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Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Joys of Travel: Food Markets, part 2 (a case for hiring guides)

We generally don't like guides - mainly, it's their bad jokes, the tedious history lessons, the time-keeping mentality, and a certain arrogance, plus we've had a few bad experiences (one of which involved our first visit to one of the world's great wonders, Petra, being ruined by the guide). However, we visited several food markets in Thailand with guides and they were all excellent - knowledgeable, enthusiastic, charming, and had excellent relationships with the stallholders. Once we made it clear to the guides that we'd been to food markets in Thailand many times before, we knew our food, and were familiar with Thai food, it took the whole experience to another level. We got to ask lots of questions, to find out what all those icky unidentifiable things actually were, to learn their Thai names, how they're cooked and eaten, and so on. And by doing so, we learnt an extraordinary amount about the Thai people, their cuisine, and their culinary habits. And we tried lots of food! Admittedly, we weren't as brave as Bourdain. We didn't need to try deep friend crickets or whitchetty grub-like worms, but we tasted a lot of food, a lot more than we'd try if we were by ourselves. We're hooked. From now on, we're going to hire a guide-translator to visit every food market in each new place we visit. And maybe some of the markets we're familiar with too. Who knows what we might discover? And who we might meet. We probably wouldn't have met this friendly fishmonger and had a lesson on Thai fish-scaling if we had have been on our own!

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