Food is a central activity of mankind and one of
the single most significant trademarks of a culture.
At home I had it figured out. Grocery shopping that is. I’d plan out most of the meals for the month, hit WinCo every couple weeks, stop at the produce stand or farmer’s market once a week, hit Costco every couple months… didn’t have to think much about it, because I knew what was available and where to stop and get it, and I’d spent years cooking based on what products I knew were on the store shelves and what was fresh from the fields in any given season. I knew where to find the cheapest deals, but often traded saving time for paying a little more if I had to stop at Target for last minute items. Oh, and let’s not forget Trader Joes and Sprouts, one stop shopping for “health foods”.
In Bangkok, there is no such thing as one stop shopping. There is no such thing as saving money on any products that are familiar to me in my 17 years of marriage cooking experiences – for all those familiar products are from home and therefore imported here, costing a significant amount of money.
At home buying local was important to me, often more important than buying organic. I liked buying local honey, milk, nuts, packaged products I knew were made close by in California, supporting small businesses. I also didn’t realize how blessed I was to be able to read every detail if I wanted to on packaged foods, to see what was inside and make informed choices for the health of my family (I tended to avoid high fructose corn syrup, and products with dyes or too many things I couldn’t even pronounce.)
Here in Bangkok, city of over 10 million people representing cultures from all over the world, I think almost anything is available. BUT, not all at one place, not all in our neighborhood, and not cheap. (By the way, picture of Jeff below: eating Japanese pizza!?)
How We Do Groceries Here
Bangkok has tons of food delivery options, both groceries and meals ready to eat. Jeff has a scooter, which zips around the traffic jams here. While the kids and I are in school, Jeff rides to a grocery store 2 or 3 times a week for the following staples:
- milk – most milk here is powdered, but we found real milk, available at stands in both the malls near us (brand is called Um)
- sandwich bread – comes in tiny loaves, he grabs that at specialty bread shops, or a grocery store like Tops; these stores are also at the malls (despite the title of my post, we don’t eat all that much bread)
- He picks up croissants or English muffins there as well (Au bon Pain)
- yogurt, fruit jam, etc. are tiny sized, but we as Americans all eat way too big of portions anyway, he picks these up at the Tops as well
- we also have bought some pasta and pasta sauce – cost a small fortune for these products
- meat – we can source humanely raised local meat from Paleo Robbie, but we don’t buy much, because we just don’t cook much at home (keep reading to find out more about that) Nice because it is delivered to the apartment.
- cereal, granola bars, chips – available, in tiny boxes or tiny bags, expensive
- cheese – we could afford cheese if we sold our first-born! (We won’t do that, and so we sure miss cheese!)
- Adams Organics – we can get lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, avocados (thank God!) and some other things through this site, and it is dropped off right at the school
- fresh fruit – every other day we grab bags of peeled, cut-up fruit from the stand across from our apartment. It is super cheap and delicious!
Why we don’t get that many groceries here
Besides what I included up there, we don’t buy much else at the grocery store.
The reasons are:
1.) The high cost of the familiar imported western groceries. (Example: pasta sauce at home would have been $2-$3, here it is like $7, and the jar is smaller!)
2.) Can’t find much of what I was used to buying, and if I can- see problem #1
3.) It is difficult to cook and clean up in the apartment the way it is designed and how we lack most appliances. I mean, we have a portable 2 burner stove, and a toaster oven, which are located far from the small counter with the sink.
4.) Since grocery shopping is kind of a pain, (you can only carry so much on a scooter, and in the car with traffic you have to allow tons of time even though the grocery stores in the malls are fairly close by), it is just much easier to eat OUT.
At home in the states we rarely ate out because we were pretty frugal that way. In the states it was much cheaper to eat at home. But here it is actually both cheaper and easier to eat out! And for now it mostly works for us.
Where and what we eat
- school – Austin and I eat lunch at school for pretty cheap – about $35 a month for each of us; Tay’s elementary lunch is more for some reason, so she is taking her lunch this semester. The school lunch I eat offers tons of choices of amazing Thai food and a fresh salad and fruit bar every single day.
- Jeff eats leftovers we may have from eating out, or grabs a delicious bacon egg muffin sandwich from Beautiful Creations Cafe near our apartment (a human trafficking ministry we like to support)
- the “garage” – on the bottom of the parking garage in our apartment complex are open air restaurant stands selling Thai food. All 4 of us can eat well for about $6. For another $3 we can each get a pure fruit smoothie too. All along the street are other options offering the same thing.
- the mall – sounds weird, but everything here is basically either a street stand/in someone’s front yard, or at the mall. There are lots of options at the mall: food courts offering Thai and other ethnic foods, and individual restaurants of all sorts. They come at various price points, obviously more than the street food though. We end up there about once a week or twice. We like Bon Chon and Scoozi.
- Paleo Robbie delivery – they deliver cooked meals on a daily basis, and we do that once a week
- Pakistani food pick-up at my school – there are some refugee families who cook and sell food to make money, and we buy that usually each week as well
- taco truck Tuesday – not as good as California Mexican food, but better than none at all! They pull right up to the aforementioned garage and we get tacos and burritos and quesadillas and eat at the school pool with some other families (again, the portions are small, not like a giant burrito from home!)
- with friends – some friends who have been here longer than we have, and have the cooking-at-home thing nailed down, have been kind enough to invite us over!
My love/hate relationship with our food consumption
At home I was used to eating a lot of natural and homemade foods. I made my own chicken broth, never bought it. Always read the ingredients on packaged foods. Got homemade jam from friends (with real sugar, not corn syrup!). Baked my own bread often. I used my crockpot a ton, and made make-ahead freezer meals to have on those busy nights. I can’t do that here. So we eat out mostly.
And I feel like it isn’t healthy, even though it tastes delicious. It is mostly meat and rice you get here, less vegetables. That is why I absolutely love the fruit stand in front of our apartment so we can get fresh fruit every day. There are lots of meats and seafood being cooked here that I am not crazy about how it looks or smells. I know as we get more familiar with the language we can acquire more of what we need in this area of our lives.
The kids (and Jeff and I, too!) love the iced teas/coffees and smoothies available, but they put condensed milk and sugar or sweet syrup in them (in the tea and coffee, not the smoothies) and so I feel like we should have them sparingly. But it’s hot here, and you want a cold drink, you get tired of water – which you also have to pay for because you can’t drink tap water here. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time thinking about and worrying about food – about getting it, about eating it, about how it makes me feel after eating it, about where to get what I want to have on hand – than I have in the last 2 months since moving here.
But we didn’t move here for the food. It’s just that food is a pretty important part of daily life that you don’t really think about when you are in your comfort zone. When that all changes, it becomes front and center as a focus.
This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this
sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey.
– Joel Salatin