Posts Tagged ‘food’

Thailand is certainly a country that is geared towards tourists and generally speaking very accommodating towards the needs of tourists, which is certainly testament to the amount of Pizza and Burger joints you’ll find in some of the more touristy areas. The fact that you don’t need a visa to enter the country, and as I mentioned earlier the exchange rate definitely plays in one’s favour and at about 4.5 baht to 1 rand, you have to stop yourself from getting irate when a restaurant charges 5 baht more for a beer than the next place depending on how undeniably frugal you are of course.

Strangely enough despite how courteous and friendly the local population is towards tourists there seems to be a very distinct attempt by Westerns who have spent or are spending extended amounts of time in Thailand to take on a very specific look, as if to avoid being considered a “farang” or “outsider”. It’s a look that is difficult to describe, not because the vocabulary eludes me, but because I don’t really want to be describing what is no more than a particular niche of “hippy”. You’ll know the look as soon as you see it. (think Captain Jack Sparrow meets Jack Johnson meets Hobo University graduate)

In terms of the nationalities of most tourists it really does run the full catalogue from Europeans, to Americans, Australians, Africans and even an Asian or two. It really is just a melting pot of different travellers all soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of Thailand.

One thing did strike us as peculiar, and as we spoke to other tourists they appeared to have noticed it too though no one could provide too much clarity on the details. This peculiarity was the amount of single white men who had Asian partners. When I say “partner” I’m not disguising it under the veil of the sex trade or anything, but legitimate partners that they would go to shops with, visit museums and temples (called “Wots”) and have dinner with. These Asian “ladies” (sorry had to use quotation marks as you never can be 100% certain in Thailand), seemed to provide the service of a travel buddy and without being sleazy seemed to be fairly intimate with their Western companions, holding hands in public.

We did a bit of research and it turns out that these “ladies” (sorry again) are paid escorts that travel agencies hire out to tourists as companions. They help with translations, directions and provide companionship in exchange for accommodation, meals and small gifts as well as at the end of the journey, they are paid an agreed upon rate. I was also told that depending on the agency (and sorry guys I don’t have any numbers) sex can also be arranged with your travel buddy (obviously for an agreed fee and proof of a clean bill of health).

It became quite a game trying to spot these couples which we soon began referring to as “Sweet and Sour Combos”. It’s like the game “ranga puch” (a subject for another blog) but with a Thai twist. We did however feel quite embarrassed at times when we had pre-assessed a situation as being a combo deal only to find out we had an Asian and Caucasian American couple.

In theory the idea is great, go on holiday as a single male (or dishonest married male) and meet up with a lovely young Thai “Lady” (last time I promise) and enjoy a holiday with benefits. Although on certain occasions we were fascinated to see a couple at a restaurant sitting in absolute silence over dinner as neither had a single thing in common. Nothing quite like an awkward date, in a foreign country, with someone who’s company you’re paying for in the first place (awesome).

Our research, from very credible sources I might add, mentioned that while you would be partnered with a travel buddy based loosely on age, you also “got what you paid for” and by that I mean (very romantically of course) that not all “ladies” (ok that was the last time) are the same. So if you are interested in going on a Thai holiday with a hired travel buddy, make sure you are willing to spend some money or you might not get everything you expected; or worse you could get more than you expected.


I recently returned from a two week vacation from Thailand hence the reason for no blog updates from April 15th – 30th (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). Upon hearing of my vacation people generally ask whether the trip was for “business or pleasure” and for some reason one feels guilty answering the latter given some of the preconceptions about Thailand; particularly, preconceived ideas of the sex trade, lady boys and indiscriminate disregard for the proper use of ping pong balls. How could you blame them, when the capital of Thailand is so provocatively named? I must confess that I had subscribed to many of these preconceptions and had prepared myself to be accosted by sex workers and see lady boys on every corner (when in fact that are only on every alternate corner).

Now having spent some time in this amazing country I’d like to share with you some of my experiences that hopefully will broaden what you know about the former kingdom of Siam.

Upon arriving at Suvarnabhumi International Airport my fiancé and I were immediately faced with the daunting task of trying to direct a taxi driver to our hotel in his broken English and our completely nonexistent Thai. An hour later and 350 bath poorer we arrived at our destination, but not before noticing the manic traffic that is inner city Bangkok. Like a swarm of bees in a hive the streets crawled and buzzed with all manner of vehicular activity; busses, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles the soon to be infamous Tuktuks and several composite variations of vehicle that appeared either to be constructed on the set of Junk Wars or in Salvador Dali’s Garage.

