Mix Portland – America’s food truck capital – with Thai, and you have Pai, a haven for hippies and foodies alike in Northern Thailand. Every single night, about fifty street food vendors turn on their lights and open for business. While the town is relatively sleepy during the day, its abundance of gourmet street eats brings out buzzing crowds each evening. Pai is a prime example of street food promoting pedestrian traffic, benefiting all types of businesses. Handmade jewelry, leather goods, and kitschy tee shirt vendors post up in between food stalls.
Your dreams of Thai street food probably include visions of Pad Thai and fried rice. While you can find Pad Thai aplenty here, Pai encourages you to dream bigger. Pai’s street food transcends five continents in only three city blocks. From Mexican, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai and vegan food, you can truly have it all- and without breaking the bank! I personally enjoyed making dinner a 4-hour-long street food adventure. I began with an appetizer – papaya salad for 40 baht ($1) or some sushi for 10 baht (25 cents) per roll. Once my tummy wasn’t growling out loud, I grabbed a Chang beer from the cocktail stall and browsed the jewelry stands (told you that you can have it all in Pai – there’s no open container policy!). My hunger tore me away from buying another punny Pai bumper sticker, and led me to my favorite bruschetta stand. 40 baht ($1) provided me with options galore! Did I want Portobello mushrooms with melted cheese? Guacamole with tomatoes? Caramelized bell peppers and cheese? Ham and pineapple? I had access to all of them. It’s not very often that you find cheesy bruschetta in this corner of the world.
Bruschetta is just the beginning. For under $1.50, you can find baked beans, sushi, roti pancakes, cold noodle salad, samosas, smoothies, lasagna, tandoori chicken, vegetarian wraps, corn on the cob, nachos, deep-fried bananas, French fries, the list is infinite. Fresh and simple emerged as the common denominators between my favorite vendors. Strawberries and avocado were in-season, perfect for us California girls. I thought a stall was selling ice cream, but it was actually scoops of fresh avocado – yum! Other smiling vendors offered cups of strawberries and raspberries with miniature forks. American food trucks sometimes get carried away with heart attack-inducing concoctions, but Thailand taught me that simplicity can go a long way.
As we journeyed south to Chiang Mai and Thailand’s islands, the street food became less globalized, but equally delicious. I mean who can complain about $1 Pad Thai? Chiang Mai was brimming with roti pancake stalls, offering crepe-like pancakes smothered in melted Nutella and chopped bananas. In Rastafarian Railay, Thailand, we found food boats parked at the beach. These long-tail boats served fried rice and corn on the cob to sweaty, starving bikini-clad tourists all day long, rain or shine.
Thailand’s street (and ocean) eats may just trump Portland, Austin and Los Angeles combined! The food was amazingly accessible, cheap, and delicious – a dream come true. No wonder why this country is called the Land of Smiles!