similar to long beans, and eaten raw.
Red beans are also just beans, but they are called Chinese beans here.
Our favourite vegetable became okra. Now we try to grow it back home, but as it appears this plant is super sensible to wind.
You can find sprouted mung beans everywhere! Thai people put it on stir-fry noodles like Pad Thai, mix it into soups. While it’s really healthy, we couldn’t stand the taste of it after two months eating traditional Thai food.
Spices and Flowers
Thai people like prepare meals very spicy and really common ingredient is Thai Chilli. They even eat it raw!
This one is used extensively in many Thai dishes such as curries, spicy soups and salads. Lemon grass is very common and if you eat traditional dishes you’ll definitely try it!
People eat Lotus Flowers in Thailand. And whole part of this plant can be eaten. I wrote more about it in this post.
These small yellow flowers are eaten stir-fried or in sweets. You can buy and try them. The botanical name for it is Sesbania bispinosa.
Banana flower is also eatable, but only the tender inside part of it.
They have many mushrooms in Thailand and if you try Tom Yum soup you definitely try a big variety of it. As we noticed, you can find many mushrooms in big shops like Tesco, but less in markets. The ones we enjoyed the mosts are called straw mushrooms and they don’t look like mushrooms at all.
The sweet and delicious Taro roots are used in sweets and pastries. We found ones that we loved and they were the only ones suitable for vegans.
This root has a slightly medicinal flavour and is used in certain curries, and is called Fingerroot.
Most of the tourists will see plastic bags with fruits piled up in vendors on the street. It’s a good option when you walk around the city, but it’s way better to buy fruits directly in markets. It’s fresher and you will avoid plastic!
My favourite fruit is watermelon and you can easily find fine watermelons in Thailand. Ripe, red and sweet are the ones you will see almost every big market. You will also find more familiar things in this section: pineapple, tamarind, apple and rose apple, green mango (used for very spicy papaya salad) and ripe mango, and from citruses: small oranges. From latter ones they make a really tasty juice, you must take every time you see it! We couldn’t refuse it in Chiang Mai.
Bananas in Thailand are so sweet that you can’t stop eating them! They are half way smaller than regular bananas, but that taste is heavenly good. But don’t buy larger bananas, they are use for cooking and are tasteless if uncooked.
Guavas are also really nice fruit. It taste a little bit like apple, but is more dense. I chose these as a travel snack as it wouldn’t damage along the trip.
Jackfruit or durian? I mixed-up these two in beginning, but Jackfruit is gigantic, green-gold, stinky and exotic. While durian is way smaller and is spiky.
You will also see gigantic papayas. The ones we have imposted in Westerns wolds are like baby papayas for these ones.
Bananas and Avocado Market
Once we found this magical place where all they sell is avocados and bananas! We came back there many times while we were in Chiang Mai and you can find it located here: 18.794651, 98.997470.
Interact with Locals
Last but not least, locals are really friendly at the markets. Usually they don’t know English and you have to find a way how to communicate with them. While prices are written on many goods it’s still useful to lear a bit of Thai. It’s makes people more happy and easy to laugh with you from your accent.
One woman come to us and willingly showed us many vegetables and explained how to cook it. She gave us knowledge about lotus seeds that they are good for your heart.
All words by Eisve Treciakauskaite and all images by Justinas Lekavicius, unless otherwise noted.