Another thing that you will instantly notice on the streets of Bangkok, is the smells. The streets become an olfactory melting pot of some the best, worst and strangest smells the Western nose has ever encountered. The streets are awash with vendors cooking what I would love to be able to tell you, but I simple do not know. And in that lies half the intrigue. Is it spicy? Is it sweet? Is the reason there is no sign saying what it is because it some sort of taste beyond linguistic confinement (in neither English nor Thai?) Who’s to say, because the better part of valour meant that we decided to get our food from some of the more “established” establishments (read “has a menu with English descriptions”).

While on the subject of food I have to say that Thai food is without equal, there are just so many different flavours and dishes and we were not stretched on our two week stay to find a different dish to try every meal. In fact, given the sheer volume of options, we resorted to sharing meals and ordering two courses in order to experience as much as we could. This statement obviously presumes that you enjoy Thai food otherwise Thailand could be your 9th circle of hell because although you are able to find Western food don’t expect to be amazed by it. We ordered a pizza on one of the evenings (perhaps out of a sense of home sickness or appreciation of the tireless efforts of Western Imperialism) and were completely satisfied in the fact that we would not need to do that again (besides the fact that Western food, be it hamburgers, pizza or similar are without doubt some of the most expensive options on the menu. Obviously the price of nostalgia and a cure for homesickness comes with a price.

This was just a small taste (bad pun intended) of Thailand and I will be sure to keep you informed through future posts…

Sorry about that whole Spur rant in part one, it’s something that I needed to get off my chest, but it served an important point (several very pointy points in fact). Firstly, I hope that it demonstrated a certain level of appreciation of what a truly horrible restaurant is like. Hopefully, it showed that I possess a degree of hard earned expertise in the matter of judging the worst restaurant in the world and finally and perhaps most importantly it hinted at the unwavering passion I have for exposing poor service (and just complaining in general).

Now without any further fanfare or diversion, I present to you my submission for the title of “Worst Restaurant in the World”: (drum roll font) South African Airways! I know what you’re thinking… an airline doesn’t count as a restaurant, but I’m sorry it does and if you don’t like it, stop reading (please don’t stop reading).

I happened to go to this particular restaurant with my girlfriend a few weeks ago and was appalled at the entire experience. First of all we had to make a reservation about 3 months before hand; had to pay the full amount in advance and when we called to move our reservation by a few hours, they charged us a penalty fee. To make matters worse we had to pitch up for the meal almost 2 hours before our reservation or else, we were told, the entire restaurant would disappear into the sky without us.

I presumed the restaurant was extremely exclusive and was willing to forgive the exorbitant prices and the strict adherence to reservations, but I did feel the security measures in place were a bit excessive. Both my girlfriend and I were subjected to a body search and I had the embarrassing misfortune of having to remove my belt when walking through the metal detector. The only thing that was more embarrassing, was when a few well discipline Afrikaans children who started crying when I took my belt off.

When we eventually arrived at our seats (after being driven around the parking lot aimlessly for a quarter of an hour) I was not overly enthused by the décor. I’m not sure who the interior decorator was but the minimalist design and colour scheme left much to be desired. I was then suitably terrified when the waitress, instead of taking our drinks order instructed us to fasten our seatbelts and then began an interpretive dance about the life vests under our seats and what to do in case of an emergency landing (this reminded me of the birthday dance we had to perform as waiters at Spur – as both were embarrassing and caused children to cry).

Now I was hoping to have a lovely romantic meal and based on the prices I was expecting them to spare no expense in providing every luxury available. However for the R800 we each paid, all we received was a Chicken mayo sandwich and a coke. The menu was extremely limited (in the fact that there was no menu) and worst of all, my astute reader, no matter how much I complained about the food, the décor or the service… they never let me speak to the pilot.

Worst restaurant EVER! If it wasn’t for the fact that after eating there we were now stranded in another country we would never have gone there again.

I used to be a waiter at what I thought was the worst restaurant in the world: Spur. For those of you who have never been it’s a proudly South African chain of “steak houses” that is themed on Native Americans (don’t worry it didn’t make sense to me either).

Anyway I worked there during one of my summer holidays when I was in high school and it really opened my eyes to the fact that slave labour is still very much alive and well. Even as a 16 year old, before I had finished studying Labour Law and Equitable Employment Acts I knew that there was something seriously dodgy about this place and I’m not even referring to “salad valley”.

I don’t know why I decided to work there. Maybe it was the childhood memories I had of playing in the ball pit and getting my free Chico the Clown ice cream for my birthday; maybe it was the fact that they had removed compulsory military service and I required a painful passage from adolescence into adulthood. Regardless, I decided that I was a “person with a taste for life” (their jingle – terribly catchy; although the same can be said of the Ebola Virus) and decided to work there.

Working at Spur was certainly an immersive experience. I worked alongside some other bright-eyed scholars and students, who worked as temps, as well as some permanent staff or “lifers”. The motivators for each group were quite different too. While the scholars were looking for money to be able to take girls out on dates, the students were looking for beer money and the “lifers” needed the cash for maintenance or to pay for rehab. It really was a “dream factory”.

Although as memorable as every shift was at Spur, one particular shift will live on in infamy. It was Christmas Eve and instead of getting ready for Jesus’ birthday with my family; I was working at Spur serving the kind of people who are out at steak houses on Christmas Eve (real “go getters” and great tippers I must add). So anyway one particular table’s bill comes to R799.95, so I’m thinking here should be a decent tip).

In the bill folder however came R800…total (which is a shiny 5 cent piece for me). Now, to be fair, this was in the year 1999 so 5c back then is probably worth now… about 5 F***ing cents! Anyway, I went back to the table that gave me this bountiful fortune and was surprised to see that my generous benefactor was still sitting in the booth. So, being the “custodian of customer service” that I am (according to the orientation video we were shown) I asked her what seemed to be the matter; to which she replied “Oh nothing’s the matter, I’m just waiting for my change.” I did my best to not spontaneously combust from pure rage for just long enough to give her the 5 cent piece.

That shift, which turned out to be my last, wasn’t exactly the most lucrative shift, earning me a whopping R16. Well it would’ve been R16 if it weren’t for the fact that parking in the mall for the 12 hour shift cost R24.
And yet, with all these terrible experiences, Spur is still not the worst restaurant in the world… The worst is still to come (next post).

Fashionable Taste

Posted: March 14, 2011 in comedy
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m a big fan of food, which is a fact that most people wouldn’t be aware of given my less than ample physique, but it is no less true. I love all sorts of food and as such I eat out often, partly to try out all sorts of different cuisines, but also because I’m pretty damn lazy and a lousy cook. Although, with that being said, if it says “instant” on the box, then I can cook you up a storm. I like to tell myself that my creativity actually gets in the way of my cooking, because I have too many ideas for mortal taste buds (Don’t worry no one believes me either).

Despite this love for food that I have, there are certain foods that I have never really gotten into. The first and probably the only food I will patently refuse is mushrooms. I’m not talking “special” hippy, turn-into-a-butterfly, magic mushrooms. I’m talking run of the mill, plain, old disgusting mushrooms. I have this “rule”, as it were, that I won’t eat anything whose role on the planet is filter out faeces and assorted excrement (probably why I’m not a fan of kidneys or livers either). Unfortunately, the rest of family “loved” mushrooms and as such would take every opportunity to include them in dishes. While I would try to complain and negotiate these little saprophytes out of my meal I was forced to “deal with it or cook your own food”.

And deal with it I did, for while necessity is the mother of invention, laziness is the mother of acceptance. But the one thing I never understood was whenever I asked to have these nasty little fungi excluded I was told: “You don’t even taste them”. To which I would respond “Then what is the point in putting them in if you don’t taste them”. A hollow victory as the usual response was being grounded.
Another food I just don’t get is sushi. Don’t get me wrong I would actually like to like sushi. It’s trendy, fashionable and yuppie and incredibly aesthetically pleasing, but I just can’t enjoy it. I’m often invited for dinner to sushi restaurants with friends and colleagues who then go completely mad for tiny little squares of raw fish, seaweed and rice. Some people go completely nuts for it. On more than one occasion I’ve seen hair pulling and swinging handbags at corporate buffets when the sushi trays arrive and with the skill some sushi fans have with chopsticks, I wouldn’t want to mess with their sushi.

But that’s the thing isn’t it…taste. It’s personal. We’re often told what is fashionable in terms of clothing, hairstyles, music and television, but strangely with food it seems that personal taste is given a bit more credit. Who is to say what the best tasting food is? If I hate sushi and don’t know my Fugu, from my maki then I don’t care how good it is. Perhaps you think the best wine ever made is Crackling (a staple diet of many South African students) then who is to tell you that another bottle valued at $1000 is a better tasting wine (look, it almost certainly is better than Crackling, which is what I would describe as “liquid razorblades”, but it’s an analogy so bear with me).
I’m not really sure what the point of this particular blog is and maybe it needs to be explored a bit further in future, but I guess the message is what is it about food that personal taste and preference has managed to receive more credit than perhaps in other mediums where fashion dictates what people hear, see and feel.

So before you invite me to some great little sushi place you just found, make sure they also make a good batch of hake and chips